Archive for the ‘Photographers’ Category

Blind Spot for Pictorialism?

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

Andy Romanoff‘s article,  ‘Even Ansel Adams Had a Blind Spot‘ looks at the continuation of pictorialism in photography after the emergence of straight photography around 1920, which he says ““disappeared” some very important and wonderful photographers from the history of photography“, chief among them William Mortensen and his ‘disciple’ Robert Balcomb.

While it’s true that Mortensen gets little mention in most histories of photography, the contention that Pictorialism is neglected is certainly untrue. Nor was Mortensen really forgotten, but perhaps for good reason ignored. I have a copy of ‘The New Projection Control‘ by William Mortensen, which by 1945 was in its third edition and third printing, one of 8 books by Mortensen then on sale, and when I joined a photographic club in the mid-1970s the great majority or work on display there and in the international salons could stil broadly be described as Pictorialism, still alive if not particularly well.

Although Mortensen was undoubtedly a great technician this did not make him into a particularly interesting photographer, and as Romanoff states:

“In retrospect, although Mortensen’s subject matter was often grotesque and sometimes fell into the kitschy, his mastery of craft was and is astounding. Most people seeing a Mortensen print for the first time find it hard to believe it is a photograph.”

Pictorialism had its great heyday in the years around 1900, and in particular under the curation of Alfred Stieglitz, who established an international movement called the the Photo-Secession and published his magnificently produced Camera Work, from 1903-1917. It is a movement and an age which gets extensively and sympathetically treated by Beaumont Newhall (and I think Ansel Adams) and others in their histories of photography. Perhaps suprisingly Stieglitz doesn’t get a mention in Romanoff’s post, though Edward Steichen, who designed the cover for Camera Work does. It could perhaps be described as a movement which attempted to legitimise photography as art by showing it could produce images that mimicked those produced by accepted artistic printing printing processes using only the manual skills of artists, and which concentrated on the qualities and surface of the print, often involving considerable manual intervention in its production. The object was perhaps to make it hard for people ‘to believe it is a photograph.’

Romanoff’s list of photographers who began as pictorialists but moved on to straight photography is short, and perhaps significantly omits the names of some of its greatest exponents, notably both Paul Strand and Edward Weston. These and others wanted to make work that was purely photographic, some thinking that this was how photography could truly become art, while others felt that photography was a development of the modern age, a replacement, a kind of post-art.  They certainly wanted ot make photographs that really did look like photographs.

Weston’s own struggles with the impact of modernism on photography have been extensively documented by himself and others. His work, and that of other straight photographers, both in the USA and in Europe and elsewhere was new and exciting, while pictorialism remained producing the same old tropes but with less and less creativity.

I’m not a huge fan of Ansel Adams either, but again – as with Mortensen – there is no denying his technical mastery, again encapsulated in his books. His Basic Photo Series, though by then somewhat out of date (and later editions were never quite as good), was the foundation for my own technical education in the medium, though it never led me to try and remake my version of “Moonrise Hernandez, New Mexico.”

To some extent the illustrations to Romanoff’s article speak for themselves. William Porterfield‘s image was made during the heyday of pictorialism and neglected only because it isn’t a particularly interesting picture, and the four later examples do little for me. Mortensen (as did Adams) provided the images for  ‘The New Projection Control’, and a pretty dire collection they are, with the before ‘straight’ version he prints of some images often seeming to me very much preferable to his variously pimped version.

I guess it is a matter of taste, and as Mortensen says in his concluding chapter, “Unhappily, there is no known method of teaching taste, good sense and discretion. To such readers as lack these valuable qualities this book will merely discover new ways of making bad pictures.” And it did in spades. As he continues, “Babies will be butchered and ingenues outraged in the name of Projection Control“. And pictorialism.

Debunking the Capa Myths

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

I’ve several times written about the lengthy and detailed researches into exactly what happened to Robert Capa on D-Day made by A D Coleman and his team and published in a long series of articles as their research developed.  It’s a case study in thorough and diligent research, involving expertise from various fields including military history as well as photography, and one that, although not changing the handful of photographs Capa made, has certainly shown some very different readings of them.

Most of what photographic histories and biographies have told us in the past about the circumstances in which these pictures were made has been shown to be false; either deliberate invention or imaginative contructions by those well removed from the situation and with little knowledge of it.

