Archive for the ‘Photo History’ Category

Early Days

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

One of the sites I like to look at occasionally is the Blogs page of British Photographic History, launched in 2009 by Dr Michael Pritchard, where there are often posts from members that interest me, though I write far less about photographic history than I used to when I was writing for another place.

There of course I chose to write about many of the important figures in the medium, including its inventors and many of the early greats of the medium, drawing very much on the lessons I’d earlier given on photographic history as well as published works and the generally rather small amount of information on the Internet in the early 2000s. But although I spent some time looking at actual photographs in collections, exhibitions and museums and was involved for some time in actually creating images using some of the early techniques, I was never really a historian, relying largely on the contributions of others though occasionally with a little of my own interpretation and perspective. And just a few times being able to point out some of the errors in published work.

I wrote at least four full-length features on the work of W H F Talbot, both about the processes he developed – photogenic drawing, salt paper printing and the calotype – and his use of photography, particularly in his ‘Pencil of Nature‘. And while I had access to a number of books on him and his work, the William Henry Fox Talbot catalogue raisonné now available in a beta version and formally announce this Friday would have been a great extra resource.

You can read more about the project, led by Larry J Schaaf on the site itself, so I need not waste your time with details here. There are some parts of the site which are not yet complete, but there is already a very large searchable collection of the work of Talbot himself, as well as a number by Calvert Richard Jones and a few by others.

From the catalogue record you can click on the image to go to the image viewere, which as well as allowing you to zoom in, also has some tools (at top left) by which you can alter brightness and contrast, change from colour to greyscale, and invert the image – particularly useful when viewing the paper negatives.

There are some exhibits that seem almost to be blank paper – either because they were greatly underexposed or because images have faded with time. But perhaps as a scientist, Talbot beleived in keeping the result of every experiment he made with the new medium. Fading of prints was certainly a major issue in the early days, and many surviving Talbot prints have faded badly, sometimes to the extent that they have little value as pictures, though this doesn’t stop them being sold for silly money.

Photography on paper really became practical with Talbot’s calotype process, and the two people who produced the best-known body of work in the early days were Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill (who I think should be thought of in that order) working as a team in Edinburgh in the early 1840s. Also on British Photographic History was a post about the sale of their former premises, Rock House, next to Calton Hill in Edinburgh for more then £1.7m. The post links to both the estate agents site for the property and to an article in The Herald about the sale. Although it would be a grand place to live, I didn’t put in a bid for it, as the “house was recently redesigned internally by Jonathan Reed, a designer who had worked for figures such as David Bowie, Giancarlo Giammetti and Queen Rania of Jordan” and I think I would want a complete redesign for comfort before trying to live there having seen the pictures.

The studios, later home to other notable Scottish photographers, have been bought by an individual who wishes to remain private, but Adamson & Hill’s real studios where they made the great majority of their portraits are the Edingburgh cemeteries which remain open to the public.

Tish Murtha

Monday, February 6th, 2017

I’m not a fan of the Metro, the free newspaper that litters our trains in the mornings. It’s useful if you have to wait for a train, to put underneath your bottom to sit on those cold metal benches, but otherwise I never bother to pick up a copy myself, and when occasionally I pick up a copy someone else has left on the train, a quick flick through confirms my belief that it isn’t worth reading. Which is what you expect given it comes from the same stable as the Daily Mail, a sorry excuse of a right wing newspaper.

But for once the Metro web site has published something worth reading – and my thanks to friends on Facebook for point out Ellen Scott‘s article Powerful photo series captures unemployed youths of Thatcher’s Britain, about the work of Trish Murtha (1956 – 2013), a photographer who lived the life she photographed in Newcastle’s west end.

Murtha first used a camera to frighten away men who would proposition her on the streets where she lived, taking it out and threatening to take their pictures – even if there was often no film in the camera, but soon got hooked on photography and aged 20 went to study at Newport’s School of Documentary Photography in 1976, returning to photograph in the community where she lived. Later she spent some time in London.

