Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Reflections of 2011

2011 has been quite a year. It's the year in which I completed my first major project since leaving my MA, had my first significant exhibition, finally launched Brixton People as a book, got the cover of a national newspaper, was published in an international magazine, began teaching, and, perhaps most significantly, launched Portrait Salon, with friend and fellow photographer James O Jenkins.

It is this last which explains my rather scarce presence on this blog over the last few months. Portrait Salon was taking up an awful lot of my time, but it was well worth it. Set up as a form of Salon de Refusés, we aimed to show the best of the rejected images from the famous Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, hosted every year by the National Portrait Gallery. What began as a little experiment escalated into a publication (designed and published by the lovely lads of Birch Studios) and a very well attended event at the Roxy Bar and Screen in Borough. We were even honoured with the presence of Anne Braybon (commissioner at the NPG), who was very supportive of our endeavors, and the project hasn't seen its end yet; in January we are taking the projection up to Open Eye in Liverpool, where we also give a talk.

This positive response has inspired us to continue this project in 2012. And who knows what else next year will bring? My new year's resolution: read more, write more, think more. Let's see I get on with that one.

In the meantime, I leave you with an image taken during the Festival Arbres et Lumières in Geneva last year. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 26 November 2011


Almost two years have passed since I set up a pop-up studio in Brixon Market and spent a week photographing passers by. And how much the market has changed! Now it is full of award winning eateries, with some of the best independent restaurants in London.

A good time, then, to finally launch the book I have made to go with this project. Do come down to Brixton Village on the evening of Friday 2 December to help me celebrate the occasion at Brick Box, just a couple of units down from where my studio was. There will be a chance to view the book, buy it (just in time for Xmas!) and taste the delights of the market around you... Festivities begin from 7pm.

Wrap up warm, this is a night not to be missed!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Exhibition Listings Nov/Dec

This blog post is more for the benefit of my students. There are so many shows to see at the moment, I thought I'd list them here so they're all in one place. They are in chronological order of when the show ends.
To non students reading this; feel free to add any I've missed in the comments!

Other I; Alec Soth, WassinkLundgrun, Vivanne Sassen
Hotshoe Gallery, til 27 November
This is a show not to be missed. Curated by Aaron Schumann, it brings together three of the most interesting contemporary photographers.

Simon Roberts at Flowers
You've only got til Friday to see this, but go if you can! Simon is quickly establishing himself as one of the best British photographers around, and these landscapes of Britain are truly something.

Cabinet of Curiosities, Bill Jackson
The Front Room, til 30 November
Still time to catch this show in the tiny Front Room, run by Troika Editions. It is what it says on the tin; a collection of photographs of curios and stuff the photographer has found lying around, meticulously taken on a 5x4 camera.

Jeff Wall
White Cube, Mason's Yard
23 November - 7 January
I CANNOT WAIT for this! Jeff Wall rose to fame in the nineties with his large, staged photographs mounted on lightboxes. They are almost filmic in production, creating complex scenes and narratives. This show will be of new work, and shows a departure from lightboxes.. will be dead interesting, promise!

Michael Wolf at Flowers
25 November - 7 January
Wolf trawls Google Street View to find humorous goings-on, and isolates these scenarios into their own images. There are some featured in World Press Photo, and I have blogged about his work here.

AMPS/11 at Photofusion, 25 November - 27 January
Starting next week is the annual members show at Photofusion, showcasing work from 11 photographers. The work is diverse, complete with camera less photographs, digitally manipulated pics, and more traditional portraiture.

Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, at the National Portrait Gallery
10 November - 12 February 2011, £2 admission fee.
An important show on the photographic calender, showcasing the best of contemporary portrait photography which has been selected from an open competition.

Shaped By War, Photographs by Don McCullin
Imperial War Museum, til 15 April 2012
This is a rare chance to see a broad collection of works by war photographer Don McCullin. McCullin has photographed in Berlin, Vietnam, Cambodia, Biafra, Bangladesh and the Middle East. There are loads of interesting events with this, too.