Rather than have to read all of the over 40 articles on Coleman’s own web site (some in several parts, with the latest episode, Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (40b) a few days ago) you can now read his precis on Petapixel, still a fairly lengthy read, Debunking the Myths of Robert Capa on D-Day.

We can now be certain beyond any reasonable doubt that Capa went in, not with the first wave of the landing but rather later, and on the least heavily defended section of the beach, where US soldiers met relatively little opposition, and that he never quite made the beach, taking only a small number of pictures –  perhaps 10 or 12 – before rushing back to the landing craft and ship that had brought him there. Probably he made the right decision for a news photographer, to hurry back with those few pictures to meet his deadlines, but he does appear to have felt the need to support and elaborate an elaborate fiction to cover his actions. Capa was certainly a great story-teller, and bare truth seldom makes the best stories.

There was no darkroom accident that spoilt his film (and the story never made sense anyway.) Those men around the obstacles on the beach were not sheltering from enemy fire but getting on with the job of demolishing them. There were no bodies in his pictures, no bullets hitting the water. It wasn’t at all like the film version (and Capa’s published account was written as a film script.)

The research also looks at another Capa-related incident and image, the ‘Falling Soldier’ from the Spanish Civil War, where the detailed heavy lifting was done by others. It seems probable that the picture was not actually taken by Capa by by his partner Gerda Taro. The two worked as a team, and ‘Robert Capa’ was actually a joint invention of André Friedmann and Gerta Pohorylle; after her tragic death – the first woman war photographer to die in conflict – many of the pictures she had taken were attributed to Capa. It now seems to have been clearly shown that this was taken during a training exercise and that the soldier had merely tripped – and that no one was killed in its making.

The publication on PetaPixel comes at the start of the year in which the 75th anniversary of D-Day is to be celebrated, and already some authorities (including the ICP) are re-publishing the old, now totally discredited legends about Capa and his landing pictures. Let’s instead celebrate them (and the ‘Falling Soldier’) for what they are, powerfully iconic images which have become invested with a meaning that completely transcends the very different circumstances of their production.

Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Shahidul Alam talks with Daniel Boetker-Smith about how his 107 days in prison has impacted the tenth Chobi Mela photography festival which opens on February 28th 2019. Because many of the partner companies in Dhaka now see it as a dangerous organisation to work with and many public spaces and government buildings are no longer available for the festival, it has been forced to return to its roots and “become much more raw and community-oriented festival” and organised more tightly around the new premises for Drik Picture Library Ltd and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and a few other centres.

You can read more about what is happening in There’s Power in Photography: The Undying Resilience of Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival, and it does sound rather exciting, and indeed encouraging to those of us who live in rather more blasé societies where cultural manipulation is very much more nuanced.

Shahidul states “We see this year’s Chobi Mela as an act of defiance. We are still working out what we are allowed and not allowed to do, and this extends to obtaining visas for our visitors and guests” and it remains to see if some of those invited to take part, including Indian writer and political activist Arundhati Roy will be allowed into the country.

One of the more interesting exhibitions will be of the work of the great Bangladeshi photojournalist Rashid Talukder, born in 1939, who gave all his work to Drik before his death in 2011.   But there are over 27 exhibitions with works from 35 artists spanning 20 countries , as well as site-specific artwork by a group of young Bangladeshi artists around the festival theme of ‘Place’.

You can find more information about the festival on the Chobi Mela web site, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Boring Street Photography

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Forrest Walker’s 7 Habits of Boring Street Photography on PetaPixel (from his own web site, Shooter Files) is perhaps too kind. But there is no arguing that he is right when he says “The Internet is filled with boring street photography“.

Also 100% on the ball is his “The biggest problem is people thinking any photo taken on the street is now street photography.” Though I rather blame the instigators of all this, Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz who wrote ‘Bystander: A History of Street Photography‘ for casting their net ridiculously wide.

Perhaps what I find most lacking in that huge pile of boring street photography is intention. Other than that of making an attractive image (though most fail on that too.) You have to feel something and to want to convey it to others. And I think Walker’s bad habits are largely about not making attractive images. But good advice all the same.

Here are his 7 habits – but go and read about them:

1. Nothing of Interest in the Photo
2. Too Far Away
3. Street Performers and Homeless
4. Too Much Bokeh
5. People Doing Nothing Special
6. No Composition
7. Over Edited

And he adds (and I add a heartfelt ‘Amen!’)

