Archive for the ‘Photographers’ Category

Election Eve

Thursday, September 10th, 2020

Most Days at the moment I get four or five messages asking me to support Joe Biden, even though as a British citizen I have no vote in the forthcoming election. Trump’s team take no interest in me, perhaps because of the nature of some of my online posts. But it isn’t that election I’m writing about.

The Eye of Photography has reminded me of William Eggleston’s ‘Election Eve‘, originally published in 1977 as two leather-bound volumes containing 100 original prints in a box by Caldecot Chubb, a man best known as a film producer, in New York. It was a very limited edition of only five copies and the price was presumably astronomical, which was perhaps why I didn’t buy a copy.

There is a different reason which will stop me buying the second edition, printed more economically in offset litho. Though I have a great admiration for Eggleston, I already have somewhere on my shelves ‘William Eggleston’s Guide‘ and the first edition of his ‘The Democratic Forest‘, as well as the 1992 Barbican exhibition catalogue ‘Ancient And Modern’, as well as a number of portfolios in other publications. And frankly, although there are some images of interest, I think that from what I’ve seen so far ‘Election Eve‘ is a relatively minor work of Eggleston.

The price of the new edition, at € 85.00 (around £77) is perhaps not excessive, and doubtless it will be well printed and presented by Steidl. In 1989 ‘The Democratic Forest‘ cost £30.00, almost exactly the same allowing for inflation, though I think I may have got it as a review copy. But unless you are a completist collector, ‘Forest’ seems to me an unnecessary purchase.

There are relatively few photographers who I think it is worth owning more than a couple of books by, and rather more where just one is sufficient. The exceptions for me are those whose work has changed greatly over the course of their lives and also some where the subject matter is itself of great interest as well as the photography. Eggleston’s approach and subject matter seems to me remarkably consistent over the years (with a few minor aberrations.)

There have been so many interesting photographers over the years, and I’m well aware that many of the books on my groaning overloaded shelves are seldom opened but sit there gathering dust. For me they are a resource, a library I consult when writing about photographers, as well as occasionally sitting down to enjoy a volume.

But while books are important, the main way I and I think most others now experience photographs is on the web, and it would be good to see the Eggleston Art Foundation showing more of his work on the web. Although there are relatively few of his pictures available you can watch ‘page-throughs’ of several of his books on YouTube, including one of a more recent selection of work from ‘The Democratic Forest‘ as well as some others, often best with the soundtrack muted.



Silloth 2010

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

Ten years ago today – 22nd August 2010– I was standing on the Cumbrian coast at Silloth, my first visit to an area that I had previously known from the photographs of Raymond Moore (1920 – 1987) who had moved there in 1978 and spent the last years of his life there.

Ray was one of the first real photographers who looked seriously at my work – at a workshop at Paul Hill’s the Photographers’ Place in Bradbourne, Derbyshire, where I went to a series of three weekend workshops with him, and Paul Hill in 1977-8. He very much set me working in a far more disciplined way, investigating the areas which really interested and involved me rather than simply making pictures.

And of course I was highly impressed by his work and attitudes toward it. So much that there are a few pictures that I took in those years and a little after that are perhaps too clearly me trying to make a ‘Ray Moore’, though never really successfully. But over time I think I managed to integrate a little of his influence more successfully into my own work. I met him a few times in later years – and was able to send him some of my published work – but was shocked at his early death, and regret greatly that I never took up his invitation to visit him in Cumbria.

I wrote a piece about my experiences in those workshops for William Bishop’s Inscape magazine around 2000, under the title ‘Darbis Murmury‘ and ten years later put the text online with rather more pictures from them.


Raymond Moore was one of the first UK photographers to achieve wider cultural acclaim, with a major retrospective at London’s Hayward Gallery in 1981 – I think then the only photographer to be honoured in this way since Bill Brandt in 1970 (though that came there from MoMA in New York.) Since his death his work has largely disappeared from view (in part for legal reasons) and he had been forgotten. There are no dealers with his prints to push and maintain interest in his work. I gave a presentation on his work (and that of Tony Ray Jones) at Bielsko-Biala in 2005, but had to use the reproductions of his pictures without permission. My text there – which you can still download – ended:

The British photographic establishment seemed by the time of his death to regard him as an unfortunate and rather embarrassing episode that was best brushed under the carpet. Many photographers who knew him or have come across his work in the few slim volumes, myself included, still regard as a major figure in photography.

http://buildingsoflondon.co.uk/poland.zip

Ten years ago I was on holiday with friends, and the pictures that I took that day are more an illustration of that day out than a serious attempt at photography.


