Archive for the ‘Photographers’ Category

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.

Street talk

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Thomas Stanworth asks Is Street Photography Killing Itself?, and gives an excellent summary of some of the reasons why so much of it is boring and pointless, along with many images culled from the web to support his case. It’s an article that will probably be reacted to with some forceful comments, particularly from those who either haven’t bothered to read it or who have failed to understand it.

Personally I’ve never been convinced ‘street photography‘ was ever alive. I’ve written a little before about it and my feeling that it is not a real or useful category, something which I think becomes entirely obvious if you read it’s ‘bible’, Westerbeck & Meyerowitz’s ‘Bystander. Fortunately almost none of those whose work is in its pages considered themselves as a ‘street photographer’; they were all taking photographs on or from the streets – as opposed to working in a studio – but they all went on to those streets with particular ideas and stories they were interested and involved in photographing.

The problem with most so-called ‘street photography’ I see now is simply that it is vacuous. Stanworth uses a lot of examples and explains the point well, and there are a couple of sentences in the middle giving a little advice to those who must be street photographers that I think really the crux:

“However, just engaging in the subject of photography helps. Learning a little more about yourself helps. Learning about the people and environment around you and your thoughts and reactions to it helps. The sad truth is that most of our effort in photography amounts to nothing.”

‘Street photography’ in general is, as he said, seen as ‘cool’. It is generally cool in that it is unengaged, using a small ragbag of tricks to produce images as deep as the average street puddle.

In his final sentences Stanworth again makes his views clear:

“And here we are back to the supreme importance of relationships, expression and connection. Without these things, both just become repetitive, predictable acts that lose their lustre.”

For a quite different piece of writing by Stanworth, I’ve also been reading his review of the Fuji X100F on his Photofundamentalist blog. It’s very much a photographer’s review rather than the technical tour-de-forces that sites such as DPreview.com offer, and one that complements their work well.  It makes me think I really ought to buy one, though having also read his view on the Ricoh GR I think I might find that more useful – if I can live without an optical viewfinder, though there is a rather expensive external accessory that will fit in the hot shoe.

His photography is also worth a look.

PDN’s 30 to watch

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Perhaps I’m getting old, but this year’s PDN 30 seem to have less to offer than in most previous years. Well, of course I’m getting old, but while there is a great deal of very competent photography by all of those in the list, there was little that made me really think I was seeing something new and different, and rather a lot that made me think I’d seen stuff like this before.

Those that interested me most on an admittedly quick run-through were Souvid Datta, Yuyang Liu, Yael Martinez and Xyza Bacani. Though if I take another like I expect I might find others.

You can of course look back at previous years PDN30 choices and decide for yourself if you think this year’s crop is a vintage one or not.  While being picked for the list is certainly a great honour and I’m sure has helped all of them in their careers there often seem to be relatively few who have really become well-known in photography.

There are of course different areas of photography, and many countries around the world. PDN relies on nominations for the list, and while not entirely from the US, the list of those who nominated this year is certainly dominated by those working for American magazines and organisations. As you would expect from Photo District News, which got its name from New York City’s photo district along lower Fifth Avenue; though it rapidly expanded to other American professional photographers and others in the business it’s base remains in New York.

WPP Fake News Controversy

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

As now seems to be usual, this year’s WPP awards are mired in controversy, this time over the award to Iranian photographer, Hossein Fatemi of the second prize for his long-term project titled ‘An Iranian Journey.’ The same project also won Fatemi  the 73rd POYi World Understanding Award, and it was the responses that Ramin Talaie received following this that made him begin an investigation into Fatemi’s work.

Talaie writes that he “was flooded with individuals claiming to have helped or witnessed Fatemi stage his subjects for this project. Others claim Fatemi had plagiarized their work and in some cases even copied images frame by frame.” and so  “Over the following months I began compiling testimony and evidence and started verifying sources, locations, website and other information.

You can (and should) see the evidence in his post 2017 World Press Photo Awards Fake News, and he supplied that same evidence to the WPP along with details of his sources. The WPP appointed  Santiago Lyon, former director of photography at The Associated Press to investigate, and have now concluded “there was not sufficient evidence to declare a clear breach of our contest entry rules.

Looking at the evidence it is hard to see how that conclusion was reached, and it reflects badly on the WPP as well as one of the finest agencies around, Panos, that they have not yet taken action against Fatemi.  It isn’t necessarily wrong to stage images, and as Talaie states, it would be impossible to take many of the pictures in the essay without staging them, but it goes completely against our understanding of photographic ethics to then present them as ‘news’.