Bonus: Using Black & White For Interest

As he says:

Black and white does not fix a boring photo. A boring photo is a boring photo.”

Shahidul News

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

I’m not a great fan of the Lucie Awards for photography, modelled on the Oscars, which seem to me to bring out the worst of Hollywood, although I’ve never attended the awards ceremony. When they began and I was writing as About Photography guide I used to get invitations to them – and offers of free tickets – but never took these up, partly because I was on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Also because I felt that the last thing that photography needed was something like this, and particularly one that seemed so entirely US-centric.

Part of my mission as a guide was top extend the horizons and to try to promote photography as a worldwide medium. I’m not sure how much my meagre efforts helped, with features on photography in countries around the world and on photographers from other countries than the USA and Western Europe, but things have now changed at least to some extent.

One of the many I wrote about was of course Shahidul Alam, and I’ve written about him on several occasions on this site, most recently following his arrest last August at his home in Bangladesh and the international outcry, particularly by photographers this led to. Of course he is much more than a photographer, setting up agencies to promote majority world photograph, photographic schools and festivals and making photography relevant to the politics of Bangladesh.

Shahidul Alam was – as I’ve previously mentioned – honoured at the 16th Lucie Awards in October 2018 with their Humanitarian Award, and now that he is out of prison (though not out of trouble, still under threat of a trial and lengthy sentence) publishing regular posts on Shahidul News. One recent post was about his Lucie Award and was a link to the video they produced on him for this. I suggest you watch it full-screen, and you can go direct to it on Vimeo.

While you are there you can also watch other short videos on the other honorees, including Lee Friedlander who gained the Lifetime Award and Raghu Rai, along with those from previous years.

Also at Shahidul News is a post reproduced from PIX by Rahaab Allana, The Place of Shahidul Alam, which looks in more detail at some of his acheivements and has a number of comments by others.

You can read a longer piece I wrote about him in 2011 on this site at From the Lions Point Of View.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

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

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.

To order prints or reproduce images



Monday, January 21st, 2019

Recently I published the image above of the Grand Union Canal (Paddington Branch) I took in 1981 on Facebook, one of a series of posts I’ve been making most days over the past year or so from my early days of photographing London, and as usual wrote a few sentences about it – as follows:

Grand Union Canal, Willesden, 1981
26w-63: canal, bridge, reflection, towpath

The building at left is I think still there beside the canal, set some way back from Hythe Road in an area now all occupied by Cargiant, “officially the world’s largest used car dealership”. The bridge in the distance is Mitre Bridge, also known as Scrubs Lane Bridge, which carries the Overground line from Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction, as well as goods traffic onto the main West Coast line. The bridge gets its name from the angle at which it crosses the canal.

Just beyond the bridge on the north bank is now a small memorial garden to Mary Seacole, where I’ve sat to eat my lunch in the sun on several occasions, though it wasn’t there when I took this picture, as it was only opened around 2003.

Over the long wall to the right of the canal is a vast area of railway land to the north of Wormwood Scrubs.

I couldn’t at the time remember when I had been to that garden, but by coincidence I found out when thinking about writing a post here.  Checking through recent posts on some other photography sites, a new (and silly) comment to a post by A D Coleman led me to read a piece he had posted on the death of John Berger in 2017, On John Berger on Photography, earlier printed in Hotshoe in 2012. In it Coleman reveals how Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti managed to get dogs where he wanted them in his remarkable photographs.

I remember still how, when I first found this out (probably from reading the Hotshoe article, though I
have a memory of it happening when talking about the pictures hung in a corner of Paris Photo, and someone mentioning the two words “sardine oil”, perhaps someone else who had read Coleman rather than the photographer. It doesn’t of course change the photographs, but what had before seemed some magical power did become rather more prosaic.

Double-click to open the image twice the size – backspace to return

I thought of writing a post about this, but couldn’t remember if I had mentioned it before, so searched my posts for the word ‘sardine’, and got as the only result the post ‘Up Willesden Junction‘, written about a walk in February 2014, in which I wrote:

I sat on a bench to eat my sandwiches in the sun (it was surprisingly mild for London in February) in a small memorial park to Mary Seacole, a remarkable Jamaican woman who used the profits from her general store and boarding house in Jamaica to nurse wounded British soldiers in the Crimean war, as well as medical work in Jamaica, Cuba and Panama. The memorial park was created around the time of the bicentenary of her birth a few years ago here, close to where she was buried in St Mary’s Catholic cemetery in 1881. She has become a controversial figure in the debates over the construction and teaching of British history, with many feeling she was largely sidelined because she was black.