You simply can’t keep a good photograph down

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Although the Magnum web site contains 34 pictures from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book ‘The Europeans‘, one of his best-known and best-loved images is missing from there and apparently not available from Magnum. I learnt this, and the reason why from a post ‘Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson : Pearls from the Archives’ on ‘The Eye of Photography’ which features it, Rue Moufettard, 1952, along with a short text about this picture of a excessively and cheekily proud young boy on a street corner with two large bottles (appropriately magnums) of wine, one cradled in each arm.

The text that accompanies it begins with the sentence “Henri Cartier-Bresson is 44 years old.” Which he was when he took the picture, having been born in 1908, but it goes on to write about the 1970s when this picture, along with others became popular among collectors in the newly growing art market for photography, particularly in America. While a few years after he took in he included it in his 1955 book Les Européens (The Europeans), by the 1970s he “didn’t completely recognise himself in this image and refused all reproduction. It is no longer offered by Magnum Photos nor printed for collectors.

It is perhaps rather more straightforward a picture relying on the body language and expression of that boy, a rather more ‘human’ image than the rather cooler complexity he favoured. As the text says, because of its “bonhomie and construction” it was often mistakenly attributed to “his friend Robert Doisneau.” While most of us would be very happy to have our work mistaken for Doisneau’s, apparently Cartier-Bresson was not amused.

It isn’t one of my real personal favourites among his pictures, though certainly I think one of his more memorable works, and one that no overall assessment of his photography should omit.

The text continues to look at why the price of Cartier-Bresson’s “prints took a while to take off” in the art market; (it actually uses the term “value” which for me has no relation to art market prices.)

I’m delighted to find that he refused to limit the number of prints of the same image when the art market forced many photographers into producing limited editions in the 1990s; I imagine he, like me, thought this was to go against the essential nature of the photographic medium. Less delighted to find that because of “the impossibility of controlling his works’ quality and interpretation” he forbade “post-mortem prints” of his work. Though given the incredibly wide circulation of high quality reproduction of his works through books, prints are largely an irrelevance.

You can of course still buy a copy of this print which currently goes at auctions for around $20,000 – or you can see it in museums or view it on line at numerous locations including galleries and auction houses and in many books. You simply can’t keep a good photograph down.

Not just Migrant Mother

Saturday, August 15th, 2020

Like me you might find it hard to name many pictures by Dorothea Lange. Of course there is ‘Migrant Mother’ and ‘White Angel Bread Line’, but what surprised me when looking through the images at the excellent on-line exhibition of her work from the Oakland Museum of California, the Dorothea Lange Digital Archive, was how many of the pictures were familiar, and how intrinsic they were to my impression of US history, not just of the depression but also through into the 40s and 50s.

The archive also told me much more about Lange’s personal history, perhaps at times a little more than I felt I needed to know – all those pictures of her deformed foot. Of course I already knew the broad outlines of her growing up, her marriages to painter Maynard Dixon and later the love affair, second marriage and long creative partnership with sociologist Paul Taylor, all of which are illuminated in text and photographs.

Of course her limp, the result of childhood polio was important to her, a part of the childhood experiences which, in as it says, instilled ‘in her empathy for “the walking wounded”—her words for people in distress.’ I imagine that it also helped to create a reciprocal empathy towards her from those she photographed.

The Thing Itself

Monday, July 27th, 2020

I never met Bill Jay, (1940-2009), though I’ve heard many stories about him from photographers who knew him, not all entirely positive. By the time I really came into photography Bill Jay had left for the USA, having considerably shaken up photography in the UK through his conversion of the magazine Camera Owner aimed at amateur hobby photographers into a publication which was at the forefront of contemporary photography in the UK, Creative Camera, and founding and published the 12 issues of his own magazine Album as well as establishing photography in the ICA.

I bought all the back-issues I could find of both Album and Creative Camera, soon taking out a subscription to the latter which I continued for many years until it entirely lost direction. And I read and sometimes bought a number of his books, though I think only his first, ‘View on Nudes’ has retained its place on my shelves. And many of his articles appeared in the various photo magazines I read, including the BJP.

In later years, Jay put some of the many articles he wrote and his photographs, particularly those of many photographers, on the web, and I both read and wrote about these on-line. There is still a Bill Jay web site with these pictures and some articles etc.

