Archive for the ‘Photographers’ Category

Derek Ridgers 80’s book launch

Friday, September 15th, 2017

I hadn’t gone to the launch of ‘In The Eighties, the ninth or tenth book by Derek Ridgers intending to take pictures, but to celebrate the occasion and meet up with him again. But I had my camera bag with me, as I’d been in Brixton photographing a protest there against London’s excessive air pollution – it took only 5 days to exceed the annual pollution limit on the Brixton Rd.

But on entering the The Library Space (built in 1910 as the Edwin Tate Library, Grade II listed and now a cultural space hosting workshops, exhibitions etc) I just had to take some pictures of the place and the event – as too did many others of those present.

And I also bought the book – and of course got Derek to sign it – and I photographed him signing for several others.

It’s a book packed with portraits, and with a few pages of introduction, concentrating on the developments in club and youth culture which Derek’s work concentrates on. Although central to much of his work, its an approach that I think rather minimises the value of his work. Yes, he documented the London scene, in the clubs and on the streets, but the strength of his work is not really what he did but the way that he did it, the reflection of his personality and his intent vision.


People look up at Derek’s pictures going around on a strip around the ceiling


And study the book

Of course there is interest in the people he photographed, their clothes, their hair styles, their make-up and their behaviour. But that isn’t what makes this work stand out above much other photography of the era dealing with similar subjects.

In The Eighties by Derek Ridgers, published by Carpet Bombing Culture, ISBN 978-1908211569

In The Eighties

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

In The Eighties‘ is the title of a new book by Derek Ridgers, an old friend of mine, being launched tonight (14 Sept 2017) at The Library Space in Battersea Park Road, London.

You can see a preview of the book and read some of Derek’s views in the feature ‘Documentary Photography: A Masterclass from Derek Ridgers‘ on ‘Another Man’.

Derek gives a straightforward account of how he took these sometimes remarkable portraits in the article: “I just walk straight up to people and say ‘Do you mind if I take your picture?’”. The people he chose were those who caught his attention, particularly as he walked along the King’s Road, then the epicentre of young London’s trend-setting young fashions. Since most – but certainly not all – of those he chose were very deliberately presenting their image to the public I imagine most were more than pleased to be asked to pose for a photograph, and cooperated with him as he moved them into a suitable place nearby to find the kind of background he liked, “something that’s very plain, without anything to detract the eye, and yet something that still possesses an element of time and place.”

The quote about backgrounds comes from one of five tips for aspiring documentary photographers in the article – you’ll have to read it to find the others.

Derek and I were for some years a part of a small group of photographers who came together monthly to bring our latest pictures and discuss them. We all I think benefited from the sometimes frank appraisals, and Derek’s were usually franker than most, often saying bluntly what others of us were thinking but trying to find more delicate ways to express. ‘Framework‘, as the group became known as, was something of a hard school, and one that some could not take. Elsewhere I’ve described it as “a pionering UK group of independent photographers until its demise in 1993; together we organised around 20 group exhibitions almost all of which included some of my work. (Among many UK photographers to exhibit with Framework were Terry King, Carol Hudson, John RT Davies, Derek Ridgers and Jo Spence“), though Jo was never a member, but one of a number of others we invited to take part in our shows.

Framework had started life as a group inside a photographic club, but became a separate organisation after than club appropriated a gallery space and exhibition opportunity we had arranged for wider club use, changing its name from ‘Group Six‘ to ‘Framework‘. Derek had designed the orginal logo for Group 6, and it was one of his pictures on the poster for our first exhibition in 1984.

You can read more about Framework on an unfinished web site I began about it some years ago. Since I wrote this, at least two of the members, its main organiser Terry King and Randall Webb have died. Framework itself came to an end with the formation of London Independent Photography in 1993, which most of us joined. It was the experience of Framework that led me when a LIP committee member a year or two later to argue for the setting up of the local groups which now form a vital part of that organisation.

Looking at Lens

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Although I regularly take a quick glimpse at the New York TimesLens‘ blog, often just with my newsreader that doesn’t actually show the pictures, I don’t that often find things that are of enough interest to comment on here. Much of what they publish is interesting, but generally I only write about things if there is something I feel I can add to in some way or take a special interest in.

In the last week or so, there have been quite a few posts there that interested me, and I particularly warmed to some of Nathan Farb‘s pictures in 1967’s Other Summer of Love, perhaps because they reminded me of when I was young and a student, though Manchester in England was very different to the New York Lower East Side of his pictures. But there was just a little something of the same spirit of counter-culture in the air.