The Guardian published a piece written by her younger brother Glenn Murtha, in their That’s me in the picture‘ series in 2015, and you can find out more about her on Wikipedia, which also links to a number of sites with her work on them. She died suddenly of a brain aneurysm just a day before what would have been her 57th birthday in 2013.

Her daughter Ella Murtha wants to make sure that her mother and her pictures are not forgotten, and manages an official Facebook page dedicated to her. She is planning to create a Kickstarter page shortly to fund the publication of a book of this series of pictures and her essay, Youth Unemployment. I’ll add details here when they become available.

My opinion about the Metro was confirmed by the two stories listed under the heading ‘MORE’ at the bottom of the piece which includes eighteen of Tish Murtha’s pictures.

MORE: Photo series celebrates hard-working cats on the job
MORE: Photographer captures the weird and wonderful things people have flushed down the toilet

Grove Hardy

Friday, January 27th, 2017

I’ve just come across an article about what used to be one of the leading professional darkrooms in London, and one where one of my friends, the late Townly Cooke, once worked as a printer. One of the more interesting exhibition visits I made was to a Magnum show, I think on the South Bank, some years ago with Townly, where he talked about some of the images which he had worked with, although I think the prints in the show were not up to his and Grove-Hardy’s standards.

Grove Hardy ~ Requiem for a Lab is on the unattributed Darkside blog – I’m unsure whether the author wishes to remain anonymous or has simply forgotten to add his name, so I won’t name him either. After Bert Hardy, who had set up the lab with printer Gerry Grove in the 50’s, died in 1995, his wife Sheila continued to run it, renaming it ‘The Bert Hardy Darkroom’, and it finally closed in 2007 after the retirement of the last remaining printer – there simply was not enough work to keep it running.

The darkroom perhaps doesn’t live up to what many might expect of a professional darkroom, and certainly not like some of those that have appeared in books which have looked at photographers and their darkrooms, though it is in most respects a little more well equipped than my own black hole. But its enlargers are a little more primitive than mine, and unable to make sensible use of Multigrade papers, so all its prints were to the end made on graded papers. The writer comments that by “the 2000’s Grove Hardy were probably the only lab in London still using graded paper, and Ilford were making it primarily for them and a handful of other labs worldwide.”

The darkroom was just off the Blackfriars Rd in Southwark, a short walk from where Bert Hardy grew up, and close to another site many photographers knew well some years ago, the Valentine Place premises where Martin Reed set up photographic suppliers Silverprint. Reed sold the company a few years ago, and Silverprint has now moved out of London, but still supplies hard to find photographic materials (like film and silver-based papers) and equipment at new address in Poole, Dorset or by mail order.

Laughlin’s Third World

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

One of the books I’ve had on my shelves for a very long time – since soon after it was published in 1973 – is is ‘Clarence John Laughlin: The Personal Eye‘, a catalogue for the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition and a double issue of Aperture, Volume 17, Numbers 3 & 4, also published ‘as a book for general distribution’.

I don’t think its distribution in the UK would have been very wide, but like many US photographic publications of the time it would have been available at the Creative Camera bookshop in Doughty St and doubtless advertised in the magazine.

For those without a copy on their bookshelves, you can get a good idea of Lauglin’s thinking from ‘First Principles of the Third World of Photography – THE WORLD BEYOND DOCUMENTATION AND PURISM ONE – TEXT AND IMAGES BY CLARENCE JOHN LAUGHLIN’ on Carnival of Dogs. His 12 point manifesto there begins “In Photography, as in all arts, the quality of the human imagination is the only thing that counts – technique, and technical proficiency, mean nothing in themselves” and ends “The limitations of photography are nothing more than the limitations of photographers themselves.”

Much of Laughlin’s work is now in the Historic New Orleans Collection, where you can view and zoom into many of his pictures, so many indeed that it is hard to know where to start. But it is worth paging through the many pages of thumbnails and picking some to look at.