Plagiarism is a more difficult case to assess, and many of us end up taking similar photographs to other photographers when we were working in the same place at the same time. The examples given are perhaps more about a breach of trust between Fatemi and the photographers he was at the time working for. There also seem to be clear breaches of trust with some of those he photographed, who he assured that the pictures would not be made public. It also seems clear that some of the captions are deliberately misleading, ‘sexed up’ to make the pictures sell in a way that is completely unacceptable.

Talaie concludes his article with the comment:

Also there is simply not enough debate and discussions about ethics and ethical journalism in the Middle East. People learn how to make films and take pictures in Iran, but they do not always learn about ethics.

The Capa Controversy

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Regular readers will have seen (and perhaps got rather tired of seeing) my frequent posts about the persistent detective work by A D Coleman and his co-workers, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist J Ross Baughman, photo historian Rob McElroy and military historian Charles Herrick. Together they have succeeded in putting together a minutely detailed and evidenced examination of Robert Capa‘s exploits on D-Day and the subsequent processing and publication of the ten or eleven frames he took before leaving Omaha beach along with the stories fabricated around this begun by Life‘s then assistant picture editor John Morris within hours or days of the events and shortly after by Capa himself but with later embroidery by others.

It was of course obvious to any photographer who looked at the published images and thought about the story that was being told that it was absolute bunkum – film just doesn’t melt like that – but that didn’t stop it being repeated in book after book after film and web site, even those of some of the most prestigious organisations in photography (or perhaps especially them.)

I return to it because of a post by Coleman in iMediaEthics, Conflict of Interest, Cubed: Robert Capa’s D-Day Photos, John Morris, and the NPPA in which he looks at the article in the US NPPA’S (National Press Photographers Association) publication, News Photographer, The Fog of War – D Day and Robert Capa by Bruce Young. You might like to read both before continuing with my comments, though if you have been following the story I think you may well agree with me.

Young got considerable cooperation from Coleman and Baughmann who hoped he was going to acknowledge their work and put the record straight, but he does the opposite, muddying the water, adding some half-baked and unsubstantiated suggestions and parading a great deal of ignorance while somehow pretending to make some kind of objective overview that would put the matter to rest. NPPA members surely deserve better – we all do.

When Young gets down to business, he quotes at length from Capa’s own published account, written in Capa’s best story-telling mode, a fictionalised Hollywood version of his life story, followed by John Morris’s totally unbelievable account of the darkroom mishap. Young’s next paragraph is interesting, beginning by stating that this was the established story and legend for 70 years (which isn’t quite true – many of us challenged parts of the story long ago) and goes on to say “but if the devil is in the details, this story carries enough demons to populate all nine rings of Dante’s Hell“, going on to list a series of questions.

If he had bothered to read all of the published research by Coleman and others and had understood it, he would have found we now have answers to all or virtually all those questions, supported by evidence from various sources, but instead he goes on to suggest that Coleman, one of the best known and highly regarded critical writers about our medium over very many years, is not really qualified to comment because he has never been a professional photographer. While I sometimes think it helps, being a pro is neither necessary nor sufficient, why mention it when the research was the result of a team including one player with a Pulitzer for photjournalism?

There are many other curiosities in Young’s piece. Speaking about Morris’s reactions to Coleman’s research he suggests “But what if John Morris, now 98, sticks to the story because … well, it’s true? There are problems with some exacting details, but…” But it isn’t exacting details there are problems with but a fairly tremendous weight of evidence, and Morris himself has since accepted at least some of the facts, whilst spinning new fictions.

Young then goes into rather a lengthy digression on memory, which is to some degree irrelevant, as the fictions were written down close to the event, but rather fails to see that what he says about memory makes a nonsense of relying on Morris’s memory – having based his life and career around the story for the past 70 years he doubtless came to believe in his story. That’s how memory works!

I started writing not meaning to criticise Young, meaning to leave it to readers to make their own judgements. But it is really so bad I couldn’t resist, but I’ll spare you the rest of my thoughts. Of course Coleman has a lot more to say about it and about many details, and its hard not to feel his criticisms are at least largely justified.

But does it all matter about Capa? Well, obviously it does, from the angry responses that publishing the series of articles has generated from much of the photographic establishment. I think it matters because of the wider issues. Personally I’ve never been a great advocate of academic research that is too concerned with the details and minutiae, I’ve always been more concerned with the fate of the forests rather than the leaves on the tree. Integrity is the bedrock of photojournalism and documentary practice, and I think this research calls into question not so much the integrity of Capa – who didn’t make up the story about this or about the Falling soldier (about which Young also seems uninformed about the most recent research) but of the whole system that promulgates news to the public – immediately through Life Magazine in this case, but in the 70 years since then various other organisations including Magnum and the ICP.