World Press Photo Award
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank
Important but often difficult viewing of some of the best photojournalism which has been selected for the World Press Photo award.

The Photographs Gallery at the V&A.
This has just opened and will be a permanent fixture at the museum. But it shows some really important work, including Julia Margaret Cameron, Henri Cartier Bresson and Man Ray.

Wapping Bankside
Always has good shows, and worth popping in as it's close to Tate Modern. Details of latest show on the website.

Other shows which should be seen:

Gerhard Richter at Tate Modern
til 8 January
Gerhard Richter is an important artist who uses a variety of media, including photography, which he often paints over. His work comprises of collections of vernacular photography, paintings, and mixed media. I haven't seen this show yet but I can guarantee it's not one to be missed!

And a couple of events which may interest you:
Portrait Salon
30 November, Roxy Bar and Screen
This was set up as a Salon des Refusés of work which was rejected from the aforementioned Taylor Wessing award at the NPG. The award gets 6000 entries, and they only show 60, so there are many which are rejected. This event will show a selection of those unsuccessful entries in the form of a projection, so it's a one off event with a bar etc.

Brixton People; Book Launch
2 December, 7pm, Brick Box, Brixton Market.
This the launch of my book! Come and buy one ready for Xmas!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A little gem

It's rare that I come across a photography show which I haven't heard about. But that's what happened today. On my way back from Tate Modern I popped into the Purdy Hicks gallery. And there... was a little gem.

It's Bettina von Zwehl's new work, a series of miniatures made while on a residency at the V&A museum. Inspired by original miniatures, von Zwehl took photographs of the assistants of the museum, facing a window which emits a glowing yellow light. One particular work, Made up Love Song, is a series of 32 miniatures of the same woman, Sophia, an assistant at the museum. Shot in exactly the same position, two or three times a week, on first looking the photographs appear exactly the same. On closer inspection, slight differences become apparent, as time passes, light changes and the relationship between sitter and subject develops over the six months.

©Bettina von Zwehl

There are single portraits of other assistants too; all women, all photographed in the same way and in the same location. The resulting photographs are so peaceful, so timeless. And there is something about seeing photographic miniatures in an industry which seems so obsessed with enormous images. These objects are precious, each one a little treasure. This gives them a status similiar to the painted miniatures back in the 16th, 17th century, used amongst the wealthy classes as a form of introduction; fathers would send miniatures of their daughter to possible suitors for example. The dagurrotype eventually replaced the painted miniatures, and I can't help feeling that this exhibition brings this history full circle...

The exhibition is on til the 7 November, and it is not one to be missed. Go see!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Apocalypse

Today I went to Tate Britain with my Dad... the John Martin show is dramatic and a little kitsch; the 19th  century version of the Hollywood film. But the poster and the surrounding abstract design on the stairs inspired some colourful portraits...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The show's over...

If you didn't get to see my show this Summer at Collyer Bristow Gallery, here are a few installation shots:

Friday, 16 September 2011

Momento Mori

For a while now I've wanted to write about the subject of photography and death, but have struggled to find a context with which to write. The theme has been on my mind for the last month for a number of reasons...

Firstly, I am organisng an exhibition at Photofusion (which opens next week, on 22 September) featuring two photographers whose work is concerned with the death of a parent. When André Penteado's father committed suicide, he picked up his camera and took pictures... of the funeral, of his journey to and from the funeral (which was in Brazil), and then for a year later in the form of a visual diary. Striving to have one last physical contact with his father, André took photographs of himself wearing his father's clothes, eyes closed, pensive, on a stone grey background. He then took pictures of the left over empty hangers.

©Andre Penteado, Dad's Clothes

The other photographer is Joachim Froese, who has made quite a few bodies of work following the death of his mother, and the possessions she left behind. The work he will show at Photofusion is from Archive, a study of what happens to possessions once they have been taken out of context; when his mother's belongings were sent to him in Australia, he found they had no meaning for him anymore. His photographs show precarious stacks of china and books, a comment on the constructions of our own personal memory.