Although in the end I learnt that my own creative interests were in purism and documentation, in my early years in photography work such as Laughlin’s made a strong impression on me, and I’m rather surprised that although I wrote about him and other photographers who might be considered to follow in his footsteps such as Arthur Tress in another place, this is the first time in several thousand posts I appear to have mentioned him here.

Laughlin’s work was brought to my mind by two posts Clarence John Laughlin: In Memoriam on Photocritic International by A D Coleman, who wrote about Laughlin in his 1977 critical survey The Grotesque in Photography.

The first piece takes its sub-title Prophet without Honor from the subtitle of the Laughlin biography, Clarence John Laughlin: Prophet without Honor by A. J. Meek, professor emeritus of art at Louisiana State University (University Press of Mississippi, 2007), and one of two stories in it recounts Coleman’s meeting with Laughlin around 1975 when the photographer showed his of work to collector Sam Wagstaff. He set out a strict set of conditions about what he expected anyone who bought his pictures must do – and after looking through the work, Wagstaff rejected the idea that a photographer should have any rights over their pictures after they had been sold.

Over the ages, artists have almost always had an uneasy relationship with those who have provided them with a living, but it is only in relatively recent times that photography has succumbed so entirely to patronage by individuals and corporations. Most of the early photographers were themselves wealthy and others have maintained some sort of independence based on various commercial practices and around the reproducibility of the medium.

The second piece, subtitled Lament for the Walking Wounded, is an article published by Coleman in his “Light Readings” column in the December 1977 issue of the magazine Camera 35, together with a postscript.

Published at the time without names, it recounted the speech by Hilton Kramer, then chief art critic for The New York Times, at a New York City national meeting of the Society for Photographic Education, in which Kramer held Laughlin up to ridicule not for his photography, but making tasteless jokes about his eccentric nature. Coleman himself felt ashamed after the event at having joined in the whole-heated laughter at a man he describes as on of “the walking wounded of photography” who have suffered from their dedication to the medium and “never got their due and are beginning to realize that they may never get it.”

Though relating events now around 40 years in the past, these are stories which are still relevant, perhaps even more relevant, today.

Charmes de Londres

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

I have quite a collection of books of photographs of London (as well as probably a few hundred thousand of my own pictures) but one of my favourites is ‘Charmes de Londres‘, credited to Jacques Prevert with photographs by D’Iziz-Bidermanas. Although most of the texts are poems by Prevert, it also has some quotations by others including William Blake and a Picasso drawing.

I didn’t buy this when it first came out in 1952, as I was then only seven and penniless – and it wasn’t in any case for sale, but came across it in an Oxfam shop perhaps 15 years ago, paying £19.50 for a copy in good condition. Perhaps remarkably you can still find copies of the original edition, published ‘hors commerce‘ for members of La Guilde Du Livre in Lausanne and printed by heliogravure (photogravure) on wood pulp free paper, for only a pound or two more. The previous year’s collaboration, published in the same way,  Grand Bal du Printemps, will set you back around 25 times as much.

Part of the reason you can still find copies of that original version (there are also later editions) is that it was a relatively large print run, with 10,300 numbered copies (mine is No. 4871) as well as 30 labelled I to XXX for the organisers of the guild. Although photographers often complain about getting second billing to writers when then works are published, Prevert had a much larger fan base!

The book is a reminder of the fine printing that could be achieved with photogravure, and it matches the mood of Iziz’s images perfectly. A recent post on Spitalfields Life,  Israel Bidermanas’ London, reproduces a fine selection of over 20 images from the book, without Prevert’s poems (which are of course in French) and gives a good impression of the subjects, but shows them in a more modern tonal interpretation, more contrasty and with intense blacks, which perhaps loses something of the gloomy charm of the original publication. This was a post-war London still under a gloomy miasma, though probably the real pea-soupers defeated the photographer few if any images have a clear distance.

