Sander, Bechers and Parr@ National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

Sander, Becher and Parr


Entrance to Cardiff railway station on a November morning

A formidable choice of photographers. August Sander and the husband and wife, Hilda and Berndt Becher, are all German and predominantly twentieth century and while Martin Parr has his roots in the second half of the twentieth century, he is largely a contemporary photographer. While Sander is the oldest of these photographers having worked in the first half of the twentieth century, his portraiture has more in common with the social photography of Parr than the Bechers although like the Bechers, Sander was German. It is an interesting mix of photographic artists and one can’t help wonder what the curation will make of it all.


Sander’s photo of the young farmers about which John Berger has written

On a wet and rather windy morning in November 2919, I find myself on the steps of The Museum of Wales to see what promises to be an impressive show if nothing more. Sander is the only one I have not seen exhibited before yet his work is well known with one of his images of young farmers dressed up for a night out being the subject of a John Berger essay.(see HERE)

The OCA tutor shows up late and we tire of waiting on the steps preferring the warmth of the cafe inside! Matt sets us a small project to choose one or more works from each of the three exhibitions and put them together as a curated piece.


outside the museum

Before this, Bronwen, curator of photography at the museum, talks to us. She works alongside exhibiting artists and is responsible for the exhibitions.


portrait by Sander of a mousetrap salesman

Sander, pronounced Xander, dedicated himself to developing a portrait of the nation largely during the first half of the twentieth century. Influenced Bechers. Made a portfolio of archetypes, fundamental roles from early twentieth century depicted both industrial and rural. Methodical approach. Beautiful portraits as well as ambitious survey. Controversial approach resulting in attacks from National Socialists.

OCA tutor Matt wonders about Sander’s private life and social status. Voyeurism? Class from a neutral point of view! Art destroyed by Nazis as considered degenerate, not contributing to idealism of nation.

Were the people Sander photographed really what he said they were?


The Bechers created a different kind of typology. The typological approach might also link with Martin Parr; he is also looking at different social classes like Zander.

Chronological timeline to exhibition of work helps to give the exhibition some uniformity.

Bronwen has been working on the Becher exhibition for 3 years (original idea for all 3 exhibitions) Bernd and Hilla’s son is now managing their archive. Some work on show here not exhibited before.


looking at work by the Bechers

The Bechers came over to Wales in the mid-60’s to photograph industrial structures on an Arts Council grant. Travelled in a camper van photographing everything they could of relevance. First time this work is being seen in Wales. Hilla had been interested in such an exhibition of their work.

Portraits of buildings! Finding the right vantage points. Sculptural approach; Henry Moore Foundation helped support this exhibition.

Capturing a disappearing industrial landscape. Typological approach dead pan. Continues in the Düsseldorf School of Photography of today.

Bechers ignoring people photography!!? Did not engage with social side of industry. Camaderie between miners not indicated. No mention of miner’s strike or the Aberfan disaster. There is a film about the Aberfan disaster called Attraction of Onlookers by Shimon Attie. which was on show at The National Museum of Cardiff.

Work on show from all over the world but landscapes all Welsh. Hilla selected the typologies for this exhibition but had passed away by the time landscapes were added.

Paul Cabuts typography of South Wales


Martin Parr exhibition

Martin Parr lives nearby in Bristol and owns a flat in Tenby hence a link with Wales. Lot of work on show was commissioned. British society. Criticised for documentation of classes yet warmth and fondness in his work. More playful less uniform approach. Prints all printed for this exhibition and will be destroyed afterwards to protect his integrity.

Criticism of his documentary approach. Coming up to strangers and photographing them without permission.


Laughing at his characters or laughing with them!? There is something very human in his approach.

My response to Matt’s assignment is to focus on the common link between these three, in many ways diverse exhibitions, which arise out of a need to compartmentalise the world, to create typologies which may say more about the observer than the observed. However, a grouping of objects does help to differentiate between them; what appears initially to be similar is shown to be very varied. My paper ran thus …

On the face of it, these three exhibitions have little in common. Photographers whose lives overlap but who do not share much in common. One might describe them as coming from different eras yet there are similarities such as Modernist and German although this would not include not Parr who might be described as British and post-modern.

The common theme running through the exhibition is one of typology, of making groups of images and hence in a sense compartmentalising the subjects even stereotyping them. A typical photographic approach.

Yet paradoxically, this helps to bring the individuality of the subjects to the fore. When you see the subjects beside each other , one notices the differences.

A review of the exhibition can be found on The Burlington Contemporary website

Matt suggested a number of sources …

The Ragged trousered philanthropists by Robert Tressel (fiction based on truth)

Gunther Von Hagens: reconstructed cadavers

Joseph Beuys

Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield

(Amazon Prime) a bit depressing

The OCA discussion continued …

Not taking photographs at face level

Suggestion that Parr is putting people down or looking down on others; degrading others.

