Archive for the ‘Photographers’ Category

Witold Krassowski – Sackcloth and Ashes

Saturday, March 7th, 2020

Many UK photographers will remember Witold Krassowski who worked in London with Network Photographers from 1988-2005 and was also for the first five years here a freelance for The Independent.

On his web site you can read the story by Colin Jacobson of how he came to work for the Independent, having come to London to work as a house painter and you can also see some fine pictures from his work in Poland, Britain, India, Mongolia and Afghanistan as well as portraits and some commercial work.

Others will know him from his pictures in a couple of World Press Photo shows, and rather more awards in Poland, where I met him as vice-president of the Association of Polish Art Photographers. He’s led a Master Class for the WPP in Amsterdam, taught at Pathshala in Dhaka and been lecturer and deputy dean at the Faculty of Media Arts of the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw

But although his work has appeared in many publications and he has had a couple of books published in Poland, one on the social revolution at the end of communism in 1989 in that country and a second of portraits of much later of actors whose careers were dramatically changed by that political event, there has not yet been a book to present the breadth of his work over the years

Sackcloth and Ashes, Photographs by Witold Krassowski is described as “A lifetime of unstaged work on 35mm underlining human unity across borders and cultures.” With 119 black and white images, taken entirely on film, between 1985 and 2007 it represents his project to document “the commonality of human fate and the unity of mankind that stretches beyond culture and politics. “

But the book does not yet exist, and its publication depends on a Kickstarter campaign raising the £8,000 needed by April 1st. You can read much more about the book and why Krassowski feels it important that it should be published. By pledging £40 or more you can get a signed copy on publication, while for larger pledges there are further rewards.

Sackcloth and Ashes, Photographs by Witold Krassowski

Stephen Shore small camera

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

Stephen Shore is one of the photographers featured in Sally Eauclaire’s ‘The New Color Photography‘ published in 1981, though I had seen his work a few years earlier, certainly in Modern Photography magazine and possibly elsewhere. He also featured among the ‘New Topographics’ featured in the presentation by Lewis Baltz at his workshop I went to. Euclaire’s book certainly can be described as seminal, a significant milestone in the acceptability of colour photography as a serious medium for photographic artists – and perhaps more importantly for museums to collect and galleries to sell.

Of course colour in photography was not new. The first photographs had been taken in colour over a hundred years previously with technical demonstrations by James Clerk Maxwell and Louis Ducos du Hauron, and since the early days of the Daguerreotype colour had been added to photographs by hand. Autochrome, the first fully practical single plate additive colour processes was introduced commercially in 1907, and both Kodak and Agfa marketed their subtractive processes which were the basis of modern colour film photography in 1936.

Colour became used increasingly in some commercial photography from the 1950s on, and increasingly by amateurs in the 1960s. Its use by photojournalists was restricted not by the availability of film but by the huge bulk of publications still being printed in black and white for cost reasons, but as magazines changed it became more common.

I took one or two colour films (perhaps one per summer holiday) before I could afford to go seriously into photography, but when that became possible, partly because I was earning money rather than being a penniless student, it was also because I had learnt how to do photography on the cheap, loading cassettes from bulk film, developing and printing my own work – largely on surplus and often out-of-date paper. Colour was still expensive in comparison, though later I learnt to use bulk colour film and develop it myself, using cheaper alternatives to Kodak’s E3 and later E4 and E6 chemicals.

Kodachrome in some ways remained the gold standard, or rather the yellow box standard, but a film that was impossible to home process and which remained expensive to use. So though I used the occasional roll (mainly for those holiday snaps) and was fortunate enough to win a brick of the stuff in a magazine competition, largely I worked with cheaper films which could be brought in 50 or 100ft tins.

