Civilisations

What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.Mahatma Gandhi  (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/mahatma_gandhi_141784 accessed 29.05.2018)

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mini-temple contrasted from rubbish gathered over 6 weeks from around a village could be seen at the Meeting Point area of the Hay On Wye Literary Festival 2018

Of the new programmes it is written …

Presented by Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga, Civilisations explores the visual culture of societies from around the globe, revealing alongside the magnificent objects made in the West the wealth of treasures created by other cultures, from the landscape scrolls of classical China and the sculpture of the Olmecs to African bronzes, Japanese prints and Mughal miniatures.” BBC website 29.05.2018

I was interested by this programme having seen some of the older version, Civilisation presented by Kenneth Clarke in 1967, as well as being alerted to the newer version by a tutor from the OCA.

The first talk I attended at Hay-On-Wye about Civilisations was a discussion with Simon Schama and David Olusoga who were two of the series authors, about the making of this series; it considered the ideas, the art works, the locations and the way it reached millions of viewers. Mary Beard, the other author, did not appear; she was reported to have said at the beginning of the series “A woman, a black and a Jew … what could possibly go wrong!?!!” The series producer also joined and the event was chaired by writer and broadcaster, Clemency Burton-Hill.
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the auditorium before the speakers entered

Was it possible to reconstruct the epic series of Kenneth Clarke? Needed to be global not Western. The BBC decided to employ three people partly for practical reasons; there would have been too much travelling for one person.
The new series was not an attempt to replicate the old one. As Mary Beard writes, “This was an attempt to not ‘re-make’ Clarke’s original version, but to take a fresh look at its themes with a much wider frame of reference, moving outside Europe …
Schama said something at the very beginning  of the series about his love of history for … “What is the present if not an …. ????” He immediately felt able to respond to the BBC request and is responsible for 5 of the 9 programmes. He says … “We are the art making animal … “
Palmyra is significant because it stands at a cross roads being neither East or West or belonging to a particular religion. Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation is a masterpiece but establishment orientated. Today we are a global community!
When younger, David Olusoga saw how TV could make history and found this life changing! He saw Civilisations as an awesome task yet understands TV to be very good at communicating art
History of art not just a history of artists also about viewers says Mary Beard; “E.H.Gombrich, once wrote ‘There is no such thing as art, only artists.’ I am putting the viewers of art back into the frame. Mine is not a ‘Great Man’ view of art history, with all its usual heroes and geniuses.
Schama not so geared towards art as being socially oriented.
Nine episodes are not enough for a history of world art so each episode an essay on an aspect of it
Art wants to go beyond “white noise” of news; a resistance to the fatigue of the everyday News of the day translated into a more epic timeless context as with Ai Wei Wei’s artwork of rubber men in boat from 2017, an imaging of refugees who try to escape by boat.
While I personally have not met anyone who seems much interested in Civilisations, it has attracted a lot of interest and feedback. Already almost 3 million people watched it on iPlayer TV! It can unlock the world of art, illustrating more than 500 works of art which are explored.
After the talk, I chat with my friend Moray about the Civilisations programme but like many others he is not enthusiastic about it. The series is not easy watching, there is a lot of information being communicated and it is difficult to absorb it all. One might say it is more academic than Clarke’s version.
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In the late afternoon, Simon Schama also gives a leading talk at festival which starts with clip about art from Civilisations and is largely concerned with the series. He did not want to write a book to accompany because issues too vast; his associates both did books.
Talks about Chinese art in which Clarke was also interested though his program focused on Europe minus Spain. He also discusses artwork from Mughal era.
Where art and love meet is what survives of us.
Creativity our last stand!
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Likes Tacita Dean who has three exhibitions showing in London presently,  for her use of film rather than video as film has texture!
Art appreciation can now be purely financial with work purchased for sale later. Schama refers to a Jeff Koons artwork as “utter shit” which of course brings laughter.
The programmes have been described as warm and cuddly, The Guardian view of art across the globe; this is one criticism that Schama disputes.
Questioner says so much about context in academia that one can no longer express one’s feelings about works of art. Schama says contemporary theory has reacted to previous connoisseurship.
After the talk, there is dinner with my friends (Moray, Julie and Sarah) as well as Julie, one of my mother’s carers also a friend, before we all go to see a concert, Amazones Afriques. This is inspirational music and while some of the audience leave perhaps because of the noise, I get up to dance along with others. Someone spills their G&T over Julie the carer but she laughs it off as usual.
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It is gone 10 o’clock before Julie and I clamber into the car and drive back to Somerset, a drive that takes over two hours.
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UWE MA students exhibition at the MPF

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Usually before attending an exhibition in the South West I notify other students; I may have already done so in regard to this exhibition of student work, a graduate show which the OCA advises us to see, but posted no reminder following recent student discussions. These were both anti-Martin Parr and what I would call pseudo feminist!!
Martin Parr is one of the most outstanding photographers of his generation but many people don’t want to see that; of course, he is not beyond criticism and his books about countries of which he is said to have only passing knowledge are questionable although one might also see this as reflecting the irony of the age!? Feminism is a”wonderful thing “ as an author friend of mine recently remarked but the kind of feminism fuelled by anger over assumed wrongs is meaningless and a very far cry from real feminism which is voiced by someone like Germain Greer who recently spoke out about the misogyny of “Mrs Brown’s Boys”, a comedy in which the central character is a man posing as a woman.
I take the train to Bristol but fall asleep on route so missing my stop. Last night was pretty sleepless so hardly surprising! Anyway I get out at Bristol Parkway and take the train back to the centre of town then a taxi to Paintworks, a new complex in which the MPF is based.
On arrival there is a glass of Prosecco! Meet Rudi Thoemmes who owns RRB Photobooks and arranges photographic events. He wonders why I was not at the excellent British Documentary from the 1970’s event which I had booked for but not been able to attend. The RPS are opening premises next door to the MPF so this will enable large scale functions to take place.
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One of the first photographers to catch my eye is Matthew Broadhead. He presents two equally sized photographs, black and white prints in brown wooden frames, which on inspection appear to be a diptych, a before and after of a country road with a river to one side and trees. The programme guide informs one that the right image was made in about 1869 and the latter in 2018 by a third-great-grandson. These kind of before and later images, rephotography in fact, never fail to attract me and remind me of photography’s power to record the past for future consumption.
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Another body of work in this Foundation exhibition that draws me has an obvious fine art theme with the depiction of a nude. The work is by Katie Dinnage who did her BA in Photography with UWE, the University of the West of England. “Through her work, she is exploring issues of vulnerability, emotions and self through her art.” She is discovering new life. Her website is www.katiedinnage.com
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work by Chris Hoare and guests at The Foundations exhibition