The best way to see more of his pictures on-line seems to be to search on Google Images or Pinterest for ‘Izis Bidermanas‘.

Iziz was one of many fine photographers of Paris, and another was Willy Ronis (1910-2009). In 2004, French editor Alain Dhouailly published a limited edition of 130 copies of a set of 12 or his images printed by heliogravure which gives some background on the process. Ronis’s work is fairly widely avaialable and on galleries on the web, for example at Hacklebury Fine Art.

Grossman & the Photo League

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Around 15 years ago, I wrote a series of articles and short notes about what was still then a very much overlooked part of American photographic history, but which is now referred to as ‘New York’s famed Photo League‘. An organisation that was destroyed by McCarthyism as ‘anti-American’ it remained largely outside the pale until this century, and I was pleased to be able write about it and to mention some of the photographers still alive and working who learned and developed their craft there, largely under the critical eye of Sid Grossman (1913-1955). I’ve mentioned it before on this site, including two posts with the same title, The New York Photo League where I quote from my 2001 article, and a longer version here.

You can get some idea of the critical blind-spot by reading the lengthy introductory essay by Gerry Badger to the 1985 Barbican show ‘American Images: Photography 1945-80’ which relegates Grossman and others to what is essentially a footnote to the later work of Robert Frank and the Photo League to an introductory sentence to the work of Aaron Siskind which makes clear that his importance as a photographer was due to breaking away from his early work with the League on Harlem Document.

Although none of Grossman’s work appeared in the Barbican show, that the work of several others involved in the Photo League does probably owes itself – as did much of the show – to the ideas and graft of John Benton-Harris, a native New Yorker who studied with Alexey Brodovitch, and who grew up with the work of the Photo League photographers and their successors and their views of his city.

As his artist page at the Howard Greenberg Gallery states, Grossman, who had founded the Photo League with Sol Libsohn in 1936, “had a tremendous influence on a large number of students who studied with him including Weegee, Lisette Model, Leon Levinstein, Ruth Orkin, Arthur Leipzig, Rebecca Lepkoff and numerous others.”

The main show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York until Feb 11, 2017 is the “first solo exhibition in 30 years to explore the legacy of Sid Grossman” and the exhibition also includes “a small selection of work by some of Sid Grossman’s students including Rebecca Lepkoff, Leon Levinstein, Marvin Newman and Ruth Orkin.” Also showing at the gallery is a “companion exhibition with work by Sy Kattelson, a student and close friend of Sid Grossman.

Last September, Steidl co-published with Howard Greenberg Gallery ‘The Life and Work of Sid Grossman ISBN, 9783958291256′ with a biographical and critical essay by Keith F Davis, the first comprehensive survey of Sid Grossman’s life and work, with over 150 photographs “from his early social documentary work of the late 1930s to the more personal and dynamic street photography of the late 1940s, as well as late experiments with abstraction in both black and white and color.”

England, and Saint George!

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

A few minutes on Wikipedia convinces me that April 23 has more than its share of famous births, deathas and commemorations of which the best known here is of the man the Eastern Orthodox call “Holy Glorious Great-martyr and Victory-bearer and Wonderworker George“, a Palestinian (or Turk) of Greek parentage and a Roman soldier – if he actually existed. Certainly the dragon didn’t, and was not involved in the legend that made him a saint, in which, undoubtedly like some Christians of the era, he was tortured at length before being beheaded for refusing to convert to the Roman gods following an edict by Emperor Diocletian in AD 303 which led to three years of such persecution, though applied with differing severity across the Roman Empire.

April 23 is a day George shares with a number of other saints, with Wikipaedia listing around a dozen for the Eastern Orthodox, including George’s mother, two soldiers converted by witnessing George’s martyrdom and the wife of Diocletian, as well as another 14 pre-schism Western Saints, post-schism Orthodox saints, new martyrs and confessors (though due to our change to the Gregorian calendar they celebrate these April 23 events on our May 6th.) In the West, George shares his feast day with Adalbert of Prague and Gerard of Toul, while both the Evangelical Lutherans and Episcopalians in the USA commemorate the life of Japanese Christian pacifist, reformer and labour activist Toyohiko Kagawa (1888-1960) which seems to me admirable. It’s a shame we’ve never heard of him here.