While working closely with these photographers, I have had the pleasure to meet (if only on the phone for now) Sue Steward, a journalist and independent curator who, on the death of her mother in 2009, found an urge to photograph the dead body. In an article she wrote for The Guardian, she describes the sense of guilt she felt as she committed this act, looking round to check no one was looking. But then she found that many other photographers had also had this impulse; most famously Annie Leibowitz photographing her partner Susan Sontag.

©Annie Liebowitz, November 2004, Untitled

All these conversations got me thinking about the link between photography and death, and then it became rather too relevant when I heard that my uncle died. He had been very sick, so it wasn't unexpected, but it doesn't make the sense of loss any less painful for us all. At the funeral, my father asked if I had brought my camera... and, although I had thought about it, I felt that it was inappropriate.

But a couple of days later I had a Roland Barthes moment. At the wake, my cousin told me that he had found many old photographs of our parents when they were children, and he emailed the scans to me shortly after. I felt like Barthes in his Camera Lucida... I was looking at picture of my uncle at a very young age and recognised him completely. This wasn't the sick old man I had last seen on a hospital bed at Christmas time, thin and wizzened, struggling to hear and lethargic with drugs. Here, in the eyes of this 10 year old boy, I saw the man I wanted to remember; the man with an amazing brain and an insatiable curiosity.

My late Uncle Rémi is on the left, my mother in the middle, and their brother Eric on the right. My mother told me she remembers going to get this picture taken, and she was scared as she thought it would hurt. How differently children respond to the camera these days!

At the beginning of this week I came across this film on the Guardian website, and I finally found the context with which to write this post. In the wake of the Japanese tsunami, hundreds of volunteers from the Fujifilm factory are collecting photographs found in the damaged areas, cleaning them, and archiving them in order to "save the memories of a nation". Many of the images have washed off the paper, a reference rather too close to what happened to the people depicted on them, and yet the volunteers still feel it is important to keep the indecipherable images. As one volunteer reads out the caption on the back of a photograph (dated 1954!) he turns it over to find the image completely gone. But we must keep it, he says, as it may help to identify the other pictures in the album.

The cleaned photographs are then organised by where they were found and sent to a centre where people can browse for their memories. As one man says, the people who go there "have lost their homes and their past". Photographs are such an important key to our past.  I was so pleased to see the old photographs of my uncle, which still exist seventy years later, but I can't help wondering whether the children of our children of this digital age will be blessed with such tools as they get older. When, in eighty years time, my friend's daughter passes away, will her children have photographs of her as she is now? Or will they be locked in some digital timewarp, following the fate of floppy disks and the like. For all we know, we may be living in what will become the Dark Ages.

It's time to start printing pictures. As for photographing the dead, or the impulse to photograph what's left behind, it's a theme that occupies many photographers, and has inspired a book by Audrey Linkman. For my part, I am looking forward to hearing Sue Steward in conversation with André and Joachim at Photofusion on 11 October; I think it will be an interesting discussion, if perhaps not a very up-beat one.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Ways of Seeing

Last Thursday, I went to the Private View of Nine Point Perspective; Ways of Seeing, at Hotshoe Gallery. The exhibition is a group show of photographers who form part of the Tri-pod group, set up by Hotshoe Deputy Editor Miranda Gavin, and photographer Wendy Pye. The group was conceived as a support network for "emerging and established artists and photographers to create a personal project in the context of a closed research and development group." The work made in the first year is shown in this exhibition.

Curating a show of nine photographers with such diverse work is always tricky, but curators Miranda Gavin and Sacha Lehrfreund have used the space to the full, creating separate spaces for each photographer's work, but succeeding in creating a flow. Every part of the gallery is used; including the glass front of the office, where Natasha Caruana has installed her piece Fairytale for Sale. This work is a collection of wedding photographs, with the bride and groom's faces blanked out in a variety of ways; using photoshop, black pen, blue tac or even bits of tissue paper. The effect is eerie, and it's only on reading the emails that are interspersed with the images that the viewer understands these pictures have come from a website where brides are selling their wedding dresses. For me, this project questions the act of marriage, reducing it to something farcical; all the effort which goes into buying the perfect dress is so easily frittered away when a little bit of cash is needed.