Story of Parr meeting with OCA when he offered to sign his zines for us!

Calling his foundation Martin Parr after himself !!?

All exhibitions looking at society !? Thinks Paddy, a student. She has a number of ideas another being about class, hierarchy, equality etc

How do these establish equality!??

All exhibitions collections


photography by Abi Green

After seeing the exhibitions at The Museum of Wales, we walk for awhile to Ffotogallery which has now opened in an old church in Fanny Street. There is an exhibition on here called The place I call home which consists of work by a number of photographers about Arabian locations. Some have a more imaginative approach than others and I am struck by a video piece in which a strangely clad human figure draws a house shaped machine across a sand dune landscape in which water also features. Other work is more formal with environmental portraits featuring. The exhibition is British Council sponsored and comes with a free catalogue; it gives a picture of the Arab world beyond that coloured by the dominance of Islam. Some of the imagery is of Arabs who have settled in the UK.

Don McCullin @ Tate Britain April 2019

As I understand, McCullin is a photographer of trauma; his imagery whether concerned with conflict or landscape, is essentially about trauma. That in the end is what I took away from this great exhibition.


TATE BRITAIN: a traditional art gallery showing photography

It has taken me time to write up my two visits to this exhibition. There is so much one could explore about the context to this work as well as the implications of such photography.

As a photographer, I am struck by the style. High contrast with lots of shadow, dark and brooding prints; my technical education has often been about tackling this kind of look and making it more readable yet McCullin’s style is part of his unique oeuvre and it would be foolish to criticise this. “What about opening up the shadows?” I wrote in my notes; well this would most likely ruin the impact of these images particularly those of conflict in which truth is often a casaulty!


Visitor looking at McCullin’s prints

The prints all made by McCullin himself are of excellent quality. The occasional use of a 6×6 camera has paid off. Composition is effective and shows what needs to be shown.

I wrote further, “Is the art compromising the image quality, the need to look and see. Detail is being obscured. Unrealistic representation; not because of black and white but an emphasis on dark tonal quality ?” Although McCullin probably does not like to be labelled an artist, his work is very much an interpretation and a convincing one at that. History is more than an assembly of facts, it is about what happens in the shadows.


this poster advertising the exhibition gives some idea of the complexity of the work on show

In his more recent work made at Palmyra, a site that has suffered destruction since he photographed there, the qualities of the image seem technically improved possibly a result of improvement in photographic technologies. There is still the strong contrast though, the contrast reflecting the opposing poles that make conflict inevitable. Even in peace, Mc Cullin’s images are about war.

This is particularly true of his Somerset landscapes. As someone who has lived in Somerset for decades, I cannot help but question the dark images he makes of what is a place associated with summer. There have been floods in Somerset but mostly the area is green and rural with small scattered farms. What is not to like? McCullin comments … “I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself: ‘I didn’t kill that man on that photograph, I didn’t starve that child.’ That’s why I want to photograph landscapes and flowers. I am sentencing myself to peace.’ The impression one gets is that he has suffered a great deal of unjustified criticism.

Are his brooding almost threatening landscapes not a way of avoiding guilt !? His Somerset streams look like war zone trenches than waterways!


visitors to what was a crowded gallery; “Can’t see a f***ing thing, absolute nightmares” one woman remarked to me as she stormed past!

However, there is perhaps a more significant way to consider these images and that revolves around the fact they are depicting conflict in various different ways. For some, this raises ethical questions. What purpose if any does work like this serve? Might this be part of a healing of wounds? Not all images are about conflict such as some of those from India. What they do show however, is a world far removed from the ordinary lives of the kind of people likely to visit the Tate. This kind of education perhaps justifies the showing of such images which depict with a fair degree of accuracy how the other third are forced to live.


Tate Britain is beautifully constructed

My first visit was with a friend who has a passing interest in photography (he had however suggested the visit!) and the second with fellow students from the Open College of the Arts where discussion was an essential part of seeing the exhibition. Tutor Robert Bloomfield asked us to read some pages beforehand from Cruel Radiance by Susan Linfield, a work that I had come across a few years ago.

The Cruel Radiance responds to critics of photographs that depict violence as, in some cases, pornography, by pointing out that photography communicates the suffering of the body better than any other media and that this does not need to be a narcissistic identification. Some photographers such as Salgado come under attack for aestheticising violence and hence normalising it yet the kind of criticism that supports this view does not really see the whole picture. Photography does not do a perfect job in communicating such an ubiquitous underlying subject as violence yet one can not expect such unreasonableness to be reasonably portrayed. Linden is supporting the work of such photographers as McCullin rather than condemning them like many other critics whose views have become rhetorical; the idea that we become desensitised by viewing such imagery is barely questionable.


the book shop has a small library of relevant books which are also being sold along with bric a brac outside the entrance to the galleries

The visit is delayed by half an hour and so I sit in the café chatting with another student who practices mindfulness. As we are there, the actress Una Stubbs who I remember from a TV sitcom from the 1960s, comes in and sits at the table next to us.