Rudi likes work by Chris Hoare which is titled The Worst Poem of the Universe; there is a small carefully constructed jumble of prints and also a book. This work is about reality, a narrative based around different kinds of photographs. It does not really speak to me perhaps because I have limited interest in pursuing it beyond the banality!
Sophie Sherwood photographs sea shells in depth and presents one image which looks like a large coloured crystal and is called Cosmos. Her work is being exhibited elsewhere in Bristol at the Tobacco Factory.
Another exhibitor who has done a hand made artist book is Jamie E Murray. The book is called Albatross and consists of images made at certain moments in which subject matter is presented without much thought for formal composition being rather asymmetrical views of Royal Navy life while on a boat home following active service. These atmospheric vignettes tell a story of homecoming as well as giving an insight into life in the Navy.
Another interesting group of images made by another M.A. artist have been made from a glass negative of a woman; this has been reworked in various ways providing an insight into the photographic process and the way features such as lines on a face can be pleasantly obscured or even exaggerated.
The invitation is from 6 to 8. At about 8, the party seems to be getting going! There is a queue for the drinks and more guests one of whom I recognise as a tutor from UWE Unfortunately though it is time to get going as I have a train to catch as well as another tomorrow.
Say goodbye to Rudi and Jessa who comperes RRB events. Although I am in time for my train it has been delayed by an hour so I hop onto another but not before consuming two pasties for dinner!!
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Activating the Archive Arnolfini Bristol 5’th May 2018

Activating the Archive 
Contemporary Uses of Visual Archives
5’th May 2018
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view from the riverside walk to the Arnolfini

Early train to Bristol then a sunny walk along the river to The Arnolfini. The doors to the theatre are closed and do not open for half an hour as there is a problem with the projector. The Arnolfini bar do not have a non-alcoholic beer or lager so I go to café nearby and have to wait as the man behind the counter is on the phone! They also do not have an LA lager so I enjoy a Dandelion and Burdock cordial.
Will this day discuss the archive and consider its worth or are we just going to listen to a group of archivists talk about their work? It turns out to be a day devoted mostly to artist’s talks but they are enjoyable and detached in their approach rather than self-indulgent speeches.
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crowd forming while waiting for the doors to open: there was trouble with the projector!