©Natasha Caruana

A far cry from Natasha's collection of digital images from the Internet is Dean Hollowood's project The Chase, which takes us back to the origins of photographic printing. His colour photographs of china animals are layered with test strips from the darkroom, with their different hues and tones, and including Dean's notes of exposure times. The visual effect is quite beautiful, and questions our "ways of seeing". And we get it; we've had experience in the colour darkroom and the work brings back all those agonising hours of trying to get the right colour. Most younger people, however, won't. The Chase is a project about photography, it's history and how it's changed.

© Dean Hollowood

In between these two bodies of work are seven other very strong examples of contemporary photography. Far too many for me to outline here... you best go and see for yourself. The exhibition runs until 30 August.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Picture Perfect

Yesterday, my picture of Ceridwen was on the front cover of the Independent on Sunday's New Review.
That's it really. Pretty chuffed.

There is still time to see it in the flesh, at Collyer Bristow Gallery, as part of the 50's, Fashion and Emerging Feminism exhibition. Viewing is during office hours only, and the gallery can be found at 4 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4TF.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Best of Voies Off #3: Tilby Vattard

Tilby was one of those chancers who come up at the end of the four hours, when all you fancy is a cold beer, and ask you if you could quickly see their work. He was so charming I couldn't say no, and I'm very pleased I didn't. I even arranged to meet him the next day in order to talk more about his work.

Mountains, again. But different. Tilby takes these shots with either a Holga or a Hasselblad, and then works on them digitally, adding glimmers of light, planets and inscriptions. The effect is very retro, and a little bit kitsch, but he succeeds in making sure it's not cheesy. Instead, the landscapes he creates are the landscapes of fairytales, where the paranormal come out to play.

Tilby Vattard is based in Montpelier, and seems to make a succesful living as a graphic designer, using his signature style in posters for festivals and theatre productions amoungst other things. His site has a comprehensive view of his work, which can also be bought via the site... enjoy!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Best of Voies Off #2: Heather McDonough

Heather McDonough was my first victim. And her images stayed with me 23 portfolios later... a sure testament to some strong work!

She showed me two projects. The first, September Song, is a very tender study of her mother's battle with ovarian cancer. Heather has made it into a book, perhaps purely for the benefit of showing it to people, but it also works very well in this way. Intimate portraits are mingled in with still lives, of windows, doors... and observations around the home. The contrast between light and dark are ever present, a constant reminder of the fragility of life.

The second project, entitled Doris, is also a little bit about death. Doris was Heather's elderly neighbour, and after she passed away the photographer gained access to her house. Here she found a decor that had not been updated for many years... and pointed the camera at this marvellous aray of wallpapers. Again compiled into a book, the images are interspersed with old photographs of Doris herself... and the result is an intimate portrait of a very private woman.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Best of Voies Off #1: Michael Schnabel

Arles already seems a long time ago... so I am going to spend this week re-living it a little. For two of the afternoons there, I offered my services as a reviewer at the Voies Off. This is a fringe festival which is run in conjunction with the main Rencontres, and organises exhibitions, screenings and projections throughout the town. The portfolio reviews they organise are much cheaper for photographers than the main ones, as it costs 6 euros to see two reviewers; this is mainly achieved as the reviewers are offering their services for free.

Throughout the two afternoons, I saw a total of 24 people. That's a lot of work, and I was reviewing a lot in French which was very good practice for me but quite exhausting! I met some very interesting photographers, and each day this week I will showcase the photographers I saw whose work I liked best.

First up is Michael Schnabel, from Germany. Michael uses the method of painting with light to photograph darkness. His main series, Stille Berge (Silent Mountains) is a series of photographs of mountains taken in the dead of night... no moon, no stars, no light. I like the thought of him trudging up the mountainside in the dead of night with his 5x4 camera, setting up the exposure for an hour, an hour and a half, and him just waiting there for his picture to expose. To me, the resulting photographs are a reminder of the world before the presence of man; they show the beauty of nature without any human intervention. They are quite primitive, primordial, and very, very beautiful.