Of course I didn’t know Capa, who was killed when I was still in short trousers, but I get a strong impression of him from his writing and photography and the stories about him I’ve heard over the years. I can imagine him opening the magazine and seeing the caption under the ‘Falling Soldier’ or the D-Day pictures, shrugging his shoulders and saying ‘Oh well, it’s a better story’ and thinking it was in any case too late to stick to the truth.

And of course the picture is still the same, still a powerful, truly iconic image of war. For me it isn’t diminished by knowing the truth, and it in no way diminishes my respect for Capa as a photographer to realise that he was only human, cold, wet, scared and shaking as he lay on the beach, only able to make ten or eleven exposures in the 20 minutes or so he was there. One was really enough.

You can read Coleman’s post about this at iMediaEthics and the NPPA, though I wrote this post before doing so. It contains a link to Young’s change of mind over the ‘Falling Soldier’ that I was unaware of, and also to another of Coleman’s own articles, Ethics in Photojournalism Then and Now: The Case of Robert Capa which I’m now reading with considerable interest.

Dog control

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

In his latest contribution to Photocritic InternationalOn John Berger on Photography‘, A D Coleman provides the answer to something which had worried me about the photographs of Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti. I remember looking at length at a display of his photographs at a corner in Paris Photo a few years ago and wondering how he managed to control the dogs who play such an important role in many of his images (such as Solovki, White Sea, Russia, 1992.)

It wasn’t as if the same dogs appeared in many images, so it was unlikely that he had a troupe of highly trained canine actors, and the pictures were taken in various countries, which would create tremendous logistic problems for such a company. And the animals certainly did not look stuffed (though some stuffed animals have been realistic enough to fool the judges in prestigious wildlife photograph contests.) Many of the images show the dogs on a background of snow, which would have made it rather easier to add some or all of the dogs in printing, but there were none of the signs of that making it highly unlikely. But obviously the photographer had to have some way to attract and place the animals, and something that left little trace in the images. There were no signs of bones.

Coleman’s revelation, first made in an essay for a 2010 book, comes in a shortened form on his web site, but there is a link to download his whole essay. In it he comments on a text by the late John Berger which was printed in Sammallahti’s ‘The Russian Way‘ and is also on-line.

Berger, like Coleman and myself and almost everyone else who looks at the work of Sammallahti had of course noticed the dogs – it would be hard not to – and he posits:

“It was probably a dog that led Sammallahti to the moment and place for taking each picture.”

Coleman comments that on this occasion Berger (for whom he expresses respect and admiration) got it precisely wrong – and spills the beans, having asked the photographer and, perhaps surprisingly, got a straightforward reply – which you can read in his post. I’m pleased too, that Coleman mentions his collaboration with Jean Mohr, which produced the works by Berger I most admire, and was the main subject of my remembrance of him in Berger & Mohr last month, though neglected in much of the media comments.

It is of course, as Coleman makes clear, not just a matter of the dogs, but about how critics need to examine the actual evidence – and where necessary to ask appropriate questions rather than simply postulate theories. It’s often also important to be or have been a photographer so as to appreciate what is likely or possible – and what isn’t. Those who write about photography without having had an intimate practical involvement in making photographs are often likely to get the cart before the horse.

Coleman has also recently added more to his comments on John Morris’s continuing fabulation about Capa’s D-Day pictures. Morris’s story (or now rather stories) fails on many points, but not least the photographic practicalities. Things like knowing that in the days of film, working photographers when unloading 35mm film would usually rewind the leader inside the cassette or at least tear it off so there was no doubt the film had been used and could not be reloaded by accident. Like knowing that after fixing, unexposed film is clear.

Photojournalism 2017

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Here’s a piece you shouldn’t miss if you have an interest in photojournalism and its future – if it has one, though this is really more about its past. In its way it doesn’t say a lot, but I think even that says something. Donald R Winslow has been in the business for 40 years, at all levels. James Estrin, a staff photographer and regular writer for the New York Times, has also been around a while – he started with the NYT in 1987 and founded their Lens blog.

Also recently by Estrin are his comments on the 2017 World Press Photo. In The Guardian you can read the thoughts of the jury chairman, Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin, in This image of terror should not be photo of the year – I voted against it.