Robert Bloomfield, our tutor for the day, asks us to consider a number of points including …

Dialectics: what you see is an objection to what is being shown

Context of shared humanity

Strong emotional context

Images related to body

Is it appropriate to show this kind of work which is often very private

Is it art!?

Photographers gaze patronising? Imperialist?

Pornographic!? Too intimate

What makes us want to look at them!?

I have answered some of these questions already.

Can war images also be subjective? Certainly selective!


Tutor Robert Bloomfield (left) in conversation with a student

After viewing the work, we meet for a cuppa and a chat about the exhibition.

Did we find the work problematic to view? The harrowing Biafra portraits were apparently made with permission! Even now, we do not know where our images might appear.
How much was Don McCullin aware of styles of photojournalistic imagery!?
Setup around dead soldier; otherwise imagery response to certain situations
A lot of information in frame
Contrast of subjects as well as light
Subjective vision; what we see depends on who we are!
Photography made during my lifetime
Hard nosed journalism!?
Landscape shot of village in mist; very dark, detail barely visible.
Many intimate photographs taken without permission
We tend to choose images that have some kind of personal relevance!


The Open College of the Arts blog about the day is worth reading. Apart from student comments, it also contains links to other sources such as Lewis Bush.



another view of Tate Britain’s winding staircase


Modern Nature @ The Hepworth Wakefield April 2019


view of the Hepworth Wakefield from across the river

This article relates to a visit to the Modern Nature exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield followed by a day symposium. I arrived the day before to allow time to see the exhibition before the symposium begins. I wonder how many attendees at the symposium saw the exhibition?

“For the first time in human history, more people are living in urban environments than in the countryside, yet the impulse to seek out nature remains as strong as ever.”

The impulse to find nurture in nature is still strong! Countryside a much more inspiring environment than the city thought Hepworth. Photography has not been slow to pick up on this! Edgelands is a term used to describe the meeting point between the rural and the urban and which is the focus of this exhibition that dwells on human interaction with nature. The exhibition space is 2 large rooms with a line of framed photographs along the walls at head height.


Brandt and Davies photographs

Charlotte Bronte casts  nature as a sublime force in Wuthering Heights; a response to this is from Bill Brandt in Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire 1945 which  is high in contrast, a lithlike print. John Davies approach seems very different in Monkwearmouth Colliery, Sunderland, County Durham, 1983; above the industrial landscape fly a flock of birds. Brandt Romantic view, Davies’ de-industrial.

Poetry of nature’s ability to reassert itself among ruins! Could be weeds growing on street (cf Chris Shaw B&W high contrast prints) but also crescent moon above town by B.Brandt and Gill’s photography from Hackney.

Chris Killip’s photograph of working community in the snow from 1984; there is a quote from Mc Farlane that “wildness not only property of land – it is also a quality which can settle on a place with a snowfall or with close of day.


overview of exhibition space

Jo Spence shows travelling community living on unused land by motorway.

Into the Wild; Rousseau noted “Nature never deceived us; it is we who deceive ourselves.

Paul Hill explores theme of car and nature, Keith Arnatt photographed an AONB that often does not see to live up to its’ designation, Mark Power photographs areas we have heard mention of on the shipping forecast but never visualised.

Seaside imagery from Luskacova and Parr. Reas and Roberts make ironic comments on heritage. Anna Fox’s view of the countryside from The Village, 1991


some of Peter Mitchell’s humorous portraits of scarecrows

Part of the photographer’s job is to see more intensely than most people do.” Bill Brandt

John Blakemore photographs of wheat fields

This exhibition seems to be very much about the way we interact with nature rather than about nature itself; this is epitomised by Three Boys and a Pigeon, the central photograph by Daniel Meadows from 1974.

In the café there is a photographic book by Broomberg and Chanarin; published by The Tate in 2015, it also considers the meeting point between “humans and other animals.” Looks like it has sold out in the shop; described as a book to “inspire curiosity in the visual image” and to teach “young children how to listen with their eyes.”

I spend the night in Wakefield. Walking down a street near the centre, I am struck by the number of “To Let” signs.


approach to the Hepworth Wakefield across the bridge

The next day I walk down to the Hepworth Wakefield for the two day symposium of which the first day relates to photography! I am not attending the second day.