The symposium starts with a talk by IC Visual Labs outlining their workshops and exhibitions. “Alone with Empire” is a forthcoming event about empire described as “ a 1-1 art experience combining photographs, film and sound from the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection (BECC) in a curated environment at the Vestibules space, Bristol City Hall. Working with our project partner Bristol Archives, this will be the first large-scale artistic commission using BECC material. Through this installation we aim to increase the visibility of an internationally important collection, within the city of Bristol, whilst also touching upon many current discussions around the city and its history.” There is also another similar event nearby in Bristol called Empire Through the Lens; the city has a strong association with the slave trade.
Francesca Seravalle  gives a talk entitled “Everything has its first time”
In 2013, during some ‘archaeological’ research to discover more information about the first photo uploaded to the internet, Francesca Seravalle realized that there were thousands of First Photos that reveal the beauty of the discovery of photography and have the power to change our society. “I started to chase many first photos (from the 1820s to the present day) following four tracks: photographic inventions, scientific and technological discoveries, historical landmarks, and first seen visions of nature.
First photo on the internet!? There are many different kinds of first image!
Inspired by Italian photographer Lorenzo Vitturi
Studied archaeology but physically demanding so changed to history of art Wanted to be a curator rather than a creative. Worked for Magnum in Paris Worked with Erik Kessels also on the archive of modern conflict in London as well as being involved with Japanese photography.
The body of work she is presently concerned with is a history of photography, first photos of different subjects which involved an examination of photography Owing to different processes e.g. 1843 first photo book by Anna Atkins,  first photoshopped photo by Thomas Knoll of his wife (Knoll is a Photoshop engineer). Often difficult to determine first of this or that so some images could be contested notably the first photograph!  1861 first projected colour photograph; 1826 Niepce first photo using camera; Fox Talbot first negative; 1832 first photo copy by Brazilian; 1839 first published image of a photograph. “Until Proven Otherwise” is the way her work is labelled She won an award at Format Festival 2017 Her exhibitions can be shabby! Integrating photographs in environment Highly original way of working with photography genuinely award winning! She is not a photographer but works with photography very cleverly Inspiring work also amusing!!
A short break 
Charbel Saad – Arab Image Foundation
Charbel Saad is the head of digital collections at the Arab Image Foundation. Established in Beirut in 1997, the Foundation holds a collection of more than 600,000 photographs from the mid-19th century to the present day. The Foundation has produced fifteen exhibitions and eight publications in partnership with international museums, galleries and cultural institutions. The collection has also provided an invaluable resource for artists’ projects, curatorial initiatives and academic research. The contents of the AIF’s collection reflect both the general preservation mandate of the foundation and the specific research interests of its members. The artists, writers, filmmakers and historians affiliated with the AIF have, to date, initiated research projects in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Mexico, Argentina and Senegal. The result is a dynamic and at times idiosyncratic collection that does not merely illustrate the history of photography in the region but rather situates a wealth of different photographic practices in a complex field of social, economic, political and cultural factors.
Talking about the institution but also the significance of the work today
Building Collections
Started after 15 years of civil war to gather imagery from a disappearing Arab world Collecting material such as old albums Called
Arab Image Foundation Not easy to get hold of photographs owing to conservatism Women removed from albums Images more from upper class though they did photograph lower classes
Not room to store photographs Fear of Islamic fundamentalism Loss owing to war
Publishing work of photographers
Conservation and Digitisation 
About 300 collections within this such as by particular family, photographer etc
Photo Jack a way to catalogue photographs by placing negatives between pages; not best practice but a valid approach to curating and preservation Scanning entire image along with colour strip eg IT 24 High definition
Orientalism!
Scanning materiality of photographic object as well as photographs Digital restoration of images not necessary and can interfere Different methods of scanning
Collectors Photographers Studios and Families 
Photography at funerals established practice in North Lebanon
Marie El-Khazen a woman photographer from an aristocratic family Amateur who liked to play with different effects of photography She died in 1983 before giving any interviews on her work which gives a view of her world
Mohamed Orabi liked quirky scenes Lack of knowledge about subjects Guessing dates via practices Obscene photographs yet mostly of people in ordinary situations
Studio Fouad brothers who made studio portraits of the well to do Went separate ways Not easy to discover facts about them
Frank and Laure Skeels teachers of archaeology yet collection only emerged after their death Again little known about it such as why images made Egyptian photographing TV screen images, screen shots.
Arab Image Foundation funded by Western organisations in Europe and America not from within Arabia Employs seven people Focusing on multiple copies in different locations Not great IT support In Lebanon!!
More work by Arab photographers being published. Copyright laws exist so agreements are made with photographers
They are planning to launch a new website in September 2018 where high resolution images will be made visible For public not just professionals No National Archives in Lebanon rather privately owned
Kensuke Koike – Today’s curiosity
Koike’s collage works are known for his playfulness and humorous approaches to archival material. During this symposium, Koike’s video-art pieces from his series “Today’s curiosity” was screened at intervals throughout the day.
Some video by Kentsuke Koike shows using a pasta cutter to shred photographic prints then rearrange pieces!
LUNCH
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Amak Mahmoodian – NeghaB
Not a long time passed from the invention of photography in Europe before photography arrived in Iran. According to Tahmasbooor (Photographer Naserod_din shah, 2002) as early as 1844 (1260 in the Iranian calendar) an Iranian woman, for the first time, stood as the subject for a photographer. The portrait was made by the Qajar king Naserod-din shah, who took up photography as a result of being given the gift of a camera from Queen Victoria. In 2004, I visited the Golestan museum and worked on my archival research for 2 years. Golestan Archives are located in central Tehran, which was once a home for Qajar women, and the king’s wives, Harem women. I looked at the archival photographs from the Qajar period and chose a number of photographs, which I used as masks. I started taking photographs of women around me, whom I see every day. In some photos there were so many masks on a face that I forget the real face. The woman hiding behind the mask of the past has many of the past attributes that I can see and feel. Women were the same women – does it make a difference what the faces look like? Women today have concealed their faces behind masks of the past, because similar restrictions have remained in place. The mask can hide the woman’s face but it can not hide the ‘truth’ which is behind the mask.
She is from Iran also another female speaker All so far from abroad
1979 revolution Amak learnt to converse with photograph of her father as she was separated from him and other family members
Decided to become a photographer as there was a need and interest
A king with 170 wives who learnt photography
Working with old albums that make up an archive but lack information such as that relating to feelings of subjects Names of people portrayed sometimes available Photographing women could have dire consequences
Diary published in 1992 helped Proud to be photographed but suffered hardship as one among so many wives Forced to wear black for instance Lack of identity Stereotyping of women! Telling her story gives these women a voice Using a photograph in front of the face as a mask; subject chooses mask! Bringing past to present. Collaborating not just with people she knew but also strangers. Now wants to edit photographs and make a book! Taboo to show man and woman together even if from same family How to read these photographs!?
Amak also tired of stereotyping by Western media so worked with making more intimate photographs of women also their fingerprints
Shenasnameh published by RRB Publishing; video available on Vimeo
A short break 
Vicki Bennett (first and only UK speaker)
“Processing The Product”
A talk by Vicki Bennett (People Like Us) reflecting upon 25+ years of creating audiovisual media, sharing information and insights on creating large scale works using preexisting material. Since 1991 Vicki Bennett has been making CDs, radio, and A/V multimedia under the name People Like Us. By animating and recontextualising found footage collages Vicki gives an equally witty and dark view of popular culture with a surrealistic edge. People Like Us broadcasts an ongoing experimental arts radio and podcast show on WFMU, called “DO or DIY”, which, since it began in 2003, has had over a million “listen again” downloads.
Over a million downloads of her
Been working with the archive for a long time
About working with layers of reality
Archives as databases
Shows Golem inanimate matter a piece made for Channel 4
Makes new stories from old; accumulating material on HDD for later use. Keeps lists to help retain information also a kind of map for making work A puppeteer bringing things together Mind maps beyond what one can
Shows The Sound of Music introductory scene with backdrop of war superimposed !?
The internet as an archive!
We Are not Amused for Channel 4
Lot of dreadful work around but at least it can be accessed and is available Sharing ideas Need to be restrictive in own mind to make work
4 to 5 months looking for movies with mirror idea in Resulted in The Mirror
Vicki blends sound into her visuals So incredibly imaginative! Facebook very helpful in research; people ready to offer help! What is nostalgia? Tendency to show one’s conditioning
The Remote Controller from Prellinger archive
About control
Not bothered about copyright, the bogeyman!
I found my interest in Vikki waning towards the end; her work becoming banal
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Maja Daniels – Elf Dalia
In 2012 Maja Daniels, photographer and sociologist began working in the Swedish region of Älvdalen inspired by the current generational shift, where negotiations and tensions between modern lifestyles and tradition – including the preservation of a strong cultural identity imbued with mysticism – represent an important contemporary struggle. Through making her own photographs of the region, and creatively appropriating parts of the archive of photographer Tenn Lars Persson (1878 –1938) within her work the community’s unique and mysterious eccentricity is reinforced. Steeped in both reality and myth, past and present, an imaginary tale influenced by language, mystery and local history quietly reveals itself through the resilience of the subjects, the strangeness of the events and the beauty of the land.
Considers herself a storyteller who uses photography Swedish! Has lived in London where she worked as a photographer.
Visited area where language similar to Old Norse Looking at community Used Facebook to help suss place out! Old pagan traditions Looking at landscape imagery of area Living there Found an archive on FB of the area Featured work by particular photographer who engaged in different kinds of photography of the area Was able to access 5000 of these images and made a low res selection (Maja is not-a good speaker though work is interesting; keeps on saying “you know!” Her English not good) Discovering archive of another photographer and unraveling it. Found out more about this photographer and his way of working Photographs of Moon! Her intuitive response to the archive is what mattered Making diptychs from work, selecting and sequencing work also combining images with her own No captions or stories to contextualise work. Shows scenes from pagan rites Working with kids who use the images from the archive to make their own stories The archive took her over; her work a response to the archive! She is doing a book of this work Will it contain relevant text? Yes but not original captions. Do the locals understand what she’s doing and can they relate to it? They have not really seen it but have been helpful. She is not representing them rather creating a story about them although there are histories of the region Their language is dying out with only about 45 adult speakers left. Maja also making films about this region.
Another short break
Beijing Silvermine by Thomas Sauvin
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Thomas SauvinBeijing Silvermine
Beijing Silvermine is an archive of 500,000 negatives salvaged over the last seven years from a recycling plant on the edge of Beijing. Assembled by the French collector and artist Thomas Sauvin, Beijing Silvermine offers a unique photographic portrait of the Chinese capital and the life of its inhabitants in the decades following the Cultural Revolution. This coherent and unceasingly evolving archive allows us to apprehend negatives in different ways. It constitutes a visual platform for cross-cultural interactions, while impacting on our collective memory of the recent past.
Made by while working for London based Archive of Modern Conflict later albums from flea markets then online Bought negatives by the bagfuls Been working for nine years on this project employing a scanner who scans some 9,000 scans a month Recognisable groups of photographs 1985 to 2005 period during which negatives were used by photographers in China
Lots of photographs of babies and children, people interacting with monuments (Thomas delivers his talk with a dry humour!) such as Buddhas and sharks, women interacting with flowers also man with cactus! Beach photos or by water
After scanning negatives then possible to make prints and exhibitions
Someone recognised her father as one of subjects via Facebook! He got to meet the person whose photograph he had “found”!
Another series of families with TV sets, people with pets, women posing with fridges etc
Many negatives in a bad state “which is probably for the best “ remarks Thomas who is not just interested in showing work but also discussing it!
Produces concertina books! Recycled photographs Book designed around cigarette packets showing custom of smoking at weddings also showing other customs like couple eating a single tomato Better to focus on a subject than a person
Another book an origami construction with photographic prints contained in sections, capsules each telling a story through prints
Website Instagram to share imagery as well as making books Likes to collaborate with other photographers and people working in a similar way such as Kentsuke
www.onthisday.com gives useful info albeit irrelevant captioning for found photos that have a date imprinted on them
Selection process seldom involves censorship
Buys negatives by kilo !
The day ends! It has over run by 45 minutes 