On the back of this series, Michael was commissioned to make work for museums in Germany, using the same principle of photographing in the pitch black. These too, make for interesting images, showing us what we don't normally see.


If you're reading this blog on one of the shiney new Mac screens (as I am), I'm afraid you are not seeing the work in the best light, as the reflections are too much. Do keep a lookout for a chance to see the work in the flesh... he prints them at over 2m wide, and I imagine they are quite awe-inspiring at that size.

Stille Berge has been produced as a book, published by Edition Braus, and available on Amazon. It is a beautiful volume, I only wish my German was up to scratch so that I could read the text! If you happen to be in Germany in the Autumn, Michael Schnabel will be exhibiting in a solo show in Osthaus Museum, Hagen, from 11 September to 6 November. He will also be exhibiting a new series, called Weisses Land (White Land) which I am excited to see.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Another year, Another Arles; Part 2

Right, so I got the rant over... now to what I liked best this year!

The exhibition I found the most exciting as a whole was that of French Collective Tendance Floue. Here was good quality work which was topical and innovatively put together. Tendance Floue is a collective of 13 photographers, who have been working together for twenty years. Surely a sign of a successful collective! What I appreciated about this show was that all the work was shown in equality; there were no captions near any of the photographs, so it really was a collective consciousness of work. The group jet off to China or India, for example, where they give themselves two weeks to produce a one-off magazine. The resulting imagery is a fresh look at documentary photography. The exhibition comprised of projections, photographs stuck flush on walls, printed on cushions... there was video footage of the collective working together on the edit, and snippets of text from their notebooks.

Installation views of the Tendance Floue exhibition (apologies for poor quality - taken on iphone!)

In addition to the collective show, was a small exhibition showcasing each individual photographer's personal work. It is true that they are a bunch of very talented photographers, even in their own right. You can browse their work on the Tendance Floue site; I especially recommend looking at the following projects; Grins, by Gilles Coulon, Watching TV by Olivier Culmann, and Tu es l'air by Meyer.

Next on my highlights list was the winner of the 2010 Portfolio Award, Swiss artist Augustin Rebetez. I'm a little surprised if he won just on the strength of his single images, as it was the stop motion which caught my attention. A little reminiscent of the Clangers, in a good way, he creates these wonderful narratives, which are sometimes sad, sometimes scary, sometimes humourous. My favourite is Dinner of a Lonely Man;

The annual New Discovery Award was had some interesting work in this year, too... a new discovery for me was Joachim Mogarra, who takes photographs of everyday objects and draws over them to create something different, often with a fantastical narrative. The work reminds me a little of Keith Arnatt in its simplicity and playfulness.

©Joachim Mogarra

I also enjoyed seeing the work of Yann Gross, a Swiss photographer who has documented the (apparently large) "mid-West" scene in the Rhone valley. The work is quite straight documentary photography, but the pictures are well taken and tell an interesting story; one that I find very amusing and quite unlikely, with my knowledge of the Swiss...

©Yann Gross

Other highlights were; the 42m large print by the Chinese artist Wang Qingsong and the New York Times archive, featuring work from Gregory Crewdson, Ryan McGinley and others... this show did make me think that work in magazines is often of a better standard than work on the walls of galleries, but perhaps more of that in another post.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Another year, Another Arles; Part 1

I have just got back from Les Rencontres d'Arles. Many of you will remember how blown away I was when I first went last year; I fear it will have to be a regular stint on my holiday schedule, as this year certainly didn't disappoint. Knowing what to expect meant that I could concentrate a little more on the photography; last year I was so bowled over by the locations of the exhibitions and how they were hung, I think it didn't bother me that perhaps not many of the exhibitions were my cup of tea. This year the hanging was equally as inspiring, but also there were many very interesting exhibitions, which introduced new ideas and ways of thinking, and provoked certain questions in my mind about the future of photography as a medium.