If nature can be modern then one might ask if it can also be postmodern and perhaps even Surrealist! After seeing the exhibition, it seems clear that nature is not being considered in isolation but in relation to contemporary humanity.


sign at entrance about the symposium

The symposium is a collaboration between The Hepworth Wakefield, an award winning art museum, and the University of Sheffield. The conference is introduced by the curator of the exhibition. The Hepworth have a garden opening this summer; green spaces said to have health giving properties. They can also be artworks and spaces in which art can be shown.

From an early age, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth felt inspired by the countryside. Raymond Williams pointed out that we see landscape differently and according to our experience. The photographs in the exhibition are personal views of nature in landscape. Apparently it was the filmmaker Derek Jarman who coined the term Modern Nature.

Dr Jackson from the University of Sheffield talks. She has been working with the Hepworth among other groups. She talks about Furnace Park, a garden being built in Sheffield. She mentions “an interesting process to watch” a term which relates to my reasoning behind photographing the construction of a housing estate. The speaker shows fenced off areas photographed by my CS tutor, Andrew Conroy; she also discusses the social history of the Furness Park area.

Tristan Gooley, a full time professional of natural navigation. Reading patterns in the landscape and water also snow. Cf Nature’s Radar (8000 word essay) signs in nature can be pragmatic Everything has meaning in nature such as a rainbow which means the sun is behind us then further meaning from colours dominating the rainbow. Gooley’s website

His book How to connect with nature looks interesting but is currently unavailable on Amazon though Abebooks have cheap second hand copies. “Natural navigation is the rare art of finding your way using nature.” Nothing is random!

Lunch with fellow OCA student Sarah Gallear who like me is on Level 3 and also doing assignment 4 at CS. Like me she is not finding it easy.

After lunch, a talk by James Hyman whose photographic collection provided the photographs for the exhibition. The Hyman Collection of British Photography has a website and also a blog; a private collection but quite visible with some 3000 photographs online. This show, Modern Nature, was aimed at a local audience but does have a context with similar contemporary exhibitions. Rural Modernity, Everyday Life and Visual Culture by Rosemary Shirley is a book that might be of interest.

Red as symbol of the urban, green as symbol of rural. Use of Infrared film by John Davies in making photographs of different trees. Photography can be a political tool in fight against change. The heritage industry. Kew Gardens full of signs telling you about things. Seems there is a lot of irony being used in these images.

photographers in discussion 20190425-iPhone-1322

photographers with David Hyman (far right)

After Hyman has spoken, it is time for the photographers to talk. Simon Roberts studied under Peter Jackson at Sheffield University; deciphering the landscape not learning about photography!! Needs people in his photography; bird’s eye view. Creating narratives in landscape; something else going on in pictures other than view presented. Peter Mitchell talks “for a couple of minutes!?” Humorous talk of an autobiographical nature. Daniel Meadows talks about his photographic omnibus and his archive.

Did the photographers make images with the viewer in mind particularly or the future in mind? The photographers did have a sense that they were creating documents of their eras. Camera a passport to making history preferable to being an artist. The photograph  an object worth keeping and like a painting.

Daniel Meadows never saw himself as anything more than a documentarian. Simon Roberts more politically engaged; getting commissions etc Mitchell also aware of an audience to his work.

There is a question and answer session! Documentary practice important aspect of British photography.

Another break during which I say hello to my OCA tutor Andrew Conroy.

White Bungalows on a Hill by Helen Mort, poet and writer of fiction. Urban rural or edgelands! Do maps destroy our wonder of the world! Knowledge does not dispel mystery!? McFarlane writing about beech tree in The Wild Places; “There was nothing unique about my beech tree, nothing difficult in its ascent, no biological revelation at its summit, nor any honey. But it had become a place to think. A roost.


Climbers by Harrison. The character in a book is called Normal; a photographer interested in banal aspect of landscape e.g. unofficial rubbish dumping. Collision of rural and urban. Norman MacCaig writes about not imposing identity on what one makes art about. Poems are like 360 still photographs.

Things my Father does not want me to dwell on by Zakiya McKenzie. Her family call her an earth mama! Her talk is about her relationship to her family, a kind of autobiography that examines the meaning of her work. Her father does not want her to talk about race and diversity because he thinks this will pigeonhole her! Nature walks with people of different ethnic groups who make photographs and write.


the poet, Pete Green, talks about the Wordsworthian and a more provincial sublime

Presentation by Longbarrow Press

Photography particularly TV has prejudiced our experience of landscape; pre-emptied our experience of sublime in beautiful grandiose! Wordsworth privileged Clare not; his sublime more accessible. Sublime can take many forms …

I say during question time that the Sublime is an inner experience not an outer reality; nature only reflects it! Although this is ignored in the general discussion, someone comes up to me afterwards to thank me for pointing this out and the woman leading the event mentions it in her summing up and also thanks me afterwards for making the remark. The Sublime, the real reading of it rather than the literary interpretation is something I care about yet no one at the OCA seems to have been interested in my views.

