Archive for June, 2008

A Looking Glass Eye – Exit Gallery

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

A LOOKING GLASS EYE’, 21st Century London‘ (which continues until 12 Sept, 2008) is the first show I’ve been to at the ‘Exit Gallery‘, the stairs up out of London’s best photographic bookshop, Claire de Rouen Books, on the first floor at 121-5 Charing Cross Road, just north of Foyles.

Exit opening
At the opening at Exit

There, around 140 unframed works of various sizes from enprint to poster (including one multiprint work) were each pinned by four bright shiny nails to around a dozen different areas on the stairs and landing in irregular grids, bereft of names or captions. At the opening party it was difficult to see the work for the press of bodies. As Brian David Stevens says on his ‘Drifting Camera‘ blog, “it was a fun party” and he has a few pictures from it there. You can see a couple which show the actual installation with some of the guests on Edmond Terakopian‘s blog – and that’s my shoulder visible in a check shirt at the bottom left of the top image, with I think Daniele Tagmani and Thabo Jaiyesimi in the centre.

There were a few copies of plans of the wall layout available, with squares and numbers on them, but even with the help of these it was confusing to march pictures to photographers, although there were a few that were instantly recognisable. It would have been rather easier to have the individual plans and lists pasted on each section of wall – our better still some rather easier and more informative system there, but things will of course be rather easier without the crush of bodies on the opening night. I’m not sure quite how many photographers have work in the show – perhaps 50 – and most of them seemed to be there and with a few friends.

Unlike the curate’s egg, this really is a show that is good in parts, and if the intention was to provide a full cross-section of work from the last 8 years on London ranging from the superb to the rather ordinary, it was successful. Print quality also seemed to cover a similar range, with work representing the best work from some of London’s leading labs on the wall together with looked like inkjet prints on cheap paper from the kind of printers that cost less than a set of inks. Some photographers seem to have decided that it wasn’t worth taking a great deal of trouble for work that was going to be nailed onto a wall – and the fact that the gallery showed several pictures partly obscured by electrical conduit or similar wall-clutter suggests a certain contempt on their side.

Of course there are different approaches to the medium. Not every black and white needs the Ansel Adams treatment, and I’ve been to shows I’ve loved where the prints were made on a photocopier. But there needs to be some kind of match between the intentions of the work and the syntax of the printing process. Otherwise even good prints can be bad prints and bad prints are best reserved for the rubbish bin, not the gallery wall.

But there is plenty of work here to interest most viewers (although the photographer I arrived with left very quickly) and not just from the biggest names, although several of the half-dozen pictures by Simon Wheatley were among those that appealed to me most (though work by some other photographers I admire was disappointing.) Among the highlights for me were Brian David Stevens, who I mentioned before, and wrote about for his work that stood out in Press Photography 2008 with several fine black and white prints, and David Boulogne had some of the more interesting details from suburbia (some of which at least are from his Henorama project) which I perhaps like because they remind me very much of some of my own work with similar subject matter in the 1970s and 80s.

Simon Rowe picture & model at Photofusion opening
At Simon Rowe’s Photofusion opening – the picture at left was in the Exit show

Another photographer I’ve mentioned before is Simon Rowe, and the work here included some of that shown at Photofusion earlier this year.

But this is a show with a wide range of work, and others will doubtless find other work that attracts their interest. If you are in London it’s worth a visit, but give yourself plenty of time, as you will want to spend quite a while browsing and buying from the incredible stock of Claire de Rouen Books.

The gallery is close to Tottenham Court Road Station, and I took a couple of surprisingly upright pictures there on my way home.

Dominion TCR
Dominion, Tottenham Court Road

Tottenham Court Road

Another Clapham Celebration

Friday, June 27th, 2008

The SS Empire Windrush, which brought the first major group of Caribbean settlers from Jamaica to England in 1948 sank in the Med near Algiers around six years later, but a major monument of those times that have changed our country so greatly over the last 60 years remains.