This was a theme that ran throughout the festival, particularly as one of the major shows was entitled From Here On, and was based on a manifesto created by Martin Parr, Erik Kessels, Clement Cheroux, Joan Fontcuberta and Joachim Schmid. Their manifesto suggests that, as there is so much visual material in the world now, we have become a series of editors, taking "work that has a past but feels absolutely present". An interesting precept, and actually, an enjoyable exhibition to visit, but completely vacuous. I realised a few hours after I had seen it that I could barely remember any of the exhibits; proof, surely, that the show didn't provide me with any food for thought, let alone educate me in anything of substance.

The exhibition essentially comprised of artists who used the Internet as a source of visual information. Many of them were fun and made me giggle... a video piece comprising of a collection of youtube videos of young girls shaking their arses to the camera, and a series of photographs of Kim Jong Il looking at things, which has been a very popular tumblr site, updated everyday. But then there was also a collection of sunsets from flickr, a selection of photos of penises on keyboards (yes, really), a cat-cam, web cam pics with insects obscuring the view, old photographs re-photographed with lego people (never got to the bottom of that one!) amoungst other vernacular. I was left wondering what all the fuss was about here... artists such as Joachim Schmid and Gerhard Richter have been working with vernacular photography for decades, and I struggle to see how this is different, apart from the source of imagery.

Mischka Henner: From the series Dutch Landscapes
It was the artists which directly comment on the effect of this abundance of images caused by the Internet which I found the most successful. Mishka Henner uses Google streetview as his inspiration, and his Dutch Landscapes are carefully selected streetview images of certain sites which the Dutch were concerned would be identifiable with the sudden visibility of political, economic and military locations. Instead of just blanking them out as other countries have done, however, the Dutch have used a type of blocky pixelation which provides a contrasting aesthetic to the surrounding views. Henner has also trawled streetview looking for images of girls who are prostituting themselves on the street; this work, entitled No Man's Land, can be seen at the Hotshoe Gallery in London until 26 July. Corinne Vionnet takes photographs of famous landmarks and layers them over one another, creating ethereal, painterly images which reflect mass tourism, and the quest to record our every move.

Corinne Vionnet: from the series Photo Opportunities
Perhaps it's telling that one of the most successful uses of this digital media was not by an artist, but an indie band based in Manchester, called The Get Out Clause. In order to keep costs down, they made a music video for one of their songs using CCTV. Taking full advantage of the Freedom of Information act, they recorded themselves on various cameras around the city, and then asked for the footage, creating a free and very clever music video, which you can see here. This, to me, is more a comment on how society has changed over the last ten years or so then many of the artworks in the show.

The curators of this exhibition seem to think that things will be different "from here on...". Well, this didn't seem to me to be all that different, and I certainly hope this is not the future of photography. A friend remarked that it was like watching a B movie... and it's true. It showcased the lowest of the low as far as photography is concerned. Perhaps it was because it was in an exhibition setting that it seemed so out of place. Perhaps it is an interesting collection of works, but should be shown in a way which reflects them; on screens, or as an online exhibition... maybe.

Coincidentally perhaps, FOAM magazine had created an exhibition entitled What's Next?, which accompanies a website of the same name. The most interesting thing in this exhibition was the quotes from people industry people, and their ideas of how photography can progress from here. Many can be seen on the website, which is well worth looking at, if you can fathom the navigation...

More from Arles coming soon! Next post will focus on my highlights.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Image of the week #15

This is the month of shooting weddings, babies and family portraiture. Not my usual fare, but one has to make a living, right?

Here is a pic of my friend Jo and her beautiful daughter Sophie.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Image of the week #14

Gosh, I'm getting a bit slack at doing these... and it's not cos I ain't taking pics! Just don't get round to putting them up.

I'm doing a couple of weddings this month. I don't generally market myself as a wedding photographer, and actually I haven't done one for ages, but they are fun and it's nice to feel part of someone's special day. In a couple of weeks it's that of Becky and John... here they are on little pre-wedding shoot on the South Bank.

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