Tomorrow the nature of the debate changes to gardens and mental health. I do not have time to attend but would have liked to although the surfeit of ideas from today is going to take time to absorb.











early Diane Arbus at The Hayward Gallery


Diane Arbus “In the Beginning” is an exhibition of black and white photographs being shown at The Hayward Gallery in London from February to May 2019. As the title suggests, the exhibition features the early work of Diane Arbus. Most of the prints are made by Arbus but not the specially created portfolio from 1971 that shows in a small room at one side of the gallery space. Only 8 copies of the original portfolio were printed by Arbus of which only 4 were sold at $1000 each. Following her death, more were printed and the one on show here comes from that work.
The portfolio box reveals some of her most important works such as the Jewish giant with his parents, the twin girls and a family on their lawn one Sunday. A child holding a toy hand grenade in Central Park, NYC from 1962 and pulling a strange face as he does so is another iconic image in the exhibition.
The catalogue does not give much away neither does it illustrate all the photographs on show. The concern seems to be more with the actualities of maintaining the archive which came into the possession of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art only in 2008, Arbus having taken her life (a fact not mentioned in exhibition material) in 1971. Some of the work here is owned by other organisations such as the V&A based in Kensington, London.
My impression of Arbus is somewhat conditioned by Susan Sontag who writes about what she sees as a “freak show”; the exhibition guide describes her work as “among the most intimate, surprising and haunting works of art of the 20’th century.”
The catalogue does contain an essay by Jeff L. Rosenheim which gives some insight into the artist who was Diane Arbus; a chance to see behind the lens rather than just through it. Apart from the cultural context of her work, her philosophical side is enlarged upon; she wrote … “The thing that is important to know is that you never know. You’re always sort of feeling your way.” (March 1871)
There are many intriguing images to see here, contrasty black and white photographs that evoke an era of New York from 1956 to 1962, the first seven years of serious photography by Diane Arbus.
As Rosenheim says, “The photographs call into question what we thought we knew about identity, gender, race, appearance, and the distinctions between artifice and reality” yet also her sixteen year old glimpse of “the divineness in ordinary things.”
I do not find much to inspire here. Although conscious of looking at work by a great photographer, a major figure in the history of photography, I wonder what this exhibition is about other than an important collection of photographs that are being preserved and looked after. The subject, if there is one, could be New York at a particular time in its history about which a series of insights have been presented; I think I need to reread what Sontag wrote about her.
HERE is a link to an article by someone who likes this work.

Bauhaus and Photography

01-exhibition advert

The Art Palace in Düsseldorf contains a number of facilities; next door and to the south, is the Cultural Centre where the Bauhaus and Photography exhibition is being held. One enters and there is a restaurant-café in front while to either side is the exhibition. On the right is a cashier and book shop; of course, I purchase the catalogue as well as a silk bag with Hokusai’s The Great Wave 🌊 on it but not until after seeing the exhibition.

02-entrance to NRW

entrance to the NRW-Forum

To the right is a large hall with work and lots of white wall space while to the left is a longer room partitioned to create three rooms. At the far end of this is another room that contains a virtual reality set up in which one wears a pair of goggles that allow one to see the Film und Photo exhibition from the Bauhaus era created by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy in 1929.

04-work by Moholy-Nagy

corner dedicated to physical reproduction of work by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and his wife

In the first room, there is another Lazlo Moholy-Nagy exhibit which is in a corner. It is good to see this work as well as the contemporary photography of Vivienne Sassen. My first look at the exhibition takes about half an hour during which I find time to read the captions that introduce the bodies of work. Brief but not lingering examination of the art works is possible.

I like an exhibition that is not too big or demanding.

03-tea and book

In the café, I start to read the catalogue. In his introduction, Kris Scholz talks about two approaches to photography, that of New Objectivity which sought to make accurate and objective representations while New Vision “strove to broaden people’s consciousness and open it up to a new, socialist society.”Some photographers saw the chance to experiment with a different way of using the camera as in point of view and adopting extreme positions such as from the top of buildings.

Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus was interested in a pioneering attitude and asked where photography might be heading. He helped liberate “photography from its commitment to the pure reproduction of reality” and wrote “photography is the first means of giving tangible shape to light … in a … almost abstract form.” Moholy-Nagy questioned the effects of capitalism but was fascinated by technology in which he saw great potential.

Moholy-Nagy was succeeded in 1929 by Walter Peterhans who was a trained photographer. He advocated a more rigorous and objective approach regarding Moholy-Nagy’s approach as lacking craftsmanship and encouraging academic dilettantism.

The Bauhaus encouraged not the lone artist in his garret rather one who was involved with the world of industry in which the artist is now required.