Many of the 492 who arrived on the Windrush came with a suitcase and their hopes but little more. Many had served Britain in the armed forces, sometimes based in this country, and some few had places they could go to, but most were urgently in need of somewhere to stay while they sorted out jobs and a place to live.

One of the deep shelters, built for government use in the early 1940s and later opened for use as a public air-raid shelter in 1944 was pressed into service, quickly being adapted to provide basic living accomodation. This shelter still survives (along with the other London deep shelters) and the surface buildings are on the edge of Clapham Common near to Clapham South station.

The nearest labour exchange to the shelter was in Brixton, about a mile walk, and led to the area becoming the home of the Caribbean community in England. So it seemed an appropriate place to be celebrating the arrival of the Windrush, 60 years ago on Sunday.

Windrush celebration
Children listen to Four Kornerz and the Churchboyz at Clapham Windrush celebration

Although a small group walked from the deep shelter, the actual celebration took place a quarter of a mile away at the bandstand in the middle of Clapham Common, and was organised by Christian Aid, together with the Windrush Foundation and local churches. With speeches and gospel music it was more an aural than a visual event, although the children taking part in their own way made it rather more interesting.

One local church, Holy Trinity Clapham, played a major part in the event, as it had done in the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Act abolishing the slave trade.

A commemoration walk last March started there, where worshippers in the ‘Clapham Sect‘ at the centre of the movement had included William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp, John and Henry Thornton, John Venn, Zachary Macaulay and others, and went around the area stopping at notable sites associated with them, including the probable site of the ‘African Academy‘ in the picture above.

Arles Rencontres

Friday, June 27th, 2008

I don’t know why I’ve never been to Arles.

But as I type that sentence I realise it’s false. First because I have been there, back in the spring of 1973, visiting the city because of its associations with Van Gogh and to visit the Roman remains – and not when the Rencontres were taking place. They had started just a few years earlier and I don’t know if I had heard of them at the time. I suspect had I started going to them at that point I would still be going now.

Then, for many years there was a small matter of work. At the start of July – this year the first and important week of the Rencontres is July 8-13 – these came at an impossible time for someone working in secondary education, as I did for many years, in the last week or two of term. (Some exhibitions continue in Arles until September, so if you happen to be in the area any time in Summer it’s worth checking the program.)

Then there are other reasons. I dislike travelling and staying in new places, I’ve forgotten most of the French I once learnt and really the only important reason, I’ve always found such social events very hard to cope with at a personal level, and unless I can persuade a few friends to come with me I doubt that I would survive. Perhaps I’ll start working on some seriously with next year in mind. This year’s programme on clothes and fashion didn’t greatly attract me in any case.

You can read about the program in English at the festival web site if you want to see what you are missing, although if it is like previous years it may be better to try the French version.

But for a rather better idea of the photographic content, I suggest you take a look at Lens Culture where Jim Casper describes the festival as “a vast summer camp for adults, where you can eat and drink well, enjoy boundless art, and catch up with your like-minded friends from all over the world” and has an excellent fairly high resolution gallery of images.

Looking through these, although there is plenty of good work as you would expect, there seems little really novel and worth seeing this year. For me the outstanding pictures were by Vanessa Winship, whose work has deservedly done well in several competitions in recent years (and her ‘Albanian Landscapes‘ was screened at Arles in 2003) , and by Debbie Fleming Caffery, whose work I’ve long admired and wrote about when she had a one-person show in London in 2004. I think she first showed work at Arles in 1989.

So it probably won’t be the photography I’ll be missing in a couple of weeks time, but the “drinking cold beer in the shade with some pals“.

Rathayatra London Juggernauts

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Rath Yatra

Jagannatha, whose name means ‘Master of the Universe‘ is a form of the Hindu deity Krishna was one of three deities who were carried on large chariots through central London by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (better known as the Hare Krishna) last Sunday.