Shakespeare was probably born on April 23 1564, and certainly died on April 23 1616, giving us another reason to commemorate – and UNESCO chose April 23 as UN English Language Day, (one of six promoting its official working languages,) for that reason. It’s also UNESCO World Book Day, though in the UK we celebrate this on on the first Thursday in March instead, as April 23 is often in the Easter school holidays.

In England, St George’s Day once ranked with Christmas as a major celebration, an occasion for feasting and drinking, but its celebration became less important after the union with Scotland, and had almost disappeared in the last century. One or two people still wore a red rose, and some official buildings flew a flag, though usually the Union Flag rather than the English flag of St George. The day never became a bank holiday, partly because of its closeness to Easter (and the Church of England even moves his feast day when it gets too close to Easter, moving it from April 23 to the Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter.)

Back in the last century, even English sport teams and their supporters would often use the Union Flag rather than the English St George Flag, but it was sport and particularly football that led to a resurgence for the red cross on white, and pubs showing England games at the World Cup on TV that led to its proliferation across the land. It became associated with football supporters, and with the largely right wing hooligans involved in football violence who dominated many ultra-nationalist groups, often styling themselves as patriots, and looking back to a mythical past of an all-white England ruling an empire around the world, or even launching crusades against the infidel foreigners.

A strange alliance between these ‘patriots’ and others who have tried to reclaim the English flag from the bigots has led to an increase in official commemoration of St George’s Day this century, which has involved groups including the BBC, English Heritage and London Mayor Boris Johnson, as well as some churches, and it’s a mixture that has been reflected in my photographs of the day over the years.

In 2016, St George’s Day actually fell on a Saturday, and I expected to see more activity than in other years, but was in the end rather disappointed. The Mayor’s day of events in Trafalgar Square seemed rather lacking in spirit, and all more organised events by ‘patriots’ in the London Area seem to have evaporated, perhaps because of increased militancy by anti-fascist groups. I paid a brief visit to Trafalgar Square, but found little to photograph – perhaps things got better later in the day, but the few pictures I’ve seen by others don’t encourage that thought.

South of the river in Southwark things were a little better with a festival ‘A Quest for Community’ with the aim of ‘Taming the dragon of difference’ involving a St George’s Day procession from the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St George to the Church of England St George the Martyr in Borough High Street. As well as St George, Diocletian and his daughter, a sooth-sayer and of course a dragon, it also included drummers and the Mayor of Southwark, to whom I was pleased to be able to point out a blue plaque and tell her a little about one of the Borough’s more famous son’s, photographer Bert Hardy, who grew up in ‘The Priory’ which was on our route.

She had been unaware that one of Picture Post’s best-known photographers and a pioneer in using 35mm in press photography had come from her patch – and never really left it, though advertising brought him enough money to buy and live in Chartlands Farm, Limpsfield Chart near Oxted. And about how his powerful photography had powered the textbook example of an unsuccessful advertising campaign, ‘You’re never alone with a Strand’ along with an outstanding ‘noir’ TV ad shot by Carol Reed with music by Cliff Adams that would have topped the charts had the BBC not banned it for advertising cigarettes. Even at 3s2d for 20, nobody wanted to be seen as lonely enough to buy them.

The procession ran late, and I didn’t have time to watch more than a few minutes of the play that followed, and missed the free pint that was waiting for me in the City where Leadenhall Market was also celebrating our patron saint. Instead I met with friends at the Old Kings Head in Kings Head Yard just off Borough high St, a welcome survival of a traditional English pub – and where better to meet not just one St George, but two, the second accompanied by his very own dragon.