But certainly back in the 70s I was serious about colour, even if I took fewer colour pictures than black and white, and if the results weren’t always particularly successful. I studied colour, not in an art school but at home with books such as Johannes Itten’s ‘The Art of Color’, first published in 1920 when he was leading the “preliminary course” at the Bauhaus:

Itten theorized seven types of color contrast and devised exercises to teach them. His color contrasts include[d] (1) contrast by hue, (2) contrast by value, (3) contrast by temperature, (4) contrast by complements  (neutralization), (5) simultaneous contrast (from Chevreuil), (6) contrast by saturation (mixtures with gray), and (7) contrast by extension (from Goethe).”

David Burton, quoted by Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Itten

When I went to teach in a sixth form college in 1980 I found the art students there carrying out exactly the same exercises devised by Itten.

So while I appreciated the colour portfolios that were published in Euclaire’s book I reacted rather negatively to the suggestions that this was the beginning of serious colour photography – and I think we are now much more aware of earlier colour work than was then the case.

I began thinking about Stephen Shore and ‘The New Color Photography’ on reading an article online at The Guardian by Sean O’Hagan, Stephen Shore: ‘People would chase me off their lawns with my Leica’. Although Shore became well-known for the work he made in colour with a 10×8 camera, he was also carrying a Leica with him. It’s an interesting article that tells me more about the photographer, though I don’t think it illuminates his work in any respect for me, but perhaps may for those coming to him anew.

I’ve not yet seen the book, Transparencies: Small Camera Works 1971-1979 which is published on March 5th, but the preview suggests it is rather more interesting than the small selection of images illustrating The Guardian article.


Brian Harris – Independent Photographer

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

Recently published on Brian Harris’s Photoshelter portfolio is a remarkable series of around 80 pages of his images from the Independent Newspaper for which he worked for 14 years, from its start in 1986 to 1999.

The Independent was unusual as a newspaper in several ways, not least for what was in this country an unusual prominence it gave to good photography both in the magazine and newspaper. Of course other newspapers and magazines have published a great deal of good photography over the years, but much too that is at best mediocre.

It’s something that has got worse since the impact of digital photography and the ‘breaking news’ mentality which this has fostered. What matters now for the papers and on-line news sites is not that pictures are good, but that they are the first to reach the picture editor (though from some that get publish there are some publications that no longer appear to have a picture editor.)

There is I think a good argument that the last 30 or so years of the twentieth century was a golden age for newspaper photography, and Harris is one of those photographers in this country who made it so.

You can see more of Harris’s work on the Photoshelter pages, and his Brianharrisphotographer’s Blog and in 2016 he published a book, And Then The Prime Minister Hit Me…. Unfortunately because of the unusual lay-flat binding and other aspects which necessitated considerable manual labour (mainly by women) this is rather an expensive volume.


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


Bruno Barbey

Friday, February 7th, 2020

Bruno Barbey, a French photographer born in Morocco in 1941, has photographed around the world over the years, and is one of the few Magnum photographers who deserve to be better known. Not that the others are bad photographers, but rather that they are everyday names, at least in the world of photography.

I was reminded of Barbey by a Facebook post by photographer Antonio Olmos (who also deserves to be better known) of a group of pictures taken in Poland in the early 1980s, when Barbey spent 8 months living in a camper van and working there despite strict surveillance by the communist state, because “Poland was the page in history that was being written and it was the memory of an ancestral society on the verge of disappearing”.

Barbey studied photogrpahy in Switzerland in 1959-60 and first went to Magnum in 1964. He served as their vice president for Europe in 1978/1979 and as President of Magnum International from 1992 to 1995. He is now a contributor and you can see a great deal of his work on their site.

In an excellent short video made for Paris Photo he talks about his life and work and some of his pictures.

I hadn’t been aware until I watched this of the various similarities between his views on photography and mine, though in other respects we are so different (for one thing I hate travel and he has spent his life going around the world.) In part it is a generational thing, though I only really got started in photography around fifteen years later than he did.