His half-sister Subhadra , again seen in the back of a car, was on the second of the large chariots in the Rathayatra procession, while the picture below shows brother Balabhadra beig caerfully lifted up to be installed onto the third of the chariots.


The festival follows the pattern followed for perhaps more than a thousand years at Puri in Orissa on the Indian east coast, and the giant wooden chariots used there to carry Jagannatha gave us the word juggernaut.

Unlike the huge diesels that power juggernauts along our motorways, these chariots are pulled by hundreds of people on two ropes in front of them. It takes a little more ‘horse-power‘ than the couple on this cake are showing:

ISKCON organised their first Rathayatra in the western world in San Francisco in 1967, and two years later held the first Hare Krishna procession London, making this year’s the 40th. You can see more pictures of the 40th London Rathayatra Chariot Festival

on My London Diary, as well as pictures from the Rathyatra festivals in 2001, 2004, and 2005.

Another Hare Krishna procession in London I’ve photographed is the Gaura Purnima Procession, which I went to again in 2008.

Gaura Purnima
Gaura Purnima Procession, 2008 close to Leicester Square

Love Music, Hate Racism, fed up with stewards

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Last Saturday I went to photograph a march against the BNP, who gained a seat on the London Assembly in the elections last month. I’d photographed the man who was elected, Richard Barnbrook, speaking at an outdoor BNP meeting in Dagenham a year or so ago, and detest his politics.

Barnbrook (C) Peter Marshall
Barnbrook speaks to media at BNP rally in Dagenham, Dec 2006

It struck me when I was taking pictures on Saturday that although the people in the demonstration were considerably more open and friendly than the small worried looking crowd in Dagenham, I was getting a lot more hassled by the stewards at Love Music Hate Racism‘s Stop the BNP march. Officiousness and threatening behaviour is no way to get good treatment from the media.

Although billed as a carnival parade, Stop the BNP was more a boring political march. If there was a samba band it was in hiding. For me the tone was set when a steward came up to the band who were just about to start playing and rather grudgingly allowed  them to do just one number before the march had to move off.

LMHR march

It wasn’t a huge march, and quite a few of those on it apparently left before the rally in Trafalgar Square (including me.) Although I’m dead against the BNP, I’m not really sure that this march was worthwhile. The Love Music Hate Racism campaign needs to convert hearts and minds not bore them. It should have been a carnival parade but was just another rather dull march.

More pictures on My London Diary as usual.

Carolyn Drake wins Lange-Taylor prize

Friday, June 20th, 2008

This is rather old news, not least because my server ate it when I posted it a day or two ago. I’ve been meaning for some time to write again about the work of Carolyn Drake, who, together with writer Ilan Greenberg is the winner of the 2008 (and eighteenth) Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize, one of the major awards for documentary photography.

The $20,000 prize from The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, USA, is given to encourage collaboration between photographers and writers in documentary work. Dorothea Lange is best known for her picture Migrant Mother and other images taken for the Resettlement Administration (FSA).

Library of Congress
from: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

Lange’s second husband was an agricultural economist and writer Paul Taylor, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley (they married in 1935) and together they made many field trips documenting rural America, and in particular poor sharecroppers and migrant workers. Lange got a Guggenheim in 1941, the same year that they published the seminal ‘American Exodus:A Record of Human Erosion‘ Later, in 1952, she was one of the founders of Aperture Magazine.

Carolyn Drake

lan Greenberg and Carolyn Drake’s project, ‘Becoming Chinese: Uighurs in Cultural Transition,’ looks at a rural Muslim community in a Chinese region, whose culture and language has been and is under severe pressure from the Chinese government.

Drake’s colour images (there are six on the Duke site and others in the links below) have an incredible freshness of vision, with sometimes a quite striking framing or angle of view. Sometimes it can be a challenge to decide exactly what we are seeing – as in a view ‘Oasis town, Turkmenistan‘ on the set of images on F-Stop #27 (Feb March 2008).

