Archive for the ‘Photographers’ Category

Hugh Edwards

Friday, June 30th, 2017

As friends including regular readers of these posts will know, I don’t generally have a very high opinion of curators – except for a few that I’ve known and have worked with. Too many have put on shows that server largely to illustrate their lack of knowledge and real interest in the medium and are clearly concerned only with building their own careers. And far too often money that would be better spent on photography and photographers goes into their pockets and into creating fancy displays which might enhance their reputation but often take away attention from the work presented.

But of course there are exceptions. Actually quite a few of them, including the obvious ones like John Szarkowski. Many of the best have been, like him, photographers and have had a real appreciation of the medium.

Thanks to a recent post Hugh Edwards: Unknown Icon by Kenneth Tanaka on The Online Photographer, I have now been made aware of another fine curator. Edwards (1904–1986) was Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he had already worked for 30 years, for his last 12 years there from 1959-70, during which time he organised 75 exhibitions, as well as regularly showing new acquisitions.

This was an important time in the evolution of photography, and one in which Edwards played an major role, giving Robert Frank his first American museum exhibition in 1961 and promoting many emerging photographers as well as building up a fine study collection of work by nineteenth and twentieth century masters. And his contribution is finely and extensively documented in the web site on him and the photography he championed and bought for the Art Institute collection by photography curator Elizabeth Siegel and a team of researchers.

Photography was one of his many interests; David Travis, Curator and Chair of the Department of Photography from two years after Edwards retired until 2008 writes about him at some length and remembers the rare and memorable evenings at his home when he would show his own colour slides made at “a roller skating rink in Harvey, Illinois”. In in a letter to Frank, Edwards wrote “I ran away from ‘culture’ and accelerated education to spend all my evenings in a large skating rink on the outskirts of Chicago for five whole years. There were many wonders there and I used to wish someone would catch them so they could be kept. Then I found your book and saw you had done it.” Travis comments that having seen Frank’s work “published, Mr. Edwards felt his own mission as a photographer could end.”

Those who can make it to Chicago can see the extensive show at the Art Institute also curated by Seigel, The Photographer’s Curator: Hugh Edwards at the Art Institute of Chicago which runs until October 29th 2017. But otherwise the web site is a fine tribute to an amazing curator and his legacy.

D-Day Wrap

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Something which I meant to acknowledge earlier but slipped my mind after I read the post was the announcement by A D Coleman, ‘It’s a Wrap‘ marking the official end of “our team’s deconstruction of the myth of Robert Capa’s D-Day experiences and the subsequent fate of his negatives“.

The end came exactly three years after the investigation began with the publication of photojournalist J. Ross Baughman’s critique of the TIME video celebrating the 70th anniversary of Robert Capa’s D-Day photographs, and included further contributions from Baughman as well as from photo historian Rob McElroy and combat veteran and military historian Charles “Chuck” Herrick as well as Coleman’s own major contribution.

During its course it also referenced the work of others on this and related matters such as Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier’, and included a number of other guest posts, including one by Jim Hughes who in 1986 was the first to publicly challenge the Capa D-Day myth (and his review was quite probably the origin of my own total scepticism about the alleged ‘darkroom disaster’.)

It has been a remarkable series of posts, and quite rightly has received awards and nominations, and has changed entirely our view of one of the best-known events of photographic history, but also shed light on how that history is manufactured and by whom. History isn’t just facts, but a point of view (rather like any photograph) but in this particular case we know also know that much of what was claimed as fact is in fact fiction.

Of course we always knew that Capa was himself an invention, and a great inventor of stories as well as someone who photographed them powerfully. But even when we know more and can dismiss the embroidery the image remains. Of course like all photographers Capa took many weak images, some of which have found their way to gallery walls and books but there certainly remain enough to sustain his reputation.

We will still look at his pictures and be moved by them even when we know that the captions may be unreliable and some events may have been staged. And Capa did certainly put his life at some risk – even if rather less than he made out – on D-Day and probably more so on various other occasions, and of course later paid for the risks with his life, stepping on to a landmine in Indo-China. And his advice “If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” is still worth remembering.