The slide show with this piece has 21 pictures, enough to get a good idea of the work, whereas sometimes on Lens I find there just isn’t enough. Usually of course you can find more pictures elsewhere – and Lens sometimes provides a link or you can search for yourself, but then things can get rather time-consuming.

That piece led me on to the large format and very posed portraits of Harf Zimmermann, who, inspired by Bruce Davidson’s book ‘East 100th Street‘ took his camera into the homes and onto the streets to photograph his fellow residents and workers in the East Berlin neighbourhood where he lived. His pictures have for me a kind of dissonance like I often feel in dreams between the people and place and perhaps seem more like theatre sets with actors rather than real people – whereas the colour images he took when he returned to the same area in 2010, judging by the couple of examples in the article, Exposing Life Behind the Berlin Wall, simply look like high-quality versions of family snaps.

East Germany was of course a police state, where it was healthy to assume that everyone except you was a Stasi agent (especially if you were not.) Rather like living in G K Chesterton’s nightmare novel ‘The Man Who Was Thursday‘. Though working as I do with many protest groups I find I often look around and wonder which of us present is one of the 144 undercover UK police stated recently by the authorities to have infiltrated more than 1,000 political groups since 1968 – around the time I first got involved in such things.

But there is also something very German about the pictures – and not just in some of the obviously German backgrounds. They didn’t remind me of Davidson, but they did remind me of August Sander and his attempt to study and classify the people of his country, interrupted by the Nazis who seized and destroyed his ‘Face of Our Time‘ in 1936.

I then went on to find several more ‘Lens’ posts worth looking at, including Fighting For Basic Rights in Morocco, Amid Crisis and the remarkable Venezuela’s Youth Wait to Live Again.

John Morris 1916-2017

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Many words have been written and said about the photo-editor John G Morris who died last Friday, 28th July 2017, and he has obviously played a large role in photography over so many years. Probably the most widely read of the obituaries is by Andy Grunberg in the New York Times, and although excellent in many respects it is a shame it was not more carefully brought up to date after being retrieved from the ‘morgue’ where it had been lying for some years in waiting for Morris’s death.

His was a long career as a photo-editor, working for some of the greatest names in photographic publishing – Life,  Ladies’ Home Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic and Magnum Photos.

His was a career in which he undoubtedly recognised the power of a number of images which subsequently became iconic. Although we now can be sure that the legend that he wove around Capa’s actions on D-Day was almost entirely false, he saw the power of one of the 11 frames that Capa exposed which many editors would probably have rejected out of hand for being unsharp – and it was an image that was only more widely recognised for its expressive potential quite a few years later. Had Morris told the truth about it and given the facts that the investigation by A D Coleman and his team have made clear, the image might have been published and long forgotten.

Again, while working for the New York Times, it was Morris who recognised the power of two of the iconic images from Vietnam, and fought to get Eddie Adam‘s picture of a summary execution of a suspected Vietcong by a Saigon police chief on the front page, and fought the paper’s ‘no-nudity’ policy to get  Huynh Cong (Nick) Ut‘s image of a naked young Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm bombing raid published – again on the front page.

It was Morris too who invited W Eugene Smith to join Magnum following his break-up with Life, and apparently suggested him (after Elliot Erwitt had turned it down) for an assignment to photograph Pittsburg – which almost ruined Magnum financially after Smith turned what had been meant as a three week assignment into a year working on what he believed to be his ‘magnum opus’, though it only really got an adequate publication as ‘Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project‘ in 2001, 23 years after Smith’s death.

A D Coleman in Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (36): John G. Morris Dies (Update) has written about some of the obituaries for Morris, including the New York Times one, pointing out some of their many errors. Its also worth reading the comments on his piece, particularly one by Robert Dannin, who calls the story that Morris made up “nothing more than an unprofessional excuse to conceal his apparent embarrassment at Capa’s work on the Normandy beachhead.”

It’s perhaps a little harsh. I can imagine Morris’s immediate shock on looking at the processed film and seeing only 11 images. And then looking a little more closely and seeing that those eleven were all blurred. A little fabrication to protect his friend’s reputation would be understandable. But to invent such an elaborate story and to keep up the deception for as long as Morris and Capa did was clearly unacceptable – and something of a stain on the reputation of both.

Morris was obviously a man who cared about photography and cared for photographers – and you can read a tribute to him by one of those he helped and was a friend to, Peter Turnley, on The Online Photographer. We can remember him for that and should also put the record straight over Capa’s D-Day pictures.

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.