On Blueeyes you can see images from the Ukraine in Borderland, many of which too have a certain mystery as a face glooms out of the darkness at the edge of an image or a man is suspended in the branches of trees. Drake likes dramatic foregrounds, but there are also images that are largely about superb colour. She is also given to some powerful and dynamic composition, often getting away from a slavish adherence to the horizontal and using the cuttng edge of the frame to great effect.

Her other Blueeyes essay on the Lubavitch in Brooklyn is perhaps more carefully controlled but has some stunning images (they got her noticed by PDN for their Top 30 emerging photographers to watch in 2006)

You can also see a great deal of work on Carolyn Drakes own web site – perhaps the most intriguing for me was a set on a subject I’ve tried to look at myself, suburbia. I’m not sure where her ‘New Suburbia‘ series was shot, but I think it’s a place I’d avoid living.

Drake, who is based in Istanbul, is a member of Panos Pictures and you can see a perhaps wider range of her work on that site by clicking on her name on the photographers page.

One of the first articles I wrote when I worked for ‘About Photography‘ was about photographic competitions – and its major point was the obvious one that you won’t win if you don’t enter. I’m sure there were many more excellent entries for the Lange-Taylor prize, and it takes a lot of time to put together entries for this and other competitions. This wasn’t Drake’s first year of entry for the prize. It’s always a disappointment if you enter and don’t win the best thing to do is to pick yourself up and try to do better another time. Entries for the 2009 award are due in Jan 2009 and all the details are on the web site.

World Naked Bike Ride

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to photograph Saturday’s World Naked Bike Ride in London again. I wrote at some length last year about its ‘photography’ policy and my objections to it – it seems to be a blatant attack on the freedom of the press in particular and on individual freedoms at a time when both are under considerable fire from the law and order fascists. I won’t repeat myself – it’s still on line. But if you take part in a public event and want to hide your identity or blushes, as  I’ve said before, the answer is simple:

don’t shoot the photographer; wear a mask.

I also wrote a shorter piece about news values and nakedness after last year’s ride. There is a paragraph I rather like in it, so here it is – though you can of course use the link to read the rest.

10,000 marching for Palestine. Perhaps 3,000 Orangemen and women. A thousand or so naked or near naked cyclists. No contest, not even for the BBC. When I switched on Radio 4 for the 10 o’clock news there was only one London event. And there was no one there wearing a burkha.

Definitely not a burkha, but she made me think of both of my comments from last year.

But the World Naked Bike Ride is in several ways an interesting event, although as in previous years while bodies are very much on display environmental messages seemed at times to be rather well-hidden, leaving many of the public along the route bemused.

The two young women standing next to me at the start weren’t commenting on the state of the planet or the strangulating grip of car culture but that they had never seen so many penises before, and they were certainly glorious in their diversity. We speculated together briefly on whether the ride showed a greater proportion of circumcision than among the general public and if so why that should be and other major penis-related issues.

Later I was in the middle of a group of young men who loudly expressed the view that the whole event was “f**king out of order, innit” and that it should not be allowed, but most of the people standing around me as I photographed seemed startled but generally amused by the ride, even if few realised what it was about.

According to the web site, it is a “peaceful, imaginative and fun protest against oil dependency and car culture. A celebration of the bicycle and also a celebration of the power and individuality of the human body. A symbol of the vulnerability of the cyclist in traffic.”

I don’t know how many cyclists took part – it seemed roughly the same size as in previous years, and my guess would be a thousand or two. Of course it wasn’t just cyclists, there were some skateboards and roller blades, and some odd sort of curved metal thing. Surprisingly only two unicyclists – you have to be an exhibitionist to ride a unicycle, so I’d expect rather more. (Perhaps they are all away in Nova Scotia keeping most of their clothes on and ‘Riding the Lobster‘ along with one of my sons?) One of them was riding with the slogan “One Love, One Wheel” on his chest.

Cyclists take up quite a bit of road space compared to marchers, so it is certainly more impressive than a march with the same number of people, and of course the bared flesh greatly adds to the impact.