This exhibition is more concerned with the visionary aspect of photography than the purely technical.

05-work by Esteban

black and white work by Esteban

06-colour work by Esteban

colour work by Esteban

Esteban (b.1959) presents two sets of digital photo collages, one in black and white mostly and the other in colour, designed as visual textures; critique of contemporary civilisation is suggested by his work. The intricacies of mechanics are suggested in his imagery that recalls Cubist work. The non-colour work is fascinating and the colour quite appealing.

07-Seufert’s towers

Seufert’s towers

Seufert’s towers recalls the twin towers. Their strong geometry emphasised by colour makes them look like leaning towers. There is no direct reference to the twin towers and what might be suggested here is transcendence of that event.

08-Lucia Moholy-Nagy work

work by Lucia Moholy-Nagy

The corner dedicated to Moholy-Nagy and his wife is intriguing. This is from the Film und Foto exhibition of Stuttgart 1929 that moved to Berlin where changes seen here were made. It is a 1:1 restaging! The imaginative placing of the works is not easy to rationalise which is of course partly the point! A group of prints by L.Moholy-Nagy (these prints like the others here are newll made) are grouped together and have a similar appeal yet the selection feels different. There is a contemplative experience in this corner.

09-work by Doug Fogelson

Doug Fogelson

Forms and Records by Doug Fogelson (b.1970) are smaller works than Estrafan’s yet mirror his approach. The use of light boxes here helps to illuminate the work.

Douglas Gordon (b.1966) is a Scottish Turner Prize winner. His one black and white image here reproduced in different contexts shows a section of his head that includes one eye.

10-elephant video by Douglas Gordon

two of three screens showing an elephant rolling around; artist Douglas Gordon

In a large studio, a room I missed first time around, are two large video screens and a smaller one which show an elephant rolling around and walking, enjoying the space it is in. This is a wonderful video that brings out the intrinsic beauty of the animal.

12-THomas Ruff

abstract work from Thomas Ruff

I saw an exhibition of Ruff’s (b.1958) work about a year ago. The two pieces here represent some of his more imaginative and abstract work. Swirling shapes in both colour and monochrome with a few lines.

13-Vivienne Sassen

Vivienne Sassen

Vivienne Sassen (b.1972) was introduced to me as a fashion photographer; her work here is about art. Her use of strong transparent colour and detailed yet largely uniform landscapes is intriguing. Her work Umbra from 2015 is referenced. Her “arrangements always retain a slight contradictoriness. Moments of realism and abstraction are equally effective in them.” Green,Red and Yellow views are presented as large prints while smaller ones from the Umbra series (2015) are in a vitrine. I like this work and it’s commentary on the shadow but cannot grasp it!


Dominique Teufen (b.1975) has created a selfie point. A large canvas print of a mountainscape with glacier (actually just a “whimsically composed mountain of paper”) is draped over a wall and allows one to stand in front at a marked spot to take one’s selfie! She has other prints of architectural models.



Kris Schulz, a teacher, who wrote the introduction to the catalogue is also an exhibitor. I like his ornate  case of wood and glass which with lighting inside, is used to illuminate a collection of transparencies. Schulz also exhibits a series of large photographs of textures.


Work by Wolfgang Tillmans on show here I have seen before at Photo London 2016. His Brexit call to remain is intelligently expressed.


The 1929 Film und Photo is given prominence here. According to Kai-Uwe Hemken “the young Bauhaus students followed the avant-garde pursuit of innovation, topicality, and progress as the guiding principles of modernity …” There was no one photographic approach. The medium encouraged by smaller hand held cameras became more independent and grew away from the confines of painting.

An important figure was Lazlo Moholy-Nagy who famously wrote, “The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.


visitor watching the virtually reality recreation of Film Und Photo

The chance to see the 1929 Bauhaus photography exhibition “Film und Photo” held in Stuttgart via a virtual reality set up is truly remarkable. By wearing goggles and using a handheld device, one can walk around the exhibition although physically one need not walk anywhere. The photographs are not captioned although there are brief areas of text (in German) which presumably explain the different sections.

It is interesting to see this collection of photographs. When Walter Benjamin wrote A Little History of Photography, these are the kind of images he was referencing; in fact, he probably saw this exhibition and may even been inspired by it to write about photography.

I recognise some of the photography! There are the plant shapes of Karl Blossfeldt as well as portraits by Nadar and I think I recognise work by Scottish photographers Hill and Adamson. It feels unreal (it is) to be transported back to an experience of photography from 90 years ago.


What is the future of photography?

“What is the future of photography?” is the mantra of this exhibition; the text is written on the wall (literally) and the question still seems relevant today.