He speaks of beginning photography with a Leica M2, a camera I bought back in my early years in photography in 1977, though by then my copy was something of an antique, and of course he was working as we almost alll did, in black and white. He learnt to work quickly and unobtrusively, moving close into situations with a 21mm lens, and saying “I never ask permission to take photographs … except for portraits”, using the depth of field of the ultra-wide angle to avoid the need to focus.

In that early work – like most photojournalists of the era – he worked entirely by natural light, and says at the time he really didn’t understand flash, when for example he was covering the events in Paris in ’68. Of course then flash outside the studio was crude and somewhat unpredictable, usually with flash bulbs, though electronic flashes were coming into wider use and largely replacing these. I still remember the first occasion on which I spent several minutes working out how to use fill-flash back in the 1980s, something modern cameras and flashes perform automatically (and at much faster shutter speeds.) And if he was then still using that Leica M2, it’s X-sync speed of 1/50th was more than a little limiting.

On the video he also talks about the difference between working with film for magazines in colour – that meant Kodachrome, a film I could seldom afford – in the old days, when after taking pictures you had to send off the film for processing and while travelling he might not see the images until weeks or months later, and today’s immediate digital photography, when instead of having a good dinner in the evening you might be up to the early hours working in front of a computer. It’s something I find it hard to adapt to, refusing to file without properly editing my pictures on a large screen, though often having that good dinner and a glass or two before finishing the edit.


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

Issei Suda (1940-2019)

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

I first came across the work of Issei Suda at some time in the 1980s, when I used to make regular visits to the few bookshops in London that stocked a reasonable range of photographic books.

I’d got to know Claire De Rouen when she was running the bookshop at the Photographer’s Gallery (though I think we first met at the ICA) and we both were part of a large group of people who might visit the Porcupine for a drink after openings and meetings. From there she moved to run the photographic section of Zwemmers a short distance away – and of course later to set up her own splendid bookshop a little further up the street on the opposite side. The shop, above a bookmakers (not as often said a sex store), continued after her death, I think aged around 80, though she always seemed so much younger, in 2012 but just wasn’t the same without her and it closed in 2017.

Whenever I went into the bookshop we would have a talk and share our latest enthusiasms in photography – and if the shop wasn’t too busy these were sometimes rather long conversations which always ended in me buying at least one of the books she had enthused about.

One in particular was Issei Suda’s 1978 monograph ‘Fushi Kaden‘, one volume from a long packed shelf of works published by Asahi Sonorama (and possibly some other Japanese publishers) that I think were unavailable elsewhere in the UK. I couldn’t read most of the text (there is one page in English), but could read the pictures, though they were clearly in a different language.

In the Eye of Photography today is an article The Legacy of Issei Suda (1940-2019) : Human Memory which accompanies ” the first posthumous exhibition in the United States of renowned Japanese photographer Issei Suda who passed away in early 2019″ at the Miyako Yoshinaga gallery, the second show of his work there.

You can see a ‘page-through’ of a later edition of his work, Issei Suda – Fushikaden‘ by PhotoBookStore UK on Vimeo. It’s a different sequence to the book I have and I think rather more pictures, though many of them are the same. The hands turning the book sometimes get in the way, and at times some pages escape scrutiny, but it gives a good general impression.

You can also read a scholarly paper about the work,

Archiving the Spirit: Suda Issei’s Fushi Kaden and “Essential” Japan by Ross Tunney in Trans-Asia Photography Review – here is a short quote from what is an interesting discussion:

Suda has nonetheless suggested a sense of native experience in two ways: first, by evoking a sense of natural association to aesthetic practice in his subjects; and second, by fashioning these same subjects into static signs that reflect a putatively timeless and uniquely Japanese aesthetic.


Shahidul Alam: The Tide Will Turn

Friday, January 31st, 2020

I’ve written on several occasions about Shahidul Alam, a Bangladeshi photographer, activist, teacher and entrepreneur and his gallery, news agency Drik and photojournalism school Pathshala, in Dhaka dedicated to allowing the majority world to tell its own story, something he has done so well through his own photography.