I was reminded of Bill Jay by a post on ‘The Online Photographer‘, Bill Jay on ‘The Thing Itself‘ about his most reproduced essay, first published in 1988 in a college newspaper. Perhaps surprisingly I couldn ‘t find itisn’t on the Bill Jay site, but is available along with much other material on Bill Jay on the ‘United Nations of Photography‘ site. It’s worth reading the full version.

Also on the ‘United Nations of Photography’ site is a link to the recent film about Jay, Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay, about which Grant Scott writes:

Bill was a great believer in the sharing of knowledge, experience and beliefs and we therefore felt it was appropriate to make our feature length documentary on his life available for all to see. The film features exclusive interviews with Martin Parr, Brian Griffin, Daniel Meadows, Paul Hill, Alex Webb, Brookes Jenson, Homer Sykes, Anna Ray Jones and archival footage of Bill himself telling his story his way!

One of the others who knew Jay well – perhaps better than some of those listed above – and appears briefly on the film is John Benton-Harris, who I’ve often heard talking about Jay. It’s perhaps a shame that his views are not presented there at greater length.

A black woman and a gorilla

Friday, July 24th, 2020

Photographers have often I think failed to pay sufficient regard to the people in their photographs. Its something that is particularly important because of the power differential that always exists between the person holding the camera and those being depicted. Its something implicit in the language of photography, when we use the metaphors of the gun or jailer, talking about ‘shooting’ or ‘capturing’ pictures, both terms I try hard to avoid. And particularly important where our work involved people of a different class or race.

It is a question that worried me greatly in my early years as a photographer, and explains why I made relatively few pictures of people in those years, outside my own circles of family, friends and communities, concentrating on the built environment. And it was why, though I had admired his earlier black and white work greatly, I felt considerable disquiet about the colour images of working class families holidaying on beaches which turned Martin Parr from a photographers’ photographer into a celebrity. They seemed the work of an intruder while previously he had worked within communities.

The years have somewhat mellowed my view of this work, and Parr has of course gone on to do so much more, including turning his camera on his own middle class, but I still find those pictures marred by class prejudice and I think that this was at least in part what led to their popularity in the media. But of course we have seen far worse by other photographers here and around the world, and Parr is in many ways one of the good guys of photography, through the foundation he set up to encourage young and emerging photographers from all backgrounds and one whose advice encouraged me on several occasions in my early years in photography.

I wasn’t until very recently aware of the work of Italian photographer Gian Butturini and his 1969 book on London, reissued in 2017 with the text ‘Edited by Martin Parr‘ on the cover. It’s the kind of European approach popular at the time when I first began as a photographer and which I set out in total opposition to in terms of its graphic nature and quest for instant impact rather than a more serious consideration of the subject. I’ve not seen the book, only those images I’ve seen on line, and not seen the particular pairing of images of a black woman and a gorilla at London Zoo a which so shocked student Mercedes Baptiste Halliday when she was given the book as a present that she began her 18-month campaign against the book which she says is “appallingly racist.”

Parr has now said he was ashamed of his association with the book and that he deeply regrets his failure to appreciate its racist implications, something Halliday points out is hard to understand from a visually literate person. Parr also points out that the claim on the cover that he edited the book is incorrect as it he only supplied an introduction to what is otherwise a facsimile of the photographer’s 1969 book. He has also said he will donate the fee he received to charity and has called for the book to be removed from sale and destroyed. It is no longer listed on the Damiani Editions web site.

The book and Parr have come into the news as the campaign has led to both the public apology from Parr and his decision to stand down as the artistic director of the first Bristol Photo Festival. But last year’s protests by Halliday outside Parr’s show at the National Portrait Gallery were brushed aside and ignored by the photographic establishment. Perhaps it was the decision by the photography students from the University of the West of England to cancel their end-of-year show at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol that precipitated Parr’s decision.

One supporter of Halliday has been Benjamin Chesterton, known to many in photography and film for his ‘duckrabbit’ blog which I’ve mentioned here on several occasions. Last month he made a post which looked critically at his own family’s history, ‘Our skin in the slave trade. Uncle Sir John Moore and I.‘ which – as ever – is well worth reading. The Guardian quotes him in its article about Parr and the Butturini case as making the very salient point, “The question remains why is it down to a black teenager to confront one of the UK’s leading photographers and curators?”

Lockdown, Legend and Value

Monday, July 20th, 2020

I have to admit that during the lockdown I have become very much centred around my own work and interests. Not feeling able to get out an meet other people and not being able to travel to my favourite areas have cut me off not just physically but also mentally from much of my outside involvements.