I forget why we left. Perhaps it was the thought of a good dinner waiting for me at home, but I stopped for a minute or so in the yard outside for a last picture of St George with his dragon holding his own and George’s pint in the alley outside, a rather different and very English version of the legend, and my favourite picture from a long day.

More at:
St George in Southwark Procession
St Georges Day in London


Past Memories

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

We all have our own view of the past, and particularly of our own part in it. I’ve long believed that I watched England beat Germany back in 1966 in a crowded room in an international hostel just to the south of Paris. It was a protestant centre largely housing refugees, and although many spoke a little English, my fiancée and I were among the very few English people staying there at the time.

She insisted when she heard me say this recently that she watched that final with the children in the home of a short French General (a mate of the tall one) where she went on leaving the hostel – and I left at the same time to start a new job back in outer London. My first day at work was 1st August 1966, 2 days after the final on 30th July.

It’s a story I’ve often mentioned over the years, when, as rather often happens in certain discussions, usually pint in hand that 1966 game comes up, and despite my absolute conviction that I was there at Cimade in Massy-Palisseau, on full consideraton I think Linda just has to be right.

I remember watching two matches in the communal TV room there, and the atmosphere that was not far removed from being on the terraces, except that the fans of both sides were in close proximity. Given that many of those at the hostel were Spanish or Portuguese speakers I think it most likely that the two games I saw were the quarter final with England playing Argentina and the semi against Portugal decided by two Bobby Charlton goals.

It’s a trivial example with little consequence, and probably of now great interest to anyone except Linda and myself. And since most often my story comes out in entirely male company when the talk turns to footy I could probably keep up with my embroidery about the occasion.

Of course what got me thinking (and writing) about this again were the photographic events around D-Day and the systematic and detailed research by A D Coleman and his team (J Ross Baughman, Rob McElroy, Charles Herrick.) Unlike my own case above there is a great deal of evidence about what actually happened – photographic and eye-witness reports – around these much more momentous events, and they have done a remarkable job of putting it together and teasing out the truth.

More recently Coleman’s emphasis has been on the failure of various individuals and bodies in photography with an interest in Capa to acknowledge this research, and to continue to promulgate the now discredited legends which were largely the inventions of two men, Capa himself and photo-editor John Morris.

A few days ago, Morris celebrated his 100th birthday, and the photographic world celebrated with him, largely by publishing those inventions which were the foundations of his later career – at a time when Morris himself has finally come to accept the findings of Coleman and others. As I commented on Facebook a week ago:

“After studying new theories of what happened, Mr. Morris now thinks that the negatives were not melted, and that Mr. Capa only exposed 11 frames on one of the four rolls that were shipped. Mr. Capa probably was rattled, Mr. Morris said, during the withering fire he withstood at Omaha beach.”

John Morris corrects a little photographic legend – thanks to A D Coleman & colleagues.’

As my rather heavy-handed example at the top of this post shows, it’s easy for any of us to become convinced by our own inventions, and I think that both Morris and Capa – who after all invented himself – were before long incapable of separating their fictions from the actual happenings. But in the end we have to give way to the evidence where it exists and is presented, although it may be hard to do so. And I am finding it hard, trivial though it is in my case. As I often think to myself, ‘If only I’d kept a diary.’

Coleman continues to excavate the career of John Morris in a series of posts, the third of which, Alternate History: Robert Capa and John Morris (c) appeared today, examining the exaggerations in Morris’s biographical note which was published in the February 1946 issue of Popular Photography, doubtless providing the source for many later journalists and writers.  His second piece looked at Morris’ part in covering up the truth about Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier‘, and the first in this sub-series Alternate History: Robert Capa and John Morris, examines the various published eulogies on Morris’s centenary – of which the Lens piece mentioned above stands out as the only one to bring out some of his inconsistencies. Written by James Estrin it also seems to be the only piece of any originality among them.