More pictures on My London Diary, though as always only a fairly small fraction of those I took. If you were on the ride and would like your picture (if I took one) email me and I’ll send one if I can.

Lens Culture #16

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Lens Culture, dedicated to “Photography and Shared Territories” (international contemporary photography, art, media, and world cultures) has long been one of my favourite on-line reads, and it’s good to see another new issue from Jim Casper that keeps up the high standard he has set.

I’ve not yet had time to read everything, but there are some incredible photographs by Denis Darzacq of shoppers flying in French hypermarkets. He really does photograph real people in mid-air, working on film and not a touch of Photoshop, though I think some of the incredible guys he collaborates with may need some treatment for bruises after he has got the shot. I remember seeing and writing about his images of dancers in mid-flight a couple of years ago, large and perfect prints, and standing there wondering how he did it for some minutes, eventually deciding there really were no special tricks – just working with great performers and catching them at the right moment – and with the right lighting. That little word ‘just‘ does Darzacq no justice.

Y0u can also read about – and see work from – a couple of festivals, PhotoEspana in Madrid and Look 3 in Charlottesville, Virginia, notable for its interviews – and there is more coverage of these at PDN Online

Access to Life

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

The most recent posting on the Magnum blog, Access for Life looks at a success story about AIDS. When antiretroviral drugs first appeared in the 1990s, they made it a maneagable chronic disease for the 5% or so of sufferers who could afford the treatment. In recent years campaigns including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria launched in 2002 have cut costs and introduced new ways of using the drugs so that many more can continue to live.

The Access for Life web site features work by eight Magnum photographers in nine countries around the world, photographing peope before and four months after they began antiretroviral treatment for AIDS. So far I’ve only looked at the story from Russia by Alex Majoli which is featured on the blog, and which tells a powerful story making use of his colour and black and white pictures along with some simple snatches of video and a fine soundtrack (with sub-titles for the Russian dialogue) but I’ll go back and look at the others on the web site later. They feature some of my favourite photographers, including at least four I’ve previously written about.

Other photographers on the website along with Majoli , are Paolo Pellegrin, Jim Goldberg, Gilles Peress, Jonas Bendiksen, Steve McCurry, Eli Reed and there are two reports from Larry Towell covering Swaziland and South Africa.

Save at Jessops

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

The quote from McCullin about Dixons reminded me that I meant to mention another camera chain, Jessops. Years ago I used to buy film from them, getting a 10% student discount (no, I wasn’t a student, just needed the discount, and a friend was one of the store managers) which made it reasonably priced.

Last week when I needed to buy a new wide-angle lens, I found a site called Camera Price Buster which gives discount codes for Dixons and Jessops. These change from time to time so the code I used, LENS10, will probably no longer work – so check that site for the current one – which may be more or less generous.

The 10% discount using this made my new lens cost only a few pounds more than a rather doubtful tax-free import from Hong Kong, but even better, I was able to order on line and pick up my new lens an hour later from the local Jessops without paying any delivery charge. And while I don’t welcome paying taxes, I don’t really like to cheat on them either.

It’s the first time I’ve used this local collection service, but it worked without any problem – and no waiting in for expensive Fedex or those wretched other couriers who can never seem to find my house first time.

However, I’m still waiting for a UV filter for the lens, as the cheapest Jessops could offer was £35, and that was perhaps in too thick a mount, while a ‘professional quality’ multi-coated filter from 7dayshop costs less than £9. It does mean paying postage, but there are always a few other things I need to make up a worthwhile order. But despite what I said above about tax, I’m happy to save the VAT in ordering from Jersey.

More about this lens – a Sigma 10-20mm EX f4-5.6 when I’ve had time to use it for a few weeks, but my initial thoughts are positive. The Sigma EX lenses do seem to be well built, and it feels better in this respect than the Nikon lenses I own, and the lens hood feels dignificantly more durable too.