The picture above shows the Mary Seacole Garden, and there are more in the linked article on My London Diary, including this one:

The sardines weren’t in my sandwiches – unlike Sammallahti I stick mainly to cheese – Stilton, Camembert, Jarlsburg, Cheddar, sometimes with a little pickle or chutney, often with raw onions and always with tomato, with just occasionally ham or other cold meat we have in the house, and all I’ve ever managed to attract has been pigeons.

Sardines came into my post only about travelling on rush-hour trains, something I now try hard to avoid as my ageing legs obect painfully to standing, and the trains on my line have got even more packed, less reliable and the fares more expensive. Though the service from Richmond to Willesden Junction has improved greatly since it was taken from private operator Silverlink and became a part of London Overground in 2010.


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

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

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.

To order prints or reproduce images


Notable women in photography

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

I have a couple of small reservations about the article by Australian photographer and writer Megan Kennedy, “9 Pioneering Women Who Shaped Photographic History” which makes an interesting contribution, particularly in introducing several photographers whose work deserves to be known more widely.

The first is about the phrase “shaped photographic history“, which I think is rather undervalued by its use here. How would photographic history have been different if it were not for the work of some of these women, interesting though it was? While it would be straightforward to make a case for some of the nine, I think it would be something of a problem for others. Of course all of us who publish or work or show it to others in some small way are a part of photographic history, but I think relatively few are pioneers who really shape it.

Putting that to one side, there are I think five in the list that over the years I have written about (unfortunately mainly in articles no longer available for contractual reasons), and about whom there is considerable information both on-line and in print, and the article would have been considerably more useful had it included links to some of these. It was after all published by the Digital Photography School which should be more encouraging to its students to dig further.

Of course for most of them resources are not hard to find (though the quality of some links highly ranked by Google is often poor), but here I’ll give just one link to each of them on Wikipedia which seems generally a good starting point:

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879)
Mary Steen (1856 – 1939)
Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1976)
Gertrude Fehr (1895 – 1996)
Trude Fleischmann (1895 – 1990)
Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965)
Grete Stern (1904 – 1999)
Ylla (1911 – 1955)
Olive Cotton (1911 – 2003)

As a minor caveat I might perhaps question the choice of these particular nine women, when a good case could be made for so many others. But as Kennedy finishes her article:

“It’s impossible to cover the sheer number of women that have embodied the tenacity and creativity of a photographer’s spirit in a single article. With this piece, however, I hope to have encapsulated some of the resolves of the generations of women who have shaped photographic history. And although we aren’t all the way to achieving equality yet, thanks to the female photographers of the past and present, we’re a lot closer than we used to be.”

When I put together on line a ‘Directory of Notable Photographers‘ around 20 years ago (and highly debatable guide to those for whom further information was then available on the web) it included the following women photographers:

Abbott, Berenice
Arbus, Diane
Becher, Hilla
Bourke-White, Margaret
Cameron, Julia Margaret
Connor, Linda
Cunningham, Imogen
Dahl-Wolfe, Louise
Dater, Judy
Ewald, Wendy
Franck, Martine
Freedman, Jill
Gilpin, Laura
Goldin, Nan
Groover, Jan
Hahn, Betty
Henri, Florence
Heyman, Abigail
Iturbide, Graciela
Jacobi, Lotte
Kasebier, Gertrude
Kruger, Barbara
Lange, Dorothea
Levitt, Helen
Lestido, Adriana
Mann, Sally
Mark, Mary Ellen
Meiselas, Susan
Metzner, Sheila
Miller, Lee
Model, Lisette
Modotti, Tina
Moholy-Nagy, Lucia
Orkin, Ruth
Parker, Olivia
Post Wolcott, Marion
Rheims, Bettina
Sherman, Cindy
Spence, Jo
Stern, Grete
Tenneson, Joyce
Ulmann, Doris

Of course there were many other women I wrote about then and since,;  an updated list would include many more.


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

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

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.

To order prints or reproduce images


D-Day Anniversary Approaches

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

A D Coleman has broken his unusual 3 month on-line silence to return to the long campaign by him and his colleagues to correct the myths about Robert Capa‘s D-Day pictures (and the related issue of the Falling Soldier), realising that:

“with the 75th anniversary of D-Day coming up on June 6, 2019, I’ve just realized that I’m likely to feel compelled to correct an endless stream of repetitions of the Capa D-Day myth, which has so permeated our culture that this investigation has barely begun to dislodge it.”