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 53 (2017-8)

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exhibition poster outside the museum

At the entrance to the exhibition, text informs one that the jury’s selection is like “a call to action – a plea to band together and cease our destruction of the natural world.

From an entry of some 50,000 images only 100 appear; these are the award winners and we are asked to respect their copyright and not make copies of the images which begs questions about the real motives behind this exhibition being “a call to action”! As Lewis Blackwell, chair of the jury, writes of the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 … “images this good can help inspire and educate”. However one does have the facility to upload images from the exhibition to Facebook so the polite refusal I got to use images on my blog appears misplaced!! (In fact, I emailed the press office at the museum who responded with permission to use a number of images; attendants are sometime volunteers who do not know the rules.)

Unfortunately by encouraging a high level of competition often dependent on expensive camera gear and access to special locations, wildlife photography is not being allowed to develop as a medium concerned with accurate representation of subjects as their portrayal is conditioned by popular aesthetics such as oversaturated colours and heavy contrast. Images are designed for impact rather than informing the viewer.

At the entrance I am told there is no audio guide yet one can go online and listen to the captions available in a variety of different languages. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/wpy/captions

Not only are the photographers mentioned by name, technical details are included while there is a world map to show where the image was made. There is a wealth of knowledge on offer to help better understand the subject being portrayed.

The photographs appear on screen rather than as prints though elsewhere when this exhibition tours, prints may be made. Arguably backlit photographs shown via the screen is the best way to view the image as they reflect the original view of the photographer.

Diversity

Ancient Ritual

The ancient ritual 
Brian Skerry, USA 
(Winner 2017, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles) 

The winner of amphibian and reptile behaviour section is Brian Skerry with a photograph of a turtle on a beach made with flash and a long exposure so that the turtle detail remains while the sea swirls around in the background. A judge commented on the eerie atmosphere that made her consider the vulnerability of the species. In my view, the ghostly shadows to the right of the turtle rather spoil this image.

A finalist of the Invertebrates behaviour section is a Hungarian Imre Potyo who has managed to catch a couple of moths hunting at night by using a double exposure and stroboscopic flash. Two lenses were used also a torch to catch both moths and night sky.

A finalist of the animals in the environment category is Jaime Rojo from Spain which shows a mass of butterflies with only one just below centre with its’ wings out. Although visually stunning, one needs what is happening pointing out as it is not clear.

The next image of a lone male ibex sheltering in the snow on a precipitous cliff face is visually compelling as it takes a moment for the eye to adjust.

The incubator bird © Gerry Pearce - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The incubator bird 
Gerry Pearce, UK/Australia (Winner 2017, Behaviour: Birds) 

 

None of the five bird behaviour photographs interest me much although one technicality used in two photographs is remote flash. One of these, an up close view of Maribou Storks at a kill after the vultures had left is striking.