Because of my age and medical condition I don’t yet feel able to re-engage with the world in anything like the old ways, though I have made three short trips on public transport and visited when necessary several shops, of course suitably masked. And I am still in daily contact with many friends on Facebook as well as rather fewer through phone calls and online events,

But I still feel very withdrawn from many areas, and in particular from the world of photography. With very few exceptions I just can’t get interested in the various lockdown projects and online magazines and shows that have sprung onto the web. This morning I realised that it’s almost three weeks since I last went through the long list of web sites and blogs, many photographic, that I usually skim through every few days for items of interest or controversy and that in the past have often led me to express my thoughts on this blog.

It took quite a while to skim through hundreds if not thousands of articles and posts, though for most a quick glimpse or even the headline was enough for me to move on. There were just a few that interested me enough to stop and read more, and just a few to the very end. Military historian Charles Herrick in a 3 part post on A D Coleman’s Photocritic International comprehensively demolishes another of the confabulations about D-Day photographs, the legend of the duffel bag full of film from the beaches being dropped and lost at sea during transfer to a ship. As usual there are also other posts on the site of interest.

Joerg Colberg too almost always has something worth reading, and in normal times I would probably have wanted to add my pennyworth to his piece The Print, the book, the screen. I can’t bring my mind to it, but here is one sentence which might encourage you to read and think about it and the value of any photograph:

“In the world of photography, the value is almost entirely based on commerce and on a generally unspoken and widely shared sense of elitism.”

As someone who has never been a part of that elite I can only agree, though I think there are other communities outside that of commercial art dealers and the associated museums of the art photography world that value photographs. But as Colberg makes clear, he is focusing on art photography ‘When you see the word “photography”, you will always want to add “art” in front of it.’

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that there were so many of the other photographs and articles I looked at briefly and felt entirely superfluous; ephemeral, inconsequential and with little to say.

But one particular feature from the British Journal of Photography, published around a week ago did attract me, Marigold Warner‘s article ‘Hackney in the 80s: Recovering a forgotten archive of working-class life’ about the 2016 rediscover in the basement of the Rio Cinema in Dalston, established as a community non-profit arts centre in 1979, which in 1982 set up a radical photography project for local unemployed people, teaching them to use a camera and sending them out to photograph the local communities. Their pictures were put together as newsreels and screened as a part of the cinema programmes, before the commercial ads.

Unfortunately the Kickstarter fund-raising for the production of a book of these pictures finished on the same day as the BJP published the story, but by then over £32,000 had been donated to finance it and it will appear in November – you can pre-order ‘The Rio Cinema Archive‘ now from Isola Press for £25.

It seems good value; in my scale of things, the value of these pictures is rather greater than at least most of what sells for high prices in expensive galleries.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


London in Lockdown – Chris Dorley-Brown

Saturday, July 11th, 2020

Many photographers have been busy with various projects taking advantage of the unique situations created by the Covid-19 lockdown, but the most impressive set of images I’ve come across so far are the hauntingly empty cityscapes by Chris Dorley-Brown which are featured in an article with the over-lengthy title ‘Chris Dorley-Brown’s photographs of London during lockdown are “terrifying and exciting in equal measure”’ on web site It’s Nice That.

These images of well-known locations from meticulously researched locations were all taken on weekdays, between the hours of midday and 2 PM and in the article Dorley-Brown says that they took him “about an hour each“. There are just a few people visible, mainly in the distance in some of the images, but they do convey an incredible feeling of emptiness and I imagine it took some time to exactly fine the best position and sometimes to wait for the few wanderers around the city to move into less conspicuous positions, and sometimes for the light.

There is something of a contrast between these and one of Dorley-Brown‘s earlier projects, The Corners, on his web site with other works, where he very effectively made use of multiple exposures to overpopulate the streets of East London in unreal but fascinating tableaux vivants.

Thanks to another photographer, Paul Baldesare, for drawing my attention to this article.


Photographers who have been able to keep working during the lockdown may be interested in a competition with free entry and a £1000 prize on the theme of ‘My New World‘:

The World as we knew it six months ago has been changing dramatically. Many people’s lives were put on hold, some endured hardship and loss, some had to reinvent themselves and perhaps have been working harder than before. There have been important social movements and appreciation of inevitability that we all facing a New World.  

