Thursday, 6 January 2011

A New Year, a New(ish) Blog...

Happy New Year all! I do wish all my readers all the best for 2011.

Here, I will strive to be still more and more active with regular posts on my thoughts on photography. In order to give me a structure of some sort, each month I will give myself a theme to write to... let's see how long I can keep that up!

For the month of January, I would like to start with the theme of pop-up studios. Partly because the end of the month sees the first anniversary of my own pop-up in Brixton Market, but also because I spent the last day of 2010 in an exhibition of Irving Penn's street portraits - a sort of pop-up studio in itself. I was in Lausanne, at the wonderful Musee de l'Elysee; the first time I've ever been, can you believe it! A Swiss-ess with a mother born and bred in the city and I only get to visit this famous photography institution at the ripe old age of 31...

It really is a wonderful gallery. Set in a beautiful old mansion on the banks of Lac Leman, it has four floors of exhibition space, a well-stocked bookshop, and has the most comprehensive photographic archive in Switzerland.

And the exhibition, too, was wonderful. In 1950 and 1951, Irving Penn photographed people with "small trades"; firemen and shoe-shiners for example, who often worked the streets. He would invite them into his studio to be photographed, with a prop which marked their trade. The work started as a personal project on the streets of London, but soon it was published by Vogue and he did the same thing in Paris and New York. What was most interesting for me about the exhibition was seeing the same trade depicted in each city; the differences in uniform, in prop, in attitude. And with that, Penn's own observations about the different nationalities:

"En général, les Parisiens doubtaient que nous ferions exactement ce que nous leur avions dit. Ils pensaient que quelque chose de louche allait arriver, mais ils arrivaient au studio plus au moins comme convenu - motivés par le cachet. Les Londoniens étaient différents des Français: etre photographié en tenue de travail était pour eux la chose la plus logique au monde. Ils arrivaient au studio toujours a l'heure et se présentaient devant l'appareil photo avec un sérieux et une fierté qui étaient particulierement touchants. Des trois, les Americains étaient le groupe le plus imprévisible. En dépit de nos recommandations, quelques un arriverent aux séances changés de pied en cap, rasés et parfois meme dans leurs costumes sombres du dimanche, convaincus de faire lur premier pas vers Hollywood"

"In general, Parisians wondered whether we were going to do exactly what we sad we were going to do. They thought that something dodgy was going to happen, but they arrived at the studio more or less as requried - morivated by the prestige. Londoners were different to the French; to be photographed in their work clothes was, for them, the most natural thing in the world. They arrived at the studio on time and presented themselves in front of the camera with a seriousness and pride which was particularly touching. Of the three, the Americans were the most unpredictable. In spite of our recommendations, some arrived to the sessions completely changed from head to toe, shaven and even sometimes in their sombre Sunday best, convinced that this was their first step towards Hollywood." (text quoted from the panel in the exhibition; my translation)


The exhibition also included some vintage copies of Vogue, showing the work as it was published in the three countries, and Penn's first monograph, Moments Preserved, published in 1960.

So all in all a great way to end 2010 - and funny that it was just after I had mentioned that the Penn exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was one of my favourites of the year. A great inspiration and a great way to begin my theme on pop-ups... more to come!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...