This particular post, Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (39), examines a recent article in a Le Monde supplement by Cynthia Young, the curator of the Robert Capa and Cornell Capa Archive at the International Center of Photography in New York, and as such a leading figure in studies of Capa.  Her ‘Les deux icônes de Capa’, published in October 2018 completely ignores all recent evidence which has established beyond any reasonable doubt the true circumstances under which Capa’s  1937 Spanish Civil War ‘Falling Soldier’ and  his 1944 D-Day ‘The Face in the Surf’ were made.

Coleman berates Young for “not just ignoring contrary evidence and doubling down on the myth but actually adding spurious details to it“, pointing out that her activity is “fatal to credible scholarship“, and is extremely damaging to the reputation of one of photography’s major institutions, the ICP.

The post also looks again at John Loengard‘s contibution to the myth in his 1994 book Celebrating the Negative which includes Loengard’s photograph of the hands of Cornell Capa and the 8 surviving negatives above a light-box, along with his commentary which, as Coleman comments, included the myth of the melting negatives that any professional photographer should have dismissed out of hand.  Certainly many of us had.

The post ends with a rather more amusing D-Day story with a picture of the Royal Mail £1.25 stamp from a series “showcasing the ‘Best of British’ “. The picture of allied troops knee-deep in water as they waded ashore from a landing craft  with its caption, ‘D-Day: Allied soldiers and medics wade ashore’ was outed within minutes of its posting on Twitter as showing a US landing on a beach in Dutch New Guinea (now in Indonesia), and the design had to be abandoned.

Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (39)


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

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

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.

To order prints or reproduce images


Cuban Revolution 60th

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

On the Magnum web site you can read ‘The Day Havana Fell‘, with Burt Glinn‘s story of how he rushed to Cuba from a New York party where he heard the news and how he covered the story – along of course with his pictures.

Although the Cuban revolution had started on 26 July 1953, it took 5 years, 5 months and 6 days before on 1 January 1959, Batista fled Cuba by air for the Dominican Republic 60 years ago today.

AP was there too, and have just re-published their film of the event on You-Tube.

President Kennedy a few years later in 1963 spoke of his sympathy with Castro and his fight:

“I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption.

I will go even further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States.  Now we shall to have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries.”

Though that sympathy hadn’t stopped him authorising the diastrous ‘Bay of Pigs ‘ invasion two years earlier in 1951, nor did it stop the various other plots by the CIA to assassinate Castro, some extremely bizarre, revealed by a senate committe in the 1970s.

Cuba of course had its own photographers, best-knoown of whom was Alberto Korda, and you can read about some of them in the Daily Telegraph travel feature, Meet the front-line Cuban photographers who captured Castro’s ragtag rebellion. A rather better introduction is Shifting Tides – Cuban Photography after the Revolution, with text and pictures from a Grey Art Gallery, New York University 2002 show.

Time’s Lightbox features Cuban Evolution: Photographs by Joakim Eskildsen from 2013 by the Danish photographer, and the Huffington Post has 10 Cuban Photographers You Should Know.

Cuba remains a a country that divides opinion, with a socialist regime which is lauded by some for its healthcare and some other social provisions, while denigrated by others for its restrictions on private property and political opposition and for human rights abuses. It has suffered greatly from US sanctions over the years, though under President Obama there were some relaxation in these, including the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in 2015.

Rob Bremner’s Liverpool

Monday, December 31st, 2018

Liverpool publisher Bluecoat Press are building up a great collection of titles showcasing British photography, particularly “books about photojournalism and documentary photography, with a particular emphasis on British identity“.

One I know I’ve written about in the past was Paul Trevor‘s Like You’ve Never Been Away and I also mentioned Trish Murtha‘s Elswick Kids and her Youth Unemployment.

Another volume, not yet listed on the Bluecoat Press site, but like these funded by a succesful ‘Kickstarter’ campaign (it ended in September 2018) is Rob Bremner‘s ‘The Dash Between‘, with portraits he took on the streets of Liverpool in the 1980s, which, as the Liverpool Echo headline says “captured the true heart of 80s Liverpool“.

You can see a fine collection of Bremner’s images on his Instagram page.