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Hornbill interacting with Langur monkey by Dhanu Paran

I am more impressed by an image called “Hornbill losing patience” made by a young Indian photographer called Dhanu Paran who shows a Great Hornbill flapping it’s wings at a langur monkey that has strayed too close for comfort. Apparently he trekked for 22 kilometres to make this image. (The photographer gave me his permission to use this image after I contacted him).

Beside this is another image of wild boar crossing a floodlit road at night who are for some reason using the Zebra crossing marked out for pedestrian use. Made in Spain this image is both humorous and an interesting insight into what goes on while the city sleeps.

Version 2

Polar pas de deux 
Eilo Elvinger, Luxembourg 
Winner 2017, Black and white

The animal portraits section includes both colour and monochrome sections. One of these strikes me on account of the backlighting which is not supplied by nature but by stroboscopic flashes.

 The People’s Choice category is a slideshow from which one can choose an image for the award; images are fully onscreen for nine seconds each. There are some good bird images here such as a stork head hanging ponderously over a chick that sits between the adults legs and an reddish-orange eyed owl that looks directly down at the photographer from a tangle of branches yet my overall favourite is a black and white image of an African man sitting on the back seat of an automobile with his arms around an ape; both ape and human are smiling warmly apparently thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. Titled “Pikin and Apolinaire” this photograph is by Jo Anne MacArthur from Canada and gets my vote. (I later learn that this image is selected as the winner).

 

Memorial to a species © Brent Stirton - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

 Memorial to a species 
Brent Stirton, South Africa 
Grand title winner 2017 
(Also winner of The Wildlife Photojournalist Award: Story category)

The overall winner of the competition is from the documentary portfolio section and reveals a heart rendering image of a dead black bull rhino lying on the ground with one eye almost open and the red fleshy area from where the horn has been cut away. “Memorial to a species” is by Brent Stilton who works on long term projects for National Geographic. Fill flash has been used and so allows the sky detail to be retained; light filters through to be shown in detail, an important symbol in the message behind this image. 07.02

Under Urban wildlife, I am struck by Cat Attack in which a cat claws at a Lesser Kestrel defending it’s nest in Matera, a village that is home to Europe’s largest breeding colony of this species.

 There are so many great images in this exhibition as always but I shall allow myself one more which is by Charlie Hamilton James; at first it looks like a portrait of a young native girl her head only visible above green water until one spots the small pet tamarin sitting in her hair. This was a finalist in the Wildlife Photojournalist Award.

The final image I am showing is another one the organisers allowed me to download …

The good life © Daniel Nelson - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Contemplation 
Peter Delaney, Ireland/South Africa 
Winner 2017, Animal Portraits

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young Photographers

 

Portraits

 

Portfolio

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victorian Giants at The National Portrait Gallery April 2018

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As I walked across Piccadilly Square, I could not help noticing how alike the Odeon cinema is to a church albeit one not pointing east!

This exhibition is described by The National Portrait Gallery who are staging it between the 1’st of March and the 20’th May 2018 as follows …

“This major exhibition is the first to examine the relationship between four ground-breaking Victorian artists: Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–79), Lewis Carroll (1832–98), Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822–65) and Oscar Rejlander (1813–75). Drawn from public and private collections internationally, the exhibition features some of the most breath-taking images in photographic history. Influenced by historical painting and frequently associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the four artists formed a bridge between the art of the past and the art of the future, standing as true giants in Victorian photography.

Featuring striking portraits of sitters such as Charles Darwin, Alice Liddell, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Thomas Carlyle, George Frederic Watts, Ellen Terry and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.”

What do the critics make of the show? Writing in The Guardian, Jonathan Jones says “This captivating show proves that the most exciting thing happening in Victorian art was photography … ” and goes on to praise Julia Margaret Cameron … “There is a sensitivity to the magic of being human in Cameron’s portraits that makes her the greatest British artist of her time” a view that many would surely contest yet seems to echo what the critic Walter Benjamin wrote in his short history of photography about this era which existed before the commercialisation of the medium. Lewis Carrol wrote of her in 1864, ‘Hers are all taken purposely out of focus … Some are very picturesque – some merely hideous – however, she talks of them as if they were triumphs in art”.

Jones emphasises the importance of women in this show; “Hawarden’s pictures of Victorian women have an intimacy that transcends time and a mystery that asserts the autonomy of her subjects. They are feminist, and gothic too, in their eerie atmosphere.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Gaby Wood is drawn to Hawarden describing her as “the greatest discovery in the exhibition is a thrillingly strange image by Hawarden, to my mind always the most intriguing photographer of the four.” Wood goes on to describe Lady Hawarden as a Scottish countess when in fact she was Irish as was her husband, Cornwallis Maude, 1st Earl de Montalt.

Of the four art photographers showing, two are women, Julia Margaret Cameron and Lady Clementina Hawarden, two are men, Lewis Carroll and Oscar Rejlander.

Yet what of my own response to the exhibition?

My viewing started with ordering the catalogue to see what it was about beforehand and read an essay about it. Certainly the pleasure of seeing such work comes from actually viewing the original artworks rather than seeing their reproductions so a catalogue does not pre-empt the exhibition rather prepares one for it.

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signage outside the National Portrait Gallery

 

The title of this exhibition does seem somewhat contentious if not ironical. The Victorian Giants when meaning the photographers exhibited, can be considered so in relation to photography yet some of their subjects such as Tennyson and Darwin fit the description much better. In regards to these photographers being the birth of art photography, this raises questions about art photography and who might have originated it; did art photography start in England? What about Fox Talbot who is often considered both artist and scientist. In fact, the catalogue contains an essay about art photography (pp 98 to 104). This deals with the legitimacy of photography as art as reflected in writings of the time; of interest here is Alfred Wall who suggested that as the art establishment formally rejected photography as art by regarding it as a mechanical medium then it could well be time to think of photography in a different way although this did not really come about until later in the twentieth century and the birth of Modernist photography. Certainly Reijlander had interesting points to make about art and photography as in his “Apology for Photography” and such comments certainly mark the beginnings of “art photography”.
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the downcast look can be seen in the photograph behind the counter