Antje Hanebeck (b.1968) presents large black and white photographs, high contrast, of modern architecture. The detail is soft. Some mirror the photographs Moholy-Nagy took looking down from the top of a tower.

The work of Daniel T Braun is abstract; one cannot make out exactly what he is photographing.

20-Onerato and Krebs

Work by Onerato and Krebs is likewise abstract yet there is more sense of form here. Three are in colour, two in black and white. There is a sense of motion here , of energy released and allowed to go wild. Fusion!

To fly to a European city to see an exhibition might seem obsessive but it was worth it. Perhaps there will be other exhibitions that focus on Bauhaus photography in this centenary year (2019) yet often photography is side-lined in Bauhaus exhibitions. Here, is the chance to engage with it, to understand the genius of Moholy-Nagy, and view a time when photography was in many ways an unexplored territory.



SHOWCASE OCA exhibition 25.10.2018


SHOWCASE is being staged at the OXO gallery on the South Bank, London

As I approached the gallery, I wondered if there would be any comments on my Martin Parr tote bag; Parr is not a favourite among OCA students and staff probably because he is more of a documentary photographer than an art photographer though some might question that. No one notices my tote bag in the end. The cup of tea imprinted on its’ side does not attract the degree of  attention the bright colours of my Hockney bag frequently does!!


OCA CEO Will Woods gives a talk

Showcase which marks 30 years of The Open College of the Arts is an exhibition about different approaches to art such as textiles, creative writing and of course painting. Photography is another pathway the college offers and yet here there is room for debate since the debate about photography and art still lingers … not as to whether it is art rather whether it meant to be art in the first place! Photography for photography’s sake rather than for arts’ sake; at the OCA it appears to be towards the latter! (another view open to being contested)


Perhaps the most striking aspect of this exhibition is that the white walls remain white. There are no paintings or photographs hung from their walls.


my reconstructed Vermeer is behind glass on a table top display

I find my exhibited photograph in the corner of a display box. It is a Vermeer reconstruction of the Milkmaid that won an OCA competition back in 2009. The archival sleeve has been removed which is disappointing because not only is it there for protection, it is part of the “art-object” giving the print acutance. Surprisingly, it is the only straight photographic print in the exhibition!

There are other photographs but these are projected onto a wall. The work of different students is featured here such as images by Jonathan Hall who has photographed people in the street; most of the people featured are blurred yet in the foreground are one or more figures more clear defined. This still-moving contrast helps to give the work substance.


work by Anthony Carey projected on to a wall; part of a slide show of student’s work

Anthony Carey is an artist whose work is also projected here. This is perhaps some of the most striking work on show. Essentially it is a collaborative project as he asked people to make marks on paper, to fill in between the dots, with the result that 163 different designs emerged; these have also been combined to create further designs and the main artwork is a row of transparent frames on which the designs have been etched and placed alongside each other in a wooden support. Carey has also produced a couple of publications to support this.


Dorothy Flint; in her early 90’s she is the OCA’s oldest student

There are a number of artists’ books lined up on shelves. Some of these contain watercolours. The one that interests me most is by an OCA friend called Dorothy who in her early 90’s is the OCA’s oldest student. Her pathway involves drawing and book design. This little book of sketches is titled “quickies and shapes”


Another art book that grabs my attention is made of cloth. The pages are stitched together and remind me of what many consider to be the first photo book of cyanotypes by Anna Atkins.


OCA tutor Jayne Taylor with student Alan Larsen

There is more artwork on show but the evening is not just about seeing art, it is also about talking art as tutors are present. I recognise OCA tutor Bryan Eccleshall but cannot remember his name or where from; it turns out to be the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition study visit. We discuss Hockney and his validity as a painter as well as his contribution to photography! Another topic of conversation was the need for theory to arise from practice rather than on it’s own.


Eddie from the OCA chats with the mother of a student

It is good to connect with the OCA world; some might prefer to use the word family yet for me it is not that intimate.

Lange and Winship: women photographers at The Barbican

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This looks like a promising double exhibition; Dorothy Lange is a well known American photographer whose “Migrant Mother “ made during the poverty of the 1930’s in the U.S. has achieved iconic status while Victoria Winship is a contemporary photographer who works in black and white and won the prestigious Henri Cartier-Bresson Award in 2011. This exhibition is about documentary, black and white imagery and the role of women in photography; the latter could be an interesting topic but feminism has recently become highly politicised with the #MeToo campaign and debate is often largely rhetorical. As it turns out, there is little discussion of these underlying themes.

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The exhibition is being held at the Barbican in London, a centre that plays host to the arts; one can find theatre and music being performed here as well as seeing visual art presentations while there is also residential and office space. The exhibition though will be in the large gallery space available that provides a space for photography outside the established galleries like the Tate.