Although officially the end, it certainly isn’t, and Coleman gives a number of areas that he or others will pursue, both about D-Day and Capa’s other work, and more widely in a critical look at the medium’s institutions, particularly the ICP.

Coleman states he considers “the basic research complete and the case effectively proven” and is “developing this material into a book, an exhibition, and a multimedia piece” about which he will give occasional progress reports, but apart from this unless there are some unforeseen discoveries or unpredictable surges of interest there will be no further posts in the series. I hope the exhibition will tour to some of the more prestigious institutions both in the USA and Europe and will perhaps help to end the promulgation of the myth.

Coleman concludes his piece with a comment on a New York Times article by Geoff Dyer, a man who writes about photography and who prides himself on not being a photographer; “I don’t just mean that I’m not a professional or serious photographer; I mean I don’t even own a camera” (in ‘The Ongoing Moment’ a book given me by someone who had probably read on the previous page “I suspect, then, that this book will be a source of irritation to many people, especially those who know more about photography than I do.” It was, though I’ve never managed to read to the end, always throwing it down in disgust at some idiocy within minutes of picking it up.)

Dyer’s ignorance clearly extended to never having heard of the doubts about Capa’s D-Day legend (despite a previous feature in the newspaper for which he was writing) and he writes “we know the precise historical moment they depict, what happened before and after, the reasons the pictures are so blurred” a statement untrue in every detail.

As Coleman comments “This uninformed balderdash of Dyer’s exemplifies the lamentable condition of writing about photography today. If you wonder why I have persisted with this investigation, consider Dyer’s elegantly phrased but fact-free nonsense a sufficient answer.”

It’s a Wrap

Deeper, Stronger…

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

I’ve not before come across David du Chemin, but his 3 Shortcuts to Deeper, Stronger Images expresses well many of my own thoughts and teaching about photography.

Its worth reading what he has to say about them, but the 3 shortcuts are:

Study Photographs Not Cameras.
Focus Your Attention, Not Just Your Lens.
Expose Your Soul, Not Just Your Sensor.

I feel happy about spilling the beans here, because although they give you the gist, you really need to go and read his piece to fully understand what he means.

Of course it isn’t novel. Strikingly similar to what I tried to deliver to students in my 30 or so years of teaching – and of course many others. And if you want to know more you can also read duChemin’s new book,  The Soul of the Camera ,which has its own web site where you can download some sample material.

I do have a few minor quibbles, not least that cameras don’t have souls, though some of mine definitely do have a perverse character of their own – and one that changes the camera settings when I’m not looking. I also wonder how someone can stretch out what is basically a fairly simple idea into around 25 chapters and 250 pages.  But what I’ve seen is good advice and could certainly be useful to some, though others might find it better to just get out there and do it.

This, I find, is only one of a number of books that duChemin has written, one or two of which have titles that do a little suggest the kind of learning tricks approach he denigrates. But rather than buy his books you might also be better off buying and studying those of the great masters of photography. And if your bookshelf is already stuffed with well-thumbed copies of the works off Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Gene Smith, Cartier-Bresson and the rest you probably don’t need this one!

The Strange Case of Souvid Datta

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

A few days ago I posted about the controversy over the use of a picture of child prostitution being used to promote a Magnum photo contest on the web site Lensculture, brought to my notice in a post on the Duckrabbit blog.

Since then more has appeared about the photographer concerned, with Petapixel posting Photographer Souvid Datta Appears to Have Plagiarized Mary Ellen Mark, a story which came to light after Shreya Bhat of Bangalore, India read a report in Petapixel, who like me had picked up and commented on the original post from Duckrabbit.

Bhat is a great fan of photographer Mary Ellen Mark, and also very familiar with the subject matter and in 2014 was a social worker in the Indian red-light district of Sonagachi. So she had a great interest when in 2014 the Huffington Post published a feature on Dattas’s higly acclaimed series documenting sexual violence among sex workers and children in that Indian red light district, ‘In the Shadows of Kolkata‘. She noticed that one of the women in a picture had actually been taken not from life but from an image published in Mark’s fine 1978 book ‘Falkland Road‘ with the caption ‘Transvestites getting dressed in a courtyard. Falkland Road, Bombay, India.’

After reading the Petapixel post Bhat contacted them with this astonishing revelation – and the pictures in their post leave no room for doubt. It remains to be seen if this is an isolated case of cheating, or if once people across the world of photography start to look critically at Souvid Datta’s pictures they will come up with more instances. Petapixel describe it as plagiarism but I think a better term might be fraud. If you attempt to look at Souvid Datta’s web site at http://souvid.org/, you now only get the message ‘This page is password protected‘ rather than being able to access his pictures. ‘In the Shadows of Kolkata’ was available on the site last year, and the removal of this and his other pictures is highly suspicious. Petapixel say his Facebook and Twitter were also taken down after they contacted him asking for a response to the allegation.

As Petapixel states, Datta’s work has gained many prestigious awards over the years, but this puts all of them in doubt. Did he cheat in those other images? Will more cases like this emerge? It reminds me very much of drug-taking in athletics and cycling, and while it would probably not be sensible to call for awards other than those which include plagiarised images to be removed, perhaps we should consider ‘life-time bans’ for abusers in photography too.

Already PetaPixel has posted an update, linking to a Facebook post by documentary photographer Daniele Volpe, about two of his pictures being posted by Datta as his own.

FURTHER UPDATE

The latest development – published as I was finishing writing the above is that Datta has admitted his guilt in an interview with Olivier Laurent on Time Lightbox, and trying to explain his actions. Frankly I think he is in the wrong job. Datta was educated at Harrow School, one of the UK’s two top public schools, going on to study at University College London (UCL) and spending 3 months as an intern at Magnum. None of these venerable institutions seemed to have trained him in basic honesty and integrity.

Pie & Mash

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Though I can claim to be a Londoner, I’ve never been a fan of pie and mash shops, perhaps because I’ve never lived close to one. I do have a memory of being rather scared by live eels swimming in a tank in front of a shop somewhere when young, but I don’t think it’s that which puts me off them; more likely its the rather lurid green liquor (which these days may have had no contact with eels.)

Pie & mash were the cheap food of the nineteenth century for Londoners, but have since come under increasing competition, first from fish and chips (the first chippie opened in London in 1860) and later from burgers and kebabs, but some pie shops remain and have enjoyed something of a revival in the last few years, and some of the best known remain in business. When they began, eels where cheap – they were about the only fish that could live in the polluted Thames, but most came from the continent, and the pies were eel pies, but eels got scarce and became expensive. You can still get jellied eels and stewed eels, but the pies went over to minced beef, but the eel liquor with parsley to add colour and flavour remained.

I first came across Stuart Freedman‘s pictures of Pie & Mash shops in a feature on Spitalfields Life in 2014. It’s one of those subjects that many photographers have tackled, something of a London cliché, but his pictures stood out from the heap. And for the book he has gone much further with the project.

In 2015, Freedman brought out his ‘Palaces of Memory – Tales from the Indian Coffee House‘ a fine work celebrating these institutions, with the aid of crowd-funding, and I was pleased to be one of those who supported the venture, receiving a signed copy of the book in return.

He is now crowd-funding for a new book, ‘The Englishman and the Eel‘ which he describes as “a journey into the culture of that most London of institutions, the Eel, Pie and Mash shop.” He grew up in East London in the 1970’s, which, as he writes, was:

then a byword for poverty now a metaphor for gentrification. I fled Hackney to photograph the world but this book, two years in the making, is not only a tribute to these cultural icons but a re-examination of my own past.

Rather than read more from me, take a look at the Kickstarter page. As well as the video and text about the project you can also read there about the rewards available. For a signed copy of the book you need to pledge £30 or more (plus a shipping cost – £4 for the UK), but there are some generous rewards in terms of signed prints and tuition for some of the larger amounts. Your pledge will only be taken up if the project goal of £9,000 is reached by May 15, 2017.

I’m looking forward to receiving my copy – the estimated delivery date is December 2017 and it will be a nice Christmas present to myself.

Magnum Capa

Friday, April 21st, 2017

As regular readers will know, I’ve followed with interest the long series of investigative articles by A D Coleman and his team of co-workers ferreting out the truth about Robert Capa’s D-Day pictures. There are after all few more iconic photographic images than Capa’s grainy and blurred US soldier in the surf of Omaha beach, and the story surrounding it must thus be of great interest in photographic history.

So while to learn about the whole nest of stories that have been deliberately built up to hide the facts came as something as a shock (even though its central story of the darkroom mishap had never been believable) it was good that at last we were getting to the true story. And while it isn’t always one that reflects well on Capa, it doesn’t alter my assessment of him as a photographer.

The latest instalment, Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (32), does include a mention of my post here, A Capa Controversy, and describes it as “thoughtful, balanced, and closely attentive to the specifics.”

Mostly it looks at the recent re-publication on the Magnum site of D-Day and the Omaha Beach landings, a chapter from the 2004 book ‘Magnum Stories‘, edited by Chris Boot, which begins in a bad way with the sub-head declaration “The only photographer landing with the first wave on Omaha Beach, Robert Capa’s iconic photographs provide a unique documentation of the event“.

It’s hard to make a great deal of sense out of some of the introduction to a lengthy quotation from Capa’s own ‘Slightly Out of Focus‘ story of D-Day, although it does remind us that Capa’s book was written “with film rights in mind” and that on its rear cover Capa tells readers that he has allowed himself to go “slightly beyond and slightly this side” of the truth. His was a radically different approach to Gene Smith’s ‘Let Truth be the Prejudice’.

Of course it’s impossible to know exactly what happened on D-Day, though there are some other relevant eye-witness accounts, but I think that we can be sure that “my friend Larry, the Irish padre of the regiment, who could swear better than any amateur” and the “Irish priest and the Jewish doctor” are simply a part of the Hollywood treatment rather than Omaha beach, along with much of the rest – and that Capa took only ten or eleven of the 106 pictures he mentions.

My other complaint about the Magnum chapter is that by mixing pictures taken by Capa before leaving for France and with others from after he left Omaha beach along with half a dozen of the 10 images it attempts to mislead readers as to his actual work on D-Day, though careful attention to the captions would probably clarify things for the careful reader.

As Coleman says, Capa remains an important asset to Magnum, who offer “second- or third-generation derivatives” of two of his D-Day pictures at $3500 each which he describes as “nothing more than posh, high-priced posters.” Copyright normally extends only to 70 years after the artists death, so unless Magnum have some way to extend their monopoly, others could market such prints from 2024.

Of course it goes beyond this. Capa was the driving force behind the foundation of Magnum and something of a deity so far as the organisation is concerned. I’m not quite sure what “he created a narrative myth for Magnum too that has helped propel it over more than half a century” means, if anything, but I think it is more religious dogma than rational thought.

Another Maier?

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Although I think we can disregard the hype, the negatives bought by holidaying American Tom Sponheim at a Barcelona flea market in 2001 are of interest, like those I’m sure of many unknown photographers in countries around the world, and certainly it was a $3.50 well spent.

Sponheim scanned them and put them on a Facebook page, Las Fotos Perdidas de Barcelona, in 2010 and the few I’ve seen show the work of a competent photographer and some interesting subject matter, though like Maier’s certainly nothing that is going to change the history or trajectory of photography. Though if those examples I’ve seen on the Mashable page where I read this story are typical, possibly some would benefit from better scanning and retouching. Along with the pictures he posted this text:

In 2001 I bought a few envelopes containing negatives at a flea market in Barcelona, Spain. When I got back to the US, I scanned the negatives and discovered that the photos were taken by a very talented photographer. Can you help me identify the people in the photos and the name of the photographer?

Sponheim also advertised in the Barcelona area to try to find information about the photographer, but it was earlier this year that Begoña Fernández saw the page, was thrilled by the pictures and decided to investigate. It took a while for her to find the vital clue and recognise a particular elementary school as the location for some of the images, and then further research in archives of the Agrupació Fotográfica de Catalunya, where finally she found a 1961 magazine with an image she recognised from the Facebook page.. and image by Milagros Caturla that had won 4th prize in a photographic contest.

Back in the late 1970s I was a member of one of the UK’s leading photographic clubs (I usually say we later parted company on sartorial grounds, which is almost true – like many photographic stories) and Caturla’s images would certainly have done well in their monthly competitions. Which is perhaps somewhat faint praise on my part, since many pictures that did well were extremely tedious and clichéd, though their were occasional pictures which rose above this- as hers would have done.

Often more interesting than those club competitions were the occasional jumble sales, where I picked up the occasional bargain, particular among old photo books and odd pieces of equipment, including an old Rolleiflex, but also some junk, including a large stainless steel sink which I had every intention of converting into a print washer, but has actually just cluttered up my loft ever since.

But sadder than these were old exhibition prints from the collections of deceased members, some I think of similar quality to the work of Caturla (and probably representative of other work by the photographers concerned.) A few of these went for as much as a pound or two (and being pretty impecunious at the time, I was outbid on the few that interested me) but many went for pennies or remained unsold – and almost certainly ended up in landfill.  It’s the fate of most photography – including much that would be of interest to later generations and some that might lead to a little posthumous fame.

Interior America revisited

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

I was interested to read ‘A Second Look: Chauncey Hare’s Interior America‘ by Jörg M. Colberg on his Conscientious Photo Magazine, and I recommend it to you.  As might be expected, its a thoughtful and considered view of a man and a body of work which for various reasons the photographic world has rather forgotten and who himself gave up on photography and the institutions of photography to become a therapist.

I was introduced to Hare’s work by Lewis Balz when I went to a workshop Balz gave at the Photographer’ Place in Derbyshire a year or two after Interior America was published (Aperture 1978), and went to buy his book immediately after. It wasn’t that easy to find in London and I don’t think the Photographers Gallery had it in stock, but I managed to get a copy and both the pictures and the introductory essay by Hare made a great impression on me.

I didn’t start going out to try and make work like his, but it did have an influence on me in terms of the wide-angle view that he used. Balz’s work also got me working with ultra-slow emulsions, though I never liked the isochromatic films he used, but worked instead with Kodak’s Technical Pan, a film with extended red sensitivity, and one of the most frustrating emulsions ever made. Developing it for pictorial use – at least until Kodak made its Technidol developer available was rather hit or miss, and you could get great almost grain-free and incredibly sharp negatives – but some films I pulled off the dev tank spiral straight into the bin as they contained only the ghosts of images.

But I couldn’t afford a quality wideangle for my 4×5 camera, and Technical Pan offered comparable quality from 35mm, if only at ISOs between ISO6 and ISO32 depending on your choice of developer and a little luck. And the Zuiko 21mm f/3.5 was a fine and affordable lens that became a ruglar part of my equipment.

Around 2000 I wrote a short note about Chauncey Hare for the web site I was then working for, where, among other things, I had a guide to several hundred photographers of note. It got updated a little after Hare himself got in touch with me, initially I think suggesting firmly I should remove it. We exchanged a few more e-mails, and I tried to get him to agree to my writing more about him and to include some of his pictures, but without success, but eventually I think he was reasonably content with the short note I wrote about him, which incorporated a little of what we had discussed in our messages. So here it is, from around 2002:


Chauncey Hare

Chauncey Hare is known for one set of work, and a chilling one at that. He qualified and worked for as an engineer for a large oil corporation for over 20 years, becoming increasingly alienated from his work and the attitudes it forced him to take and at the same time more involved in photography.

Eventually he quit the lab and began a journey into many people’s homes to photograph them in their rooms. Some were people he knew, others total strangers who allowed the photographer with his large format camera into their homes, thanks to credentials from various museums and the Guggenheim Foundation who supported his work. At times they were unaware they were in the view of the extreme wide-angle lens he used, while some others pose for the camera. Often they are caught awkwardly by the blast of a flash, pinned to a wall by their shadow.

These are pictures, as Theodore Roszak wrote in his note on the cover of Interior America, that chronicle not just the spiritual desolation at the heart of an industrial society, but also reflect Hare’s own despair.

We can also see in them echoes of other work in photography, perhaps most notably the interiors of Walker Evans some 40 years earlier. They give a fascinating if somewhat depressing insight into the psyche of a nation from a highly individual viewpoint.

Hare’s 1985 book ‘This Was Corporate America’ accompanied a touring exhibition of his work showing photographs of the Social Security Administration, subway riders in San Francisco, and people working in the electronic industry in silicon Valley. These pictures complemented his earlier work on people in their homes.

Although curators – including John Szarkowski of MOMA, NY – recognised Hare’s work for its formal qualities, they failed to respond to the need for changes in society the pictures made obvious. The galleries and the art world were a part of the problem, enmeshed in and supporting a sick corporate world that denied human potential.

Hare decided he needed to leave photography, as it no longer allowed him to make the statements he wanted to make, and to work on the problem in a more direct way. He is now a licensed family therapist and Co-director of Work and Family Resources, a not-for-profit community-based business offering “personal coaching” and group seminars for people who are, or have been, abused at work.


Today I might add a little on the end, mentioning of course the 2009 Steidl republication of his work, Protest Photographs, and perhaps articles like Two Slight Returns on Afterall, and articles elsewhere. THe LIbrary of Congress has 8 of his pictures, but none of them available on line, and their restricitons page has the message: “Publication and other forms of distribution:Restricted. Mr. Hare has stipulated that his photographs may not be copied by researchers in any way or for any purpose.”

You can however see an number of his images on line by going to Google and doing an image search on the name ‘Chauncey Hare’. Its generally pretty obvious which are his from the rather mixed set that is returned.

Fink notes

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Although many photographers have worked with square format cameras, notably those made by Hassleblad and Rollei, few have really taken to the format and worked with it. Many always cropped their images, and saw the square format simply as enabling them to shoot in the same way for either a portrait or landscape format, with none of the problems of needing to tune the camera on its side. And some cameras really did make this a little of a problem. For those photographers who work with a camera on a tripod or stand it can also present some difficulties. But with the square format you just took the pictures and cropped whichever way you wanted afterwards.

What I like about Larry Fink’s photographs – most of them on square format ands presented as square is how he really gets the frame to work, getting in close to his subjects and using those edges in a really dynamic way.

The front page of his web site contains the text:

Viscerality is my perceptual mode. Simply spoken,it means that I want to touch everything that I love. Hopefully my pictures are a testimony to the love of the senses.

I’ve long thought of photography as being a very tactile medium and I’m at my happiest photographing people and groups of people at the kind of range where I could reach out and touch them, though often I have to work from a rather longer range.

Fink’s best-known work remains Social Graces, a book published by Aperture in 1984 (with a later Powerhouse edition in 1999.)

Born in Brooklyn, like others of a similar generation he studied paintings in the museums of that city, as well as photography with Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research. And he got to know many of the artists and literary figures living in the city.

Visura has a great portfolio of his images of ‘The Beats‘, taken in the late 1950s and published as a book in 2014, and you can read more about him and the book in The New Yorker. Olivier Laurent wrote about him on Time LightBox in 2015, and there is an interesting interview with him by Julie Ma on The Cut.

What prompted me to write this post was Fink on Warhol: New York Photographs of the 1960s which appeared recently in L’oeil De La Photographie.

I’ve owned several square format cameras over the years, including an ancient Rolleiflex (it cost me £35) but never really got into the cameras or the format.

She was ready

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Benjamin Chesterton on his Duckrabbit blog posted last Sunday “She was ready and actually pushed the tweet button” about a series of pictures by Welsh photographer Dan Wood who “discovered photography through skateboarding” in 1995 and is a member of the Artist Collective: Document Britain which I have to admit I’ve never heard of before.

Duckrabbit writes about Wood’s ‘Shoot the damn dog‘, a project on his wife’s struggles with depression, post-natal depression and makes his point so well that I’ll leave you to read it. And when he asked Wood how she flet about him publishing the work, the reply he got from the photographer was that 3 years after he made the work, “She was ready and actually pushed the tweet button”.

On Lensculture you can read an interview with Wood about the project he began in 2013 ‘Suicide Machine‘ after the town where he lives, Bridgend, was named as having an unusually high suicide rate, along with a set of images of those who live there from his book of the same name. They were taken on his Hasselblad 500CM using colour film, and Wood still sees film as central to the way that he works: “it’s always been about film for me: shooting, developing, printing, scanning, the cameras, I love it all, especially the pace in which you work.”

You can see more of his work on his own web site, including both black and white and colour work, much based on Wales, but also elsewhere.