Among the stories I’ve mentioned here is the saga of his arrest and imprisonment in August 2018, when as he writes “I did not know if I was going to live or die. ” Though badly beaten by police, he survived and after 101 days in jail was released.

A new book, Shahidul Alam: The Tide Will Turn, is now published by Steidl:

“Combining Alam’s photos and texts with those of collaborators, including artwork by Sofia Karim and fellow inmates, The Tide Will Turn documents his experiences, the global support for his release and the ongoing fight for democracy in Bangladesh. The book comprises a record of Alam’s time in jail; a chapter each on art and politics; and an exchange of letters between Alam and writer Arundhati Roy. “

https://www.artbook.com/9783958296930.html

The book accompanies an exhibition of his work in New York which I read about on ‘The Eye of Photography‘, Shahidul Alam : Power to Truth.


Jane Evelyn Atwood

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

My daily e-mail from The Eye of Photography (l’Œil de la Photographie) today reminded me of a documentary photographer I’ve long been aware of with their post Jane Evelyn Atwood : On prostitution, Paris 1976 – 1979, which includes ten pictures from her forthcoming show at the Maison de la Photographie Robert Doisneau from 25 January to 21 April 2020.

If you are in Paris in those months, the short excursion to Gentilly just outside the southern boundary of the city will be worth making. I’ve not been there for some years, but found both the gallery and the place interesting, as well as our walk back into Paris itself, when rather than go to the nearest station (or catch a bus) we wandered the mile or two back to the Place d’Italie.

Atwood does have a web site, but it is perhaps curiously opaque, if not secretive and the only pictures I could see were small thumbnails of book covers. She is represented by Contact Press in the US, with a short bio and a web page that – at least to my browser – displays seven blank images, though in their achive you can see ‘War Never Ends‘, a feature with photographs by her and Lori Grinker.

The best on-line presentation of her work I’ve found is at l’Agence Vu, which has sections including her portfolio, portraits, books, awards and exhibitions as well as series which includes her remarkable documentary work on The Blind, Women in Prison, Land Mines and Haiti.

Homage or appropriation?

Friday, December 6th, 2019

As so often A D Coleman got me thinking with his look at The Waters of Our Time in his post Three Weeks in Bookworm Heaven (3), one of a short series about his recent 3 week residency on a Teti Photography Fellowship at the Institute of Art and Design at New England College in Manchester, NH, USA.

The book by photographer Thomas Roma and his writer and musician son Giancarlo T. Roma is very clearly based in its concept and design on the ground-breaking 1955 publication The Sweet Flypaper of Life in which photographs by Roy DeCarava were accompanied with a fictional text inspired by the images written by the poet Langston Hughes, who edited a larger selection to fit his writing. This was the first monograph by a Black photographer, and the publisher had been reluctant to publish it simply as a book of photographs but accepted the work with the much better-known poet’s name as co-author.

If you don’t have a copy of The Sweet Flypaper of Life you can get an idea of the book in another page turning video which shows not the original but the 1984 Howard University Press edition, and even the music is rather better and more appropriate than the Roma book linked above.

Not that Richie Havens version of the Jerry Merrick song “Follow” which accompanies that page-through is bad; it’s a great song but pacing the view of the book to it just doesn’t work, and the words are an unfortunate intrusion into the viewing of the pictures. Sentences from Merrick’s lyrics are also quoted at intervals in the text of the book – which accounts for the pacing of the video which more or less keeps up with there use. It’s quite hard to keep up with the pace reading the rest of the text, and I had to pause the video a few times both to look at the pictures and to read it.

Unfortunately, although there are some interesting images, too many fail to have much interest to me, and the juxtaposition with the images seldom seems to really make sense. Even the layout of the images and text, a feature of the original work, seems shoe-horned into an inappropriate format. Coleman has clearly studied the work at greater length and depth than I and in book form rather than the video, and it is hard to disagree with his conclusions.