Waiting to buy a ticket for entrance to the exhibition, I notice a photograph which is interesting in the way the subject has been posed. She neither looks at the camera or upwards but downwards without being downcast. An original posture that might well be frowned at these days.
Exhibition suggests art photography was not able to get underway until the 1850’s and the invention of the wet-plate collodion process. The exhibition shows an excellent video of the way this technology works. However not everything is the same in the film as then since modelling lights are being used for the session thereby greatly reducing the length of time the subject needs to be still and UV light being projected from a lamp to greatly speed up the developing of the print which formerly would have happened under daylight. There are also exhibits of original glass negatives from this time which are illuminated from behind by pressing a button.
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lunch beforehand in the restaurant

Collodion photography to which this exhibition bares testament allowed a different approach to photography; as Prodger writes “Speed began to separate photography from every other medium that had come before it. Not the speed to capture galloping horses or birds in flight – that would come later – but the simple ability to record discrete episodes of time.” (p.89) Exposure time could be of a second or less when before it was a matter of  seconds.
There is a sensitivity to these prints that one tends not to see in contemporary photography; the print material renders a softer image.
Initially, on entering the gallery, a brief show of the four photographers involved in this exhibition. It is not easy to differentiate between their styles although Cameron’s work is often characterised by dark backgrounds rather than the more formal white ones. Rejlander had mastered the technique better than the others whom he taught; this mastery is visible in the high level of detail in his prints.
Photographs of Tennyson and Darwin by both Cameron and Rejlander are interesting to view side by side although they do not reveal great differences of approach.
The suggestion that Carroll may have been a paedophile is not easy to resolve. His relationship with the two Liddell girls appears innocent enough. Likewise although his Andromeda photograph of Kate Terry suggests bondage, Rejlander has made a similar image which was inspired by a Rembrandt painting.
Rejlander also photographed nude women which to Victorian eyes was not as acceptable as painting them! However Rejlander interestingly pointed out that his photographs were accurate in regard to perspective where often painters were not. Photographers making documents for artists is a practice that continues to this day.
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view from the NPG gallery restaurant

One characteristic of these photographs is the use of allegory. This is not unknown in contemporary photography and still an accepted practice yet most photography nowadays more strongly denotes its’ subject. Many of the subjects do not look directly at the camera but to one side.
Photographs like The Chimney Sweep by Rejlander point towards social documentary rather than just portraiture but the photographic process was not yet suitable for street photography.
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“Art must assist photography!” by Oscar Gustav Rejlander (under licence from The National Portrait Gallery)
albumen print, 1856

Most of the photographs are portraits of females. Is there a reason for this? Perhaps it is a reflection of the then presiding view of photography as only a “handmaiden” of the Arts with women likewise being regarded of secondary importance.
Conceptually, this meant allowing the particular to stand for the universal,  and accepting that photographs, as specific and as detailed as they might be, can stand for something beyond what is actually recorded.
This was an enjoyable exhibition. Apart from visiting it with an old friend, I ran in to another old friend while in the gallery. These images have a beauty perhaps in their relative simplicity though the manner of their making involved a complex process not easy to conduct.
Of incidental interest was The Wilson Centre of Photography whose UK division supplied a number of the prints; more here from the Daily Telegraph.

 

 

Re

Thomas Ruff

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Thomas Ruff memorabilia

Although I buy the catalogue beforehand and look through it, I do not really do my homework which is reading David Company’s essay “Thomas Ruff: Image Ventriloquism and the Visual Primer” as I have trouble accessing it via my phone; in fact it does not seem to be fully accessible via the website but an earlier essay on the aesthetics of the pixel is . I do however manage to see a video of Ruff talking about the exhibition on YouTube which is followed by an interview!

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OCA tutor Jayne

This is an OCA college visit. We meet as a group and chat beforehand. Straight photography from the Düsseldorf School. Makes series of photographs. His work has moved on from large format to found imagery using the internet as a source. From images of friends to images of stellar constellations.

The first series is called “The Emperor”being  of his own  figure draped over a chair; the images are printed quite small (slightly larger than enprint size) and from 1982 when Ruff was awarded a grant to study in Paris.

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“M.n.o.p” series of photographs (2013) from Museum of Non-Objective Painting which have been manipulated not solely for effect but to present a realistic and aesthetic view of a gallery interior. The originals are from 1939. Ruff has done a similar job with an exhibition of Jackson Pollock held at The Whitechapel Gallery in 1958.

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The huge portraits (someone says the series is called Passports but is incorrect) made as if they were passport photographs but for the size reveal a dispassionate view. These were made during the 1980’s and suggest use of a large format camera. The technique is immaculate! Jayne the OCA tutor mentions associations with the state watching the individual as it has been since the development of technology since the 19’th century; these photographs were made in the decade before the wall between what were two Germany’s came down; there is an inference of this but if one did not think about such government surveillance these photographs stand out as wonderful human documents that might be regarded as recalling the work of August Sander.

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Stars is a series of night-sky images taken by the European Southern Observatory and made around 1989 to 1992. These are largely monochromatic although a hint of colour can be seen. Blowing them up to sizes that are about 10 feet high adds to the perception of space as a vast area.

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The Mars photographs come later. They are taken from the NASA mission launched in 2005 and date from 2011, 2012 and 2013.

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These images are full of colour with one requiring special viewing “glasses” that render a 3D effect.

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“Interiors” is a series of interiors as the title suggests. Early work from the 1980’s these images suggest “an atmosphere of melancholy, restraint and even repression” portraying “the material culture of post-war Düsseldorf” and showing no people or mess. There is something of the clean Germanic ideal in these images but am not sure they necessarily contain melancholy!

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JPEG, the title actually appears in lower case as jpeg, is a complete departure from the technically immaculate that is a feature of Ruff’s work as the blown up images show the “jaggies” typical of low resolution imagery. Made in 2004 and 2006, the destruction of the “twin towers” from 2001 features.