Jack London Photographer

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

As often happens, it was a feature on the New York Times Lens blog that set me thinking this morning , this time by Jonathan Blaustei, the ‘The Rarely Seen Photos by Jack London‘. It wasn’t the first time I had seen photographs by London, with a number of earlier article such as Spitalfields Life’s Jack London, Photographer, published a couple of years ago at the time that Tangerine Press and L-13 Light Industrial Workshop republished his classic study of London’s East End, The People of the Abyss including all all 80 original black & white ‘illustrations from photographs‘ of the first 1903 US publication.

Interesting though these are, the poor quality of the original reproduction (which I assume is faithfully reproduced in the republished version) perhaps makes it had to appreciate London’s qualities as a documentary photographer.

Those unfamiliar with London’s life and other works such as ‘The Call of The Wild’ (which I was intrdouced to at school many years ago) will find a good short biography in the Smithsonian Magazine marking the 100th anniversary of his death a few days ago. The feature does mention his photography but almost in passing, a surprising lacuna given the 2010 book Jack London, Photographer by Jeanne Campbell Reesman, Sara S. Hodson and Philip Adam, which used original negatvies from the California State Parks collection (and there is a Jack London State Historic Park) and the albums of original photographs in the Huntington Library Jack London collection (this has 200 images on-line but these don’t really represent his documentary work.)

The book includes images from the East End, where he dressed as a working man and lived with those he photographed and wrote about (an approach which later inspired George Orwell‘s 1933 ‘Down and Out in London and Paris‘ – though Orwell worked only in prose), his work as a war correspondent on the Russo-Japanese war for the Hearst press, the 1906 San Franciso Earthquake, sailing trips to the Hawaiian Islands, the Marquesas, Solomon Islands, and Bora Bora where he documented cultures he saw fated to disappear, and his final photographs of the 1914 Mexican Revolution two years before his death. You can read a review of the book by blogger Ron Slate.

This April The Daily Telegraph published a feature accompanying the release of a new book, ‘The Paths Men Take‘ by Contrasto Books which has 70 photographs from his four major photographic coverages, and more recently The Guardian got in on the act.

Unlike some other famous figures whose snapshots have been published in later years, London was clearly a serious photographer, taking over 12,000 photographs in his relatively brief career. He saw himself as a professional photographer and was taking his pictures to sell alongside his writing. He called his pictures ‘human documents‘ and while they lack the revolutionary and controversial power of his writing they bring to life the people and events that he photographed.  He died on his ranch, aged only 40, having suffered from many serious illnesses on his travels, including scurvy in the Klondike and various tropical infections on his voyages, as well as life-long alcohol addiction on 22nd November 2016.

Dannin on Magnum

Monday, November 21st, 2016

I’m not sure that ‘“The Dannin Papers,” a series of Guest Posts by Robert Dannin, who served as Editorial Director of Magnum Photos from 1985-90′ actually tell us a great deal about photography, revealing as they are about some photographers, but at least for me the first piece, now on part 4 of 6 about his years with Magnum, based around an interview he gave to Russell Miller in 1995 is a highly entertaining series about the inner workings of the world’s best-known photo agency.

It is more than just gossip. More seriously it also shows up Miller’s book as a highly sanitised version of the truth, and I can find little in it that reflects the inside information that Dannin gave him when he was producing his ‘MAGNUM: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History’, as well as giving some insight into the inner workings of what would appear also to have been one of the world’s most dysfunctional organisations. Dannin gets 5 lines in the book, with a note of his resignation and a very pithy quotation of his reasons; Haiti, the first of three disasters which Dannin recounted to Miller in the current post, does not even feature in the book’s index.

Perhaps things have changed a little since then, and though there are still some fine photographers in Magnum, it no longer really deserves or enjoys the reputation it had back in the last century, with other agencies now encouraging much of the best photojournalism and Magnum sometimes appearing a little past its best-before date. When I started in photography it was every young photographer’s dream to become a Magnum member, but I think few harbour that aspiration now.