Fortunately for those of us who lacked the foresight to buy the 1955 original of The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a near-facsimile edition with an afterword came out in 2018 and can still be bought new as well as second-hand.

You can also watch several short clips about De Carava on You Tube as well as a lengthy panel discussion of ‘The Sweet Flypaper of Life’ moderated by Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem -has an introduction to the book at around 19’12”, after which each of the panel, including A D Coleman, talks about their favourite image from the book. There is a set of his images on NPR, along with some links.


Robert Frank’s London

Friday, November 29th, 2019

I’ve long been an admirer of Robert Frank’s pictures taken in London, and you can see a fine selection of these in the feature Extraordinary Black And White Photographs Of London In The Early 1950s.

There are at least two videos paging through the book London Wales on You Tube, and I recommend that by Алексей Гуменюк only because I think he is a better page-turner, though his commentary and the sound track perhaps add a certain charm – but you can turn the sound off if it annoys you. Of course if you have read my earlier thoughts on the book or otherwise bought it you can turn the pages yourself. It’s better.

Frank’s London is a city (and City) long lost, with men in bowler hats and men carrying sacks of coal, both enshrouded by the pea-soupers which the coal produced (and in the second part of the book, he goes to photograph the men who mined it.)

Thankfully those days of almost solid air in London are long gone, though I can just remember them. But appearances are deceptive and London’s air is still toxic, leading to huge amounts of miserable illness and an estimated almost 10,000 early deaths each year, with levels of pollutants typically well above the EU legal limits in many streets and schoolyards.

The City too has changed, though still equally toxic. We no longer have an Empire – it had already begun to disappear when Frank coughed his way through those streets, but neo-colonialism has replaced colonialism, and many of the world’s most toxic companies – for example in mining – are still London based, and the City is the money laundering capital of the world.

Berlin-Wedding

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

Michael Schmidt (1945-2014) published his book ‘Berlin-Wedding‘ back in 1978 and it was soon recognised as something of a classic. Long out of print has now been republished by Koenig Books.

You can read more about it in a typically thoughtful post by Jörg M. Colberg on Conscientious, Berlin-Wedding (and the rest of West Germany). Colberg grew up in West Germany and his writing about the book very much reflects that.

Like Schmidt (who was born in the same year as me, though in a different country) I was impressed by the work of the US New Topographics, particularly Robert Adams and Lewis Balz, and the 1975 show with its subtitle ‘Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape‘. Impressed enough to go to a workshop with Balz around 1980. It was an interesting experience – not least for the other photographers I met there, including Peter Goldfield – but perhaps in line with the photography, rather cool and strangely impersonal.

It’s an influence that shows in some of my work, perhaps most obviously in some of the pictures in my ‘German Indications‘, (see the preview there) though I found it a little too arid for my tastes. As perhaps did Schmidt, although a more rigorous follower of the NT approach, with a second group of pictures in the book of people in their homes.

Balz was also almost exactly my age – like Schmidt – and also like Schmidt died in 2014. I didn’t find Balz the easiest person to get on with (and rather put my foot in it by pointing out that the page proofs he was looking through for his Park City handled the highlights better than his silver gelatine prints) but found him very interesting lecturing about the other photographers he was associated with, including several I was previously unaware of, particularly Chauncey Hare, another photographer – like Schmidt – of people in their domestic interiors.

It isn’t easy to write about Hare on-line, as although you can buy a couple of books with his pictures in, he has resisted putting his pictures on-line and refused me permission to reproduce any when I wanted to write about him some years ago. I ended up with publishing just a short unillustrated note.

Copies of the first edition of Berlin-Wedding now sell for over £200, so at around £30 if you shop around the re-issue is perhaps a bargain. Though not so much a bargain as the copy of Chauncey Hare’s Interior America that Colberg picked up for $1. I think it is still the best book about Hare, and secondhand copies are generally reasonably priced if not quite such bargains.