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Nights is a series of street scenes from 1992-6 made with a device that mimics low light cameras used by surveillance technology during the Gulf War. These add an eerie feel to ordinary everyday imagery. There are also a couple of large photographs from the mid 1990’s made using the Minolta Montage Unit which Ruff borrowed from the police. These black and white images are much softer than the large colour ones and hence more sensitive portraits.

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Houses from 1988 and 1990 are again realistic photographs yet with no obvious sky other than a blank off white space. There is said to be a Bauhaus influence.

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Substrates is a collection of  2 large multi-coloured photographs apparently made from Japanese pornography. The results contain highly saturated colours with no intimation of their origins.

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Another series from 2000 to 2002 shows more pornographic imagery; taken from the internet these images might be seen as a contemporary manifestation of the human nude as an art historical subject. However the couple tongue licking suggest something less classical and more erotic; the soft focus effect of these photographs helps to make them erotic rather than merely pornographic.

I break for lunch and a meeting with the college, sitting opposite the tutor, Jayne Taylor.

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OCA students discuss over a light lunch

We introduce ourselves to the group and start to discuss. There is a need to stick to the course; study days help. Easy to go off on a tangent. No need to review whole exhibitions, too much to absorb; better to settle on perhaps a couple of images. Choose something that resonates with one or something that one does not understand.

The aura of the work, being in the presence of a work of art yet also better understanding the photographer’s original intention. For instance, size plays an important part in Ruff’s exhibition.

Portraits placed at eye level is effective! Ruff’s subjects appear at ease. The photographer did not direct rather allowed the subject to present themselves. Technically highly proficient though this may not strike many people. Presenting oneself as an individual yet also as subject.

Self-portraits an early project. Called The Emperor! What might the intention be? We cannot know and perhaps there was not one; recalling performance art perhaps.

JPEGs reflect a completely different effect to much of his other work; Ruff is a photographer exploring or interrogating the photographic medium.

Machines no longer machines but objects of art.

Interiors abstract rather than making a social comment. No people included just as when people are included there is no background!

Two images from exhibition that strike one! No need to write about the whole lot! Slow down and take time to look at the work rather than glance.

Düsseldorf at night! Scary imagery yet when looked at closely effect can go beyond the “eerie consistency” effected by green tones and vignetting. Reminiscent of Second World War bombing perhaps.

Is the show about coming to terms with being German in the modern world? Cold certainly detached.

It seems too easy to project associations onto Ruff’s work; Campany writes … “ … viewers can never be so neutral, never as dispassionate as a lens glass. They will also bring interpretations and associations. What is calm, serious and anonymous becomes disarming, suggestive and enigmatic, especially in the space of art.” (catalogue p.190)

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The only portrait in this series to have the subject looking to one side; the photographer Ruff was directing the model.

After the college meeting is over, I walk through the exhibition again, this time noting that one of the portraits that of a coloured woman from the “portraits” series (one student had incorrectly referred to the series as being called “passports”) shows the subject looking to one side rather than directly at the camera. This is certainly an image worth considering.

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Negatives is a series worth considering! Although printed as negatives in the cyanotype style, they are actually made from nineteenth century portraits that were printed originally as straight sepia prints. The reversal effected by Ruff using a computer has an appealing aesthetic that might make one curious about the original subjects that remain mysteriously obscured.

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Machines, work from 2003, is similar in the way old photographs have been digitised and then printed this time as straight black and white prints with incidental evidence of their origins. Some of these have been toned.

Photograms is another series from 2012-4 that emulates the darkroom technique of Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray but here digitised and with colour added. Not my favourite work in the exhibition but one piece used on the cover of some editions of the catalogue.

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Newspaper Photographs from 1990-1991 are newspaper photographs enlarged at a scale of 2:1 with the text removed. Presented out of context these images some of recognisable subjects as in a portrait of Lenin, suggest new meanings.

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Another news oriented series is Press in which large blown up photographs bear the stamps of working methods of the time. Although banal, these pictures interest the viewer through suggested meanings.

I finally get to read the catalogue after the event. The introductory page by curator Iwona Blazwick points out Ruff saying he works with photographs rather than making them. Much of his work is about Düsseldorf where he lives and works and is considered to be part of the Düsseldorf School. Mostly he works from his computer using found images asking us, as the curator suggests, “to stop, experience and evaluate its histories and procedures, one image at a time”.

The catalogue has a series of quotes about photography from a number of notable sources. This reminds one of the strength of this exhibition which is not just about a photographer but photography as a whole. I am struck by some of the comments by non-photographers; some is reminiscent of Baudelaire yet is written over a 100 years later in 1988 by Thomas Bernhard and reflects a view still held by some who see photography as an assault on art rather than a conduit for it; “The photograph reveals only a single grotesque or comic moment.

Campany’s essay in the catalogue is interesting and makes comments that are relevant. For instance, the suggestion that with such an approach from the photographer of wanting to represent clearly and simply as in the series called “Interiors” (198?) …

There is a lot to consider in this exhibition which presents a largely uncomplicated view of the world, accessible to the viewer who is ready to give it time. It also reveals that a photographer need not be bound by genre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Handful of Dust @ The Whitechapel Gallery (2017)

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I made two visits to this exhibition.

27th of June 2017

I arrive late morning to see this exhibition and within minutes bump into people I know! The first is Stan Dickinson and his wife who I got to know in Paris a few years ago on a student lead expedition and bumped into again at this very gallery, The Whitechapel Gallery, for the Black Square exhibition so to see them again here is surreal, a wonderful case of synchronicity.  Stan who got a first class honours in his Photography B.A.  received this in a ceremony with the UCA who have now more or less taken over the OCA. Apparently, my name was mentioned at the event  as times past were recalled by the outgoing CEO Gareth Dent. If this coincidence is not enough then Wendy Mc Curdo, a tutor from the OCA also arrives with a friend so for a moment we stand and gossip before Stan makes his apologies as they have a train to catch. Somehow this meeting of OCA (Open College of the Arts) members seems to mirror the message of this exhibition which is about the way a particular work of art has survived almost 100 years in different manifestations and in different contexts as well as influencing other art works (Sophie Ristelhuber’s elevated photograph of the Gulf War for instance); our incidental meeting is like that of the art works in this exhibition!

 

The central artwork  in this  exhibition is a photograph made of dust by Man Ray in New York while visiting the studio of Marcel Duchamp in 1920. Ray was actually just testing his equipment setup before reluctantly engaging in a commissioned project to photograph other people’s artwork. It is not really known exactly why this photograph was made but it seems Marcel Duchamp had something to do with it and the resulting print, there are a number in existence, was signed both by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. The curator of the exhibition, David Campany, has taken this image as the starting point for the whole exhibition which seems to offer an alternative narrative to modern art, one not centred around Steiglitz’s photograph of a urinal that Duchamp had exhibited, but around a photograph that is not merely reproducing something as in the urinal photograph but manages to make what it represents, here it is dust, into something ambivalent.

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Another presentation of the Handful of Dust image

As a whole, this exhibition does not represent a single artist or photographer, rather it is concerned with an alternative history of photography, a theme based around dust, and so it is really the work of the curator, David Campany. It does however, include a number of photographic artworks by different photographers which are interesting for their own sake.

 

 

The first room contains a print of the original dust photograph from 1920, made in 1968. From this there are instances of it being reproduced such as in a contemporary publications like and later publications such as Charles Henry Ford’s Poems for Painters from 1945. Also in this room, are photographs of aerial views taken during wartime which produced effects similar to the original dust photograph.

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The first room of the exhibition

The difference between seeing the exhibition and just reading or looking through the catalogue, is that the information is presented in a less linear fashion with the ability of the onlooker to wander around the rooms at will even though works are presented chronologically. Immediately concepts aired in the book become clearer notably the various names the original underwent such as being called Dust Breeding when Man Ray came to print it later on.

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Is the curator’s alternative history merely a parallel history in which recognised art photographers feature? One example is the work of Walker Evans which although showing rocky desert is not obviously dusty though it might well be described as a place where dust breeds!

Some of the artists are new to me!

Some works from the original exhibition are not here. For instance, Simon Norfolk’s photograph of an abandoned open theatre from Afghanistan. A haunting image that shows the pock marks of warfare along the back of the stage. It is an example of a photograph that has a very definite context.

07-A Handful of Dust screen-6705-20170902I personally like Nik Waplington’s photographs of rubbish dumps and works of art inspired by them that are reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism.

However, in the final gallery, there is also a black and white video of a forest in which the wind slowly picks up so that the trees are shaking wildly by the end. What makes this relevant to the theme of the exhibition, dust, is that the forest of trees when viewed from above is somewhat reminiscent of detailed imagery of dust as in the photograph by Man Ray and Duchamp.

The catalogue includes all the art works as well as some that are not seen here but presumably were in the Paris exhibition. The essay that comes in a detachable booklet of its’ own is also an interesting read and explains in greater depth what this exhibition is actually about.

September 2’nd 2017 (with Open College of the Arts students)

A guide from the Whitechapel Gallery tells us that the gallery has no permanent collection before introducing us to the geography. I ask if there is any recording of the conference held in connection with the exhibition; it is suggested I contact the gallery direct and have a look on YouTube. There is a YouTube video introducing this exhibition which I watch; I immediately start to see the exhibition in a different way as about Dust and the representation of dust rather than a historical trajectory resulting from a Man Ray/Duchamp photograph.

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Although originally shot in black and white, prints are often sepia toned.

The original photograph is interesting because unlike so much work from this period, the contrast is low and not being used to emphasise detail or create contrast. It is more a grey print than a black and white one!

Photographic subjects include aerial map making, other aerial views, dust on Mussolini’s car, gravestones, cave wall paintings, atomic bomb post-Nagasaki, dust off spray, American dust storms both in print and video, deserts, close ups of surfaces like roads and rocks, volcanic explosions, vandalism, sculpture made from flour, dust on Mars, garbage, mud etc

Photographers represented include Man Ray, Shomei Tomatsu, Brassai, Walker Evans, Aaron Siskind, Jeff Wall, Gerhard Richter, Nick Waplington, Sophie Ristelhueber among others.

There are also official photographs taken from private sources such as Holland House Library, Kensington, London.

Good to see prints that are black to white rather than black and white. Printing does effect the way we read an image.

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Sophie Ristelhueber

Interesting to see Sophie Ristelhueber’s artwork at the end of the exhibition; she references the original Duchamp/Man Ray photograph as a source of inspiration in her work. The original photograph made in 1920 has a definite trajectory even if the other photographs in this exhibition were made without knowledge of it.

And of course, photography has a very ambivalent relationship with Dust. It has to be kept away from the camera, but it is extremely photogenic.” David Campany

 

OCA student discussion

references: Sean O’Hagan review in The Guardian ..

“From the surrealists to the moon landings and on to the 9/11 attacks, A Handful of Dust traced a kind of shadow history of photography through a substance that evokes all manner of ominous suggestion. Curated by David Campany, it ranged from the vernacular (postcards of American dust storms) to the art historical (Man Ray’s Dust Breeding, a photograph of dust-coated glass in Duchamp’s studio). A show of interesting juxtapositions, with dust as the abiding metaphor for time, history, memory – and photography.”

David Campany website for FT review

Gap between knowledge and vision brought out in exhibition.

First room more about historical context, archival process, much lower viewing light while last room was also dark.

Photographing private spaces in return for the owners using those photographs for their own purposes.

Cerebral show more about ideas than imagery. Captions necessary part of understanding the artwork. Tends to be true of modern art as a whole.

What about dust from Icelandic earthquake from a few years ago!? About the 20’th Century rather than contemporary. Anologue era rather than digital!

Prefer to see the dust image rather than the urinal image made by Steiglitz that is seen as the birth of conceptual art.

Dust exhibition not a blockbuster but if it had been in a big gallery like Tate Modern, the response to the exhibition could have been very different. Academic atmosphere to the show.

Study of photography not just about making images also about studying the theory of photography as a whole. Campany a useful teacher to be aware of as is Lucy Soutter.