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Although having left plenty of time to reach the Barbican on time, my train arrives 15 minutes late in London while the necessary part of the Underground is not running and with The Barbican station closed, I need to make a detour and walk further. However, this results in my arriving on time but not earlier enough to see some other student work that was on show.

A number of students, 14 in all, are present with about an equal number of male and female students (though I do not do a count!). The tutor is Jayne Taylor who I know through a friend as well as through the OCA.

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I wander around the exhibition alone seeing Jayne for a brief discussion. An hour and a half is not really enough for 2 major exhibitions; as OCA students we are being asked to view only the Winship but I cannot ignore the Lange retrospective that closes tomorrow. She comes from a group of tough 20’th century American women photographers that also include Imogen Cunningham, Lee Miller and Bernice Abbott.

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The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera!” is one of a number of significant statements made by Dorothy Lange that are written large on the exhibition walls (mostly white board supported by wooden framing). Her comments on the actual act of seeing that lies at the heart of the photographic process are not political rather the subject matter was and so I find myself questioning the title of this exhibition “The politics of seeing”.

Lange says that she was not trying to achieve something, that photography of those near and dear is the beginning of discovering the other, of humanising people through photography, or revealing “the passage of time and what happens in it!”. She saw Saw photography as ripe for development and that she was just on the threshold of it

She was a craftswoman who documented major issues in America during the 20’th century. Her professional training as a portrait photographer obviously helped in this and portraiture is an important part of her work.

This exhibition is a major retrospective of her work! It really requires extended viewing which since the exhibition closes the next day won’t be possible. There is however, a good catalogue with essays yet not all the photographs from the exhibition.

Victoria Winship is the other woman photographer being exhibited in her first major exhibition. We learn that she was part of a circle that included Victor Burgin whose book Thinking Photography was seminal.

Of her many photographs on show culled from seven bodies of work, it is a diptych of trees from the series Georgia: Seeds carried by the Wind 2008-2019 that were made with a large format 4×5” camera which is what Lange also used. The details of the natural arena are are caught in a silvery light and provide welcome relief to the harrowing nature of much of Winship’s imagery in which people often appear as strange and barely human even ghostly. It is not her only tree image, there is also the den image in her most recent work “And Time Folds” as well as a colour photograph of a heavily laden apple tree. Yet the black and white trees are pristine and appear unburdened by any particular message.

While Dorothy Lange has photographed the people and political scenery of her times, her Oak Tree in a Garden, Berkeley, California 1957 reveals a shift in her work following the hardship of the Depression and the Second World War. She did not become a nature photographer yet this image shows a sensitivity towards light and tone as well as form; a building can be seen in the background.

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Over lunch, we discuss some of the exhibition but not the feminist implication. I see other avenues of interpretation such as the contrast between the modernity of Lange and the postmodernity of Winship.

We also discuss OCA matters. Google Hang Outs seem the way to go!

Barry, one of the students, has a Barbican pass and kindly allows me to enter again for a second viewing.

I start by going backwards through the Dorothy Lange exhibition and am surprised by the exhibition titled “Death of a Valley” as this is about the destruction of a valley that echoes with my own study project about an area outside the town where I live that is being redeveloped for 650 homes. This series of photographs was published by Aperture in 1960 (Lange who was a co-founder of the publisher Aperture) in a photo book that has not had much coverage and if available now carries art prices (£238 plus at present). The work refers to the Berryessa Valley and the Monticello Dam featuring images of  traditional life such as cowboys on horses, a store and petrol pump, a cemetery from where remains were removed as well as houses while bulldozing of area also burning went ahead. An interesting online article from 2015 helps to put this all into perspective.

I also manage to see one of the films about Dorothea Lange in which she gives insights into her work shortly before her death from cancer at 70 and a major retrospective of her work at MOMA in New York.

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Women’s Photography at Alliance Francaise Delhi

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On a wet afternoon in August, I make my way down to a basement gallery, Galerie Romain Roland at the Alliance Francaise in Delhi, where a group of musicians are having a sound session, blasting the place with their rhythms. A woman sings into a microphone but I cannot make out the words.

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Do women see the world differently to men? Is their photography of a different kind? If so, in what ways does this difference manifest? This exhibition is unlikely to answer these questions yet it does show a variety of women photographers from around the world.

Behind the musicians are two exhibits, both from South Africa. A British photographer is one of them and explores notions of femininity through the majorettes of South Africa.

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I like the work of an Iranian photographer, Elahe Abdolahabadi. She makes toned prints that show a photographer studio set up in the street which includes much of the street. Maybe this is the only way to make street photographs in Iran when you are a woman.

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A French woman who lives in Germany has made evocative photographs of people in the outer Hebrides. As with all these exhibits, a long artist’s statement hangs alongside the images.


What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.Mahatma Gandhi  ( 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.

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
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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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