This competition aims to collectively record the experience of people in the United Kingdom during and post lockdown reflecting new challenges and aspirations, bravery, kindness, love, sadness and humour. 

Launching Anna Steinhouse Photography Award

Entries – one image per person – are invited through Instagram until midnight Wednesday the 19th of August 2020. You can find full details of submission, terms and conditions at the link above

John Pfahl (1939-2020)

Monday, May 25th, 2020

I was interested to read the appreciation of the work of John Pfahl by photographer, photo critic and historian Bruno Chalifour published by A D Coleman as a guest post on his Photocritic International web site, not just for the information it gives about Pfahl who died in April, a victim of Covid-19, and his work but also for its insight into some of the political aspects of photography and photographic history.

Although I’ve been aware of the work of John Pfahl more or less since I first started my serious interest in photography in the 1970s when I think I first came across his work in the pages of one of the US magazines, probably Popular Photography, he wasn’t a photographer who particularly inspired me, perhaps because I found his work a little academic. So although I have books with his pictures in, particularly Sally Euclaire’s ‘ The New Color Photography’ (1981). I didn’t buy a copy of his Altered Landscapes also published that same year by The Friends of Photography, and have failed to acquire any of his later publications.

Chalifour talks about the “Rochester camp of photography“, to which Pfahl belonged, being in opposition to the MoMa school around its curator from 1962-91 John Szarkowski: “Szarkowski — still echoed nowadays by non-rigorous if not lazy art critics, curators, photo historians and researchers — did not consider that there was any serious color fine-art photography before the William Eggleston show he mounted there in 1976.” But Pfahl studied on the “first graduate-level program in color photography in America” gaining his MA at Syracuse University in 1968.

Of course there was serious colour photography even before that, including by a number of European photographers (who certainly didn’t count either in New York or Rochester.) But it was still true for most of us at the time that real photography was black and white, and while there were books largely for amateurs on colour photography, my own real training in the medium came from Johannes Itten‘s The Art of Color, published in 1961 based on his teaching at the Bauhaus, a copy of which I found in the 70s in my local library (many years before the cuts.)

Chalifour also mentions another Rochester linked problem, in that “Most of Pfahl’s work until the 1990s was printed on Ektacolor paper” and is thus showing signs of fading. The George Eastman Museum apparently has two sets of his major series, one for display, research and exhibition, and the other kept in the dark in cold storage. Kodak’s colour materials were notoriously fugitive, and having read the research many of us switched to Fuji in the 1980s. Some of his work was printed by the expensive but much more stable dye-transfer process. Pfahl was also an early adopter of digital printing, using the Iris/Giclée process for projects in the 1990s.


As I go through my own old slides, produced from around 1970 to 1985, I’m painfully aware of the limitations of older colour processes, with many images faded beyond repair and others requiring time-consuming restoration and much digital tidying to remove ingrained spots and mould. Fortunately images taken on Kodachrome have survived well, but Kodak’s card mounts are a problem, producing stray fibres and dust around the edges as well as masking too much of the image. I should put them in proper mounts before re-photographing them but it takes too long. Fortunately much of the pictures towards the end of this period before I switched to colour negative were made on Fuji films.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr


Super supermarket pictures

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

Photographer Dougie Wallace who I’ve mentioned here before for work including his pictures of shoppers outside Harrods has a fine portfolio on LensCulture, Adapting to Covid-19 in London’s Supermarkets.

Rather more sympathetic to his subjects than in some of his work, Wallace’s pictures show a remarkable degree of intimacy to the shoppers and supermarket workers he photographs. It’s hard to believe that some were not taken at rather less than the regulation 2m Covid separation.

In the text he is recorded talking about some of the problems in making pictures under lockdown, and as still “struggling with the professional hazard of holding a camera close to the face while trying not to touch one’s face and remembering to regularly sanitize hands and equipment to protect against the invisible enemy.”

It is remarkable work made under challenging conditions. Wallace worked with the small, fast and light Olympus EM1 Mark 3, a Micro Four Thirds camera. I’ve not used this latest top of the range model, but very much liked the similar mid-range Olympus OMD M5 MkII which cost me less than a quarter of the price. Olympus back in film days were always the nicest cameras to use – I still have two OM4 bodies – and that superior user experience is still there in their digital models.

There are very few occasions when one really needs the larger sensor of a full-frame camera – perhaps copying negatives and slides. Working in very low light too; though wide aperture lenses and image stabilisation go some way to bridge the gap, they don’t help when you need depth of field and are photographing moving subjects.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr