Archive for July, 2008

Evans, Photography and Beaches

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

James R Mellor wrote the exhaustive biography of Walker Evans, a remarkable book (ISBN 046509077x) unfortunately not quite finished before Mellor’s death in 1997, and a book I recommend to all.  The final section of the final chapter that he completed is about the relationship between Evans and Frank and I think had he lived he would have explored more fully some of the questions this section raises.

In it, Mellor quotes (p553) from the wall label written by Evans for his nine pictures in a show containing work by him, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and August Sander presented by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, ‘Diogenes with a Camera III‘ in January 1956. (Other shows in this series of five from 1952-1961 included work by Edward Weston, Frederick Sommer, Harry Callahan, Eliot Porter, Gene Smith, Paul Strand, Shirley C Burden, Esther Bubley, Man Ray, Todd Webb, Tosh Matsumoto, Lucien Clergue, Yasuhiro Ishimoto…)

Diogenes was of course a seeker after truth who rejected social norms, lived on the streets in a barrel on a diet of onions and was the great cynic, debunking the values and institutions of his times. Certainly he was a very “minded” guy who made himself a “King of the Street” – and it was a few words with John Benton-Harris that set my mind wandering after a quotation from Walker Evans.

Tod Papageorge in his thought-provoking essay ‘Walker Evans and Robert Frank: An essay on Influence‘ written in 1981 (Yale University Art Gallery, ISBN 0894670158, text now available in The Missing Criticism series, which republishes out-of-print writing on photography) had earlier quoted this label in its entirety as a footnote on page 3:

“Valid photography, like humor, seems to be too serious a matter to talk about seriously. If, in a note, it can’t be defined weightily, what it is not can be stated with the utmost finality. It is not the image of Secretary Dulles descending from a plane. It is not cute cats, nor touchdowns, nor nudes; motherhood; arrangements of manufacturers’ products. Under no circumstances is it anything ever anywhere near a beach. In short it is not a lie – a cliché – somebody else’s idea. It is prime vision combined with quality of feeling, no less.”

(I was pleased I could still find my copy of Papageorge’s book – secondhand it now sells for around $2-400, and althoughit is good to see the text republished on the web,  without the images referred to by bracketed numbers throughout the text the reader has a certain amount of detective work to do. Mellor’s biography is a real bargain second-hand – unless you can find it locally you are likely to pay more for postage than the book – and there are many, many more pages to read.)

Perhaps “under no circumstances is it anything ever anywhere near a beach”  is worth bearing in mind for the holiday season (although of course it was aimed directly towards Edward Weston.)  When there are rather fewer (if any) posts from me over the coming few weeks at least you will know not to expect a deluge of beach images on my return.

Kings of the Street

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

John Benton-Harris looks at:

Henri Cartier-Bresson & Helen Levitt, ‘Side By Side
Laurence Miller Gallery,  20 West 57th Street, New York
(5 June to 14 August, 2008)

All things being equal (which they never are,) we who use photography to communicate should be encouraged to be courageous, minded and to speak from the heart, even while working to fill our pockets – as it once was in America. But the commercial world has become smaller, narrower, dumber, as well as much greedier, particularly in recent years.And as an American, who has resided here in England as long as I have, I pine the loss of more mature and optimistic times in a place where anything was possible as long as  we made the effort to work towards it.

And that’s the most honest declaration I can provide others with as to why I still return to New York once or twice yearly, but continuing  to speak frankly, it’s to protect and fan that flame that still is in me to stay alight and grow. And also because here in “Never Never Land”, the UK, there is no home-grown history of serious individual expression or mature leadership, that could spark such a light.   Here we merely continue to produce a glut of ambitious photographers, but not a surplus of talented ones. This will continue to be the case as long as  photography is controlled by a disconnected leadership at the very conservative centre of English life.

That is why New York – and  more particularly Paris today – are regarded jointly and deservedly as the ‘Home Offices’ of this medium. In fact the French have overtaken us Yanks in their celebration of visual expression, through and with photography. Through doing so much more to expand interest, understanding, opportunity and access, with its introduction of major city and regional festivals that are given over to this discipline.

Now you might be wondering what has all this to do with Henri Cartier-Bresson and Helen Levitt. Well they are the two significant talents that immediately come to mind signifying that personal commitment in these twin visual cultures on a personal level. And although very different people with very different outlooks, overviews, approach modes and subjects, none the less they were both committed to their personal understanding of excellence.

One travelled the world to catch views of people and life that concentrated more on defining his sense of timing, sensitivity, and eloquence. The other’s eye being a motherly one mostly watched over neighbourhood life, with a particular fondness for children at play and the elderly with time on their hands. And speaking of Time, they were both equally obsessed with shaping it, catching it, saving it, and presenting it, all together in ways that capture our attention, our appreciation, and our wonderment.

Helen and Hank (excuse the familiarity) are not just good friends, they are in their very different ways, life long influences; for one’s emotional warmth and sensitivity is as important as the other’s structuring and timing. Helen in her later years moved a little further out from her immediate neighbourhood and added additional information of another colour to her New York visual symphony that gained her an even larger and more appreciative audience. While Hank, hankering to be what he had already achieved, “An Artist” in his own right and place, took himself out from behind his camera. But quite apart from these late-life alterations, both still remain; put simply “Kings of the Street”.

In closing I feel no need to attempt to describe in words what is meant for eyes to digest, all I will say to those who know nothing of them, is that they are in for a very special treat. And for them that do, this presentation is chock full of premium works.

© John Benton-Harris – July 30th 2008

Selected Web Links

Lawrence Miller Gallery: Side By Side
Helen LevittNew York Streets  1938 to 1990s
Henri Cartier-Bresson: Magnum
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Picture Paradise?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Some years ago when I wrote a feature for a web site on the early years of photography in  Australia (Australian Photography 1840-60)  and another on a fine twentieth-century Australian photographer, Frank Hurley, unfortunately neither currently available on line.

After publishing my piece on the early years, I received an e-mail from an Australian that berated me for not having written a full history of photography in that country. My reply basically but politely told him that I was a pom living in England, and if he wanted a history of photography in his country he should get off his backside, do some research and write it. A few years ago there was relatively little material available on line to enable me to do so if I had wanted to, and so far as I was concerned Australia was just one of around 195 countries I wanted to write about.  (Unfortunately this was 194 more than my then employers appreciated, and I only managed to mention something about photography in around 50 of these before they dispensed with my services.)

I don’t know how many of the pioneers I mentioned – Captain Lucas, George Barron Goodman, Douglas Thomas Kilburn, William Little, Norman and Heseltine, Schohl, Thomas Gill, ‘Professor’ Robert Hall, J W Newland, William Freeman, John Hunter Kerr, Robert Hunt and others – are included in what looks like a fine exhibition by the National Gallery of Australia, ‘Picture ParadiseAsia-Pacific Photography 1840s-1940s, but only Kilburn from that list appears in the 5 images on line covering the same period.

The show perhaps spreads it’s net too wide by including the Indian subcontinent – I wrote at around a dozen full-length features on India while only scratching the subject, as so many fine photographers from Britain in particular worked there in Victorian times.

It certainly is surprising not to see a single picture by the great early Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal although he does get a mention in the accompanying essay. Several other photographers I’ve also previously written about, including Felix Beato and Samuel Bourne are represented by photographs, as too –  rather surprisingly, is Julia Margaret Cameron. Although a great photographer, the picture included serves to confirm the popular view that she did nothing of great photographic interest in her return to India, with all of her best work being made on the Isle of Wight, well outside the area of this show.

Lala Deen Dayal (1844-1905) is one of relatively few photographers to have been honoured by a postage stamp issue, and I was very pleased to receive a commemorative album from his great granddaughter who runs the web site about his work containing examples of the 500 Rupee stamp issued in November 2006. Few photographers can claim an edition of 0.4 million!

So although this is an interesting site and well worth a look, and does bring to our notice several photographers whose work until now has been (perhaps deservedly) fairly obscure, it isn’t really a balanced overall survey of photography in the region, and certainly fails to do Australia itself justice.  There is still time for that gentleman I corresponded briefly with to get his act together.

An Increasing List

Monday, July 28th, 2008

I don’t know if it’s some kind of medical condition, perhaps a harbinger of oncoming senility, but I’m developing an increasing list.

Not an ever longer chronicle of those who, come the revolution will be lined up against the wall though my weekend stroll though the deepest home counties might well have prompted that.  Nor even a more and more lopsided walk due to the weight of my camera bag on my left shoulder – always my left shoulder as I collapse in pain after a just a few minutes with it on my right. It’s perhaps strange that with the coming of digital its weight has grown considerably from the more carefree past of film, when the heaviest item in the bag was a bottle of water or in winter a flask of coffee. Who would have thought all those electrons could be so heavy?

Somehow in the old days I seldom needed a flash unit or all those large spare batteries and (though I don’t often carry it) a notebook computer. Spare batteries back then were a couple about the size of a 20p piece that I changed every year on my birthday whether they needed it or no.

No, my problem is that none of my pictures are upright any more. Verticals ain’t vertical and rivers and oceans pour out from right or left frame. While a ‘dynamic composition’ may often be appropriate (as we very clearly learnt from Garry Winogrand) for demonstrations and street photography , it doesn’t always look too fine in landscapes and architecture.

One of the few possibly useful features found in the Nikon D3 lacked by the D300 is an ‘virtual horizon‘ or camera level that can be displayed at the right edge of the image in the viewfinder. Possibly it might solve my problem, but only at the expense of the camera’s weight crippling me over a long day’s work.  Of course the recently announced and lighter D700 has it too…

Incidentally, for a rather different set of pictures taken with the D700, take a look at Jim Reed’s gallery – Nikon lent him a pre-production camera early in April and he used it for a hundred days of chasing storms – there is rather scary image of him running towards a tornado holding it on the page where he writes about the camera giving it an excellent rating for durability and weather-resistance. Storm-chasing isn’t an area of photography I’ve ever felt drawn to, but I did find some impressive examples as well as a wealth of excellent advice on both techniques – such as how to photograph lightning – and also some very important safety information when I wrote a feature a few years ago.

What the D300 does have is the ability  (Custom setting d2) to project a rectangular grid on the viewfinder display. This is something I’ve avoided using, finding it too obtrusive as it flashes up in bright red when you autofocus. But now I’ve turned it on – and added it to ‘My Menu‘ so I can quickly turn it off when it gets really up my nose. It really is useful to be able to list just those things you want to access while shooting on that My Menu page so that they are there at the press of the menu button.

For years I walked around with a shift lens on the camera, getting things straight and even largely managing to avoid convergence when I wanted or needed to tilt the camera, though it’s main purpose was to allow me to stand in the right place and get the perspective I wanted. I don’t have one for the digital body, and my work has changed so I seldom miss it. With this lens, my favourite viewfinder screen in all my Olympus bodies (two OM4, OM2 and OM1) was a ruled one, finer and with a better thought-out layout than the Nikon version.  It also worked so well with other lenses that I very seldom bothered to change it. Funnily enough the Olympus one didn’t flash red and you could focus manually and precisely on the screen. Sometimes progress seems to go backwards.

Of course it’s easy enough to correct a list. In the darkroom we came to do it almost without thinking when needed, rotating the easel slightly to make the print straight. For digital it’s just as quick in Lightroom, pressing R to change to the crop/rotate screen, dragging the image as required, then D (or R) to return to develop mode.

If you use Photoshop (at least in version 7) it is a little slower still, but perhaps easier to get absolutely right. Change to the measure tool (it’s an alternative to the eye-dropper) and click to mark two ends of a line that should be either horizontal or vertical; then go to the image menu, choose Rotate Canvas, Arbitrary…, and click on OK. Then crop away all the extra background colour the rotate has added. You can just drag a marquee over the area you want to retain using the crop tool and double click, but I usually prefer to drag guides from the rulers (Ctrl R if they aren’t visible) to mark the 4 edges, then, when I’m happy these are in the correct place, use either the crop tool or the rectangular marquee (with ‘Snap to Guides‘ set in the View menu), finally using View, Clear guides. It is a bit fussier, but that way you know exactly what you are doing, and I find it  is rather easy not to get it quite right with the crop tool.

All this – even in Lightroom – does slow things down, and if like me you usually crop tightly in the viewfinder, presents a problem as the rotation results in a need for further cropping of the image.  So it’s better to get the tilt exactly how you want it in camera. Better still if you don’t need a gadget like the virtual horizon to do so.

Hyena Men

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Last Sunday’s Observer had an interesting piece about Pieter Hugo, the South African photographer born in Cape Town in 1976 who won the Discovery Award at Arles announced a few days ago for his pictures of the Hyena Men. It’s a piece worth reading for his stories about his experiences while taking the pictures and what it tells you about how he works. Its a piece that ends with a quotation from Elisabeth Biondi of the ‘New Yorker‘: “He has a vision and he pursues it relentlessly“.

For me the pictures on his site are from Rwanda and Messina/Musina are more interesting (perhaps because they work better on a small scale), but given the other pictures that were around this year at Arles it isn’t hard to see why apparently everyone there was talking about his work – and that it won the prize, which is awarded on a popular vote.

You can also now read more about the festival on the FOTO8 site, including more pictures by George Georgiou. And don’t forget to get busy shooting those pictures of ‘8’s for the 888 Millennium Competition – you need to send them by August 3. You can see some of the entries already on Flickr.

A Bitter Birthday

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Yesterday was my elder son’s 32nd birthday, but he wasn’t at home – I expect to see him later today when he comes back home. But yesterday I went to another birthday party, for a young man exactly two years younger than my son. His family, a few miles away in London,  haven’t seen him since 2002 and may never see him again.

Fair Tiral?

Binyam Mohamed, born in Ethiopia but lived in London and was given refugee status in 1994 was in Afghanistan in 2002 and fled across the border to Pakistan when the fighting started . There he was kidnapped and handed over to the CIA becoming one of the many subject to “illegal rendition”. First they flew him to Morocco, where he was tortured for 18 months. At times he was shackled in excruciatingly painful positions, sometimes hanging, for hours or days in darkness, unable to move to relieve the pain, often with headphones blasting music at ear-splitting volume into his head. Other abuses included regular razor cuts to his genitals. The torture continued at Kabul’s ‘Dark Prison’ where he was rendered next, before going on to Guantanamo. You can read more about his treatment on the Reprieve website, at the National Guantanamo Coalition or on You Tube (and related videos there.)

The US now intend to put Binyam in front of a military tribunal, calling for the death penalty. The “evidence” was produced during his torture and none would be admissible in any proper court.

The London Guantánamo Campaign had organised a six day vigil at the US embassy calling for Binyam’s release and return home, which culminated in a protest party on Whitehall, urging our Government to do more to get the US to release him. I hope that Gordon will talk to Obama about it too when they meet tonight.  Earlier this year I photographed a day of demonstrations in London on the 6th anniversary of the setting up of the illegal prison camp at Guantánamo, with events organised  by Amnesty,  the London Guantánamo Campaign, London Catholic Workers and ending with a rally in Parliament Square by Cageprisoners / Guantánamo Campaign, at which Binyam’s case was raised.

As I walked away I felt for Binyam and for his family. When I see my son tonight I’ll remember them again.

You couldn’t make it up

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

My pool picture ban over paedophile fears is a real headline from the Metro and tells the story of an 82year old woman who was stopped while taking pictures of an empty paddling pool on a common in Southhampton. A council employee told the widow to put her camera away because she might be a paedophile.

Of course she was in a public place and carrying out a perfectly legal act. Even if the pool had been swarming with children she would still have been within her legal rights to take photographs, although it would be a brave woman (and a much braver man) that would insist on those legal rights in the current perverted climate.

Although Southampton council have apologised,  they stated: ‘It is appropriate that our staff are aware of who is taking photos.’  This confuses the act of taking photographs (whether or not they include children) with a potential risk of sexual offending against children. In practice it seems rather unlikely that potential offenders will draw attention to themselves by using a camera in this way in a public place, and council staff would probably be more sensibly employed giving greater attention to any adults without cameras – and in particular those who loiter without cameras around where children play.

With or without a camera people can behave in ways that may be suspicious – approaching children, talking to them, following them etc, and although they may of course be perfectly innocent I think most of us would agree it a good idea if council workers and others kept an eye on their actions. But people in any position of authority, however slight, need proper training, and part of it should be to learn that photography in public places is not an offence and no more a suspicious activity than walking a dog – probably considerably less so given that many children are attracted to animals.

There is a poll (‘The Big Vote’) on the Metro page (at the right of the page) which asks readers to vote on whether they think the council worker’s action was over the top. I was flabbergasted to find when I voted that there was a whole 6% of people who didn’t.

Prize Pictet

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Yet another prize I didn’t enter for is the Prize Pictet, for which the short list of photographers has recently been announced: Benoit Aquin, Edward Burtynksky, Jesus Abad Colorado, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Sebastian Copeland, Christian Cravo, Lynn Davis, Reza Deghati, Susan Derges, Malcolm Hutcheson, Chris Jordan, Carl De Keyzer, David Maisel, Mary Mattingly, Robert Polidori, Roman Signer, Jules Spinatsch and Munem Wasif.

In fact none of them entered as you cannot do so, but they were all nominated by a “global nominations panel of 49 leading experts in the visual arts, from six continents” which “made over 200 nominations from 43 countries” from which the seven judges selected the 18 names above.

In fact exactly the kind of process that fills me with intense gloom about the future of our medium, although there are people among the two carefully selected groups I admire and even a few whose judgement I might respect (and even a few I know.)

This is apparently the ‘Premier Photographic Award in Sustainability‘ although I’m not entirely sure what they mean by this, and even less so by their claim “Pictet is a leading wealth and asset management group worldwide, which aims to be grounded on sustainable business principles for the environment, society and corporate governance.”

Of course there have been other photographic attempts to look at issues related to sustainability. At the end of last year I exhibited work as a part of Foto Arte 2007 in Brasilia, and the theme of that very extensive festival was “Nature, the Environment and Sustainability.”  You can see more about the work I took there, and also read about some of the themes of the lecture I gave there in the posts ‘Under the Car‘, Garden Suburbs and Garden Cities and Architecture and Urban Landscape photography.

Elsewhere on the blog you can also find some of my posts about my experiences in Brasilia, as well as some of the shows from FotoArte 2007 that I was able to see, and on My London Diary the full set of images I showed in Brazil, as well as some of my pictures from Brasilia.

Of course I had no expectation of being nominated for the Prize Pictet, but it is perhaps a little surprising that (unless my memory is wrong) not a single photographer from the very long list of those who took part in that major international festival on the topic is included in the short list.

Pigeons Post

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Detail from ‘Release of the Doves’ – see full image below

Pigeons were behind much of the dramatic increase in interest in photography in Britain as an expressive medium in the 1970s. It was the Coo Press, owned by Colin Osman, both a keen photographer and a photo historian, which provided the finance for ‘Creative Camera‘ magazine in the 1970s and the premises for the Creative Camera bookshop in Doughty St, where many of us made regular pilgrimage. (Osman had bought the magazine, then called Camera Owner and about to fold, for £1 in 1966) and the magazine, particularly with Peter Turner as editor and a great deal of advice – at least in the first place unsolicited and typically forthright – from Tony Ray Jones and some other photographers that edged at least a small section of British photography out of its comfortable and self-satisfied rut.

Behind me as I write is an almost complete set of that magazine, and on the shelves downstairs the annuals – including one with a set of three of my pictures, the first of my work published outside of the more strictly amateur magazines.

Town Meadow, Brentford, 1970s published in ‘Creative Camera Collection 5’.

(One of many paradoxes was that while those amateur magazines paid for photographs – at much the same rates as today – in Creative Camera you did it for love and prestige, as is still the case in some of the best photographic magazines, including Aperture.)

Camera Owner changed gradually into Creative Camera and continued to lose money, and it was the pigeon-fanciers who had probably never heard of it and certainly never read it who kept it afloat. Later, when Osman could no longer afford to subsidise his labour of love, the Arts Council took over the reins and drove the magazine into a cul-de-sac from which it only rarely ventured onto fertile ground. You can read the story in more detail (and doubtless more accuracy) on Roy Hammans’s Weeping Ash web site.

Once a year I photograph pigeons. Not for ‘Pigeon Breeders Gazette‘ or some other magazine, but as a part of the festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the annual Italian festival in Clerkenwell, London (once known as ‘Little Italy’) where doves are released as a part of the event.

Last year I struck lucky as you can see from the detail – at roughly 50% full size at the top of this piece. Three pigeons took up a difficult to improve triangular formation as I pressed the shutter; it was superb choreography. I’d quickly moved into a good position for the picture as the clergy got ready to release the birds, but then it really was a matter of luck, as the pigeons generally head up into the air at great speed when released.

The full image below includes on the left hand edge ‘Our Lady’ looking down on the clergy and to their right some of the watching crowd (and I think the bus stop adds something, showing clearly it is London.

Release of the Doves, Procession in Honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Clerkenwell, London, 2007. 

This year, however well I did I was never going to have the same luck, the doves were going to be something of an anticlimax, and so it proved. Either the pigeons were pesky or the priests who released them needed more training, for they failed to synchronise, and the birds only came together in the air a couple of hundred meters away.

The best of 3 frames taken in around 0.5 seconds before the birds disappeared

The release of the doves is a part of the procession which has evolved considerably over the years I’ve photographed the event, but still I think lacks something. As a considerably lapsed Congregationalist it’s perhaps surprising to have to point out that the missing element is liturgy, an appropriate and religious combination of words and actions, where the priests are in charge.

A countdown by an over-intrusive photographer (not me!) just doesn’t fit the occasion, which would be better served by a blessing with the release of the doves on the closing ‘Amen.’ It might just unite priests, doves, photographers and the crowds.

More pictures from the event on My London Diary – including more frames with the doves.

As always, pictures here, unless otherwise stated are (C) Peter Marshall and are available for use as high-res files

A Host of Pictures

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

There certainly were a host of pictures at the FOTO8 Summer Show 2008 in the Host Gallery in London’s Honduras St,  EC1Y 0TH (23 July- 31 August 2008), with 164 images on the walls of the gallery and the adjoining stairs. Although it is perhaps admirable to be so inclusive, (and I was told there was a much larger than expected entry from around the world), I think it would have been a much better show, and certainly rather easier to view with perhaps half that number of prints.

Honduras St gets quite full

A simple listing  with photographers names, sizes, media and prices was available at the gallery, but to fully appreciate the show you need a copy of the catalogue which contains the captions for the prints and can be downloaded as an illustrated pdf (4Mb) from the site. A rather smaller number of prints would have had the bonus of allowing captions to be included on the price list.

Most of the work was by photographers whose names were unfamiliar to me, although the three prints I personally singled out as possible choices for best of show were by photographers I know, including one I see regularly and another I’ve written about in the past. I won’t attempt to influence your efforts to find your own choice by naming them. Go along, look at the work and vote for your choice of best of show. Though I do think they have missed out in not calling it the Golden Daffodil Award.

The open bar was kept busy

Meeting another photographer from my generation (most of those present at the opening were considerably younger), I asked if she had anything in the show, and she told me that she didn’t have a great interest in  competitions and hadn’t entered. I feel much the same, although in my case a general lack of organisation had also contributed to my not sending anything in. I have after all been a subscriber to FOTO8 magazine since it began, and did feel that perhaps I should support this initiative. But then I had other things to do.  (If any of you reading this don’t get the magazine, do take a look at a recent issue – now better than ever.)

Competitions, particularly those based around single images (though a few photographers had two or three) do encourage and reward a particular type of photography, and much of what we were presented could be seen as a celebration of the exotic – unusual places, people and events – in a kind of colour supplement view of life.  When my students used (rather often) to complain about having “nothing to photograph” and if only they could go to China or New York or Bosnia or wherever the last set of pictures they had seen in a magazine had been taken I used to remind them of something I think said by Alfred Steiglitz, to the effect that he had found his best photographs within 50 yards of his front gate. Though of course his family back yard at Lake George was also extremely extensive.

Or perhaps I might show them the work of Helen Levitt or Ruth Orkin (New York yes, but working on their not very unusual doorsteps) or many other photographers whose subject has been everyday life, not treated as the exotica so often on display in this show, but working with the warp and weft of everyday life and creating something with a little magic, some small epiphany. Of course you also see it in the best photojournalism, often working with much more dramatic events (and it is important that these should be photographed too.)

Pizza appeared and quickly disappeared

It’s work like this that, for me at least, is at the heart of photography, and perhaps the only game worth playing is trying to bring out the significance of the ordinary. There is work in this show that moved me in this way, perhaps even 20 or 30 pictures that I might want to live with and hang on my wall, but much of the rest, after I had stood looking at the image for perhaps thirty seconds on the gallery wall I didn’t really feel I wanted to look at it much longer or need to see it again. Plenty of novelty perhaps, but it isn’t easy to produce photographs you can live with. But 20 good prints is a good show, and one well worth a detour. Buses 55 and 243 stop handily and Old Street tube is a short walk away.

The show also prompted me to think about photographic printing, print sizes and pricing.

Also on the show page at the Foto8 web site is a useful guide intended for the selected photographers about the pricing of their pictures, which others might also like to download for some sensible general advice on the subject. However I think there were perhaps rather too many who might have been given further advice on the subject.

Setting prices is always a problem. But I think many of these works are unlikely to find buyers at the kind of prices involved, unless the photographers have particularly rich and generous friends and relatives to support them as sometimes happens (mine are all poor and expect prints for nothing.) It would be nice to be proved wrong and to find that there are people willing to pay perhaps £500 or £750 or more for a work by a relatively unknown photographer.

Print sizes
As a very minor quibble, while I’m not in favour of uniformity in general, I think the gallery might have converted all sizes to centimetres rather than have some in metric and others imperial.

What I do find interesting is looking at the small images in the downloaded catalogue and comparing them with the works on show, which range from original small Polaroid prints to five-footers. One of the conclusions I drew from looking at the show was that printing large can be and usually is a mistake!

That all the pictures I found of most interest were a moderate size (mainly 16×20″ or 20×24″) in part reflects my interests stated above, but I did actually feel some of these were a little too large and might have been better at say 10×15″ or even smaller. But then I think photography is at its best as an intimate medium, perhaps in a book (although having spent more on my Eizo screen than the computer that serves it, I’m coming very much to appreciate the advantages of a high resolution rock-steady display screen for viewing my own work and other pictures available at suitable resolution – and certainly looking forward to a new generation of very much higher resolution screens in the future.)

Some works do need scale, but I’m not sure these were the ones actually printed big for this show – and there were a few small images that might have looked rather better at floor to ceiling size. What we are I think seeing in photography at the moment is size largely as a marketing device rather than an artistic one, relating more to the display space than the image. It’s an approach that has a great deal of sense. While large prints may – and I think did – look rather out of place on the crowded wall at HOST, the more normal photographic sizes would be lost on the vast white spaces of the corporate atrium.

Print Quality
Some of the best prints on the wall were inkjet prints, both black and white and colour. With prints for which no information on the print process (or an ambiguous term) it was seldom possible to decide whether they were inkjet or chemically processed.

Inkjet as a medium has certainly come of age (it did so a few years ago for colour, but black and white has now more or less caught up too), although this show also demonstrates that some of its users have still some way to go. Looking through the small digital thumbs in the catalogue there are clearly a dozen or two images on the wall where the print fails to do the work justice.

It isn’t too hard to set up a properly calibrated digital workflow that will produce excellent print quality on desktop printers such as the Epson R2400 – and, using appropriate paper and inks the results are likely to be more long-lasting than C-types or other chemical colour processes. But if you don’t have proper colour management or use unsuitable materials – such as Epson’s misleadingly named ‘Archival Matte’ then problems will arise.

Of course, back in the days when more of us went into the dark to print our own colour there were often some sorry examples of C-types on some exhibition walls – and of course many expensive lab prints from the 1970s and 80s boom in ‘New Color’ are now distinctly past their best.


One thing I did find amusing is the number of different ways photographers choose to tell us (or, more often to disguise the fact) that their work is an inkjet print. Among the variations in this show (apparently produced on a device lacking an e acute)  are:  Giclee, archival Giclee, HP Professional, archival pigment, Giclee printed on Art photo paper, Giclee print on archival matt paper, Giclee art paper print, digital Giclee print (I wonder briefly about analogue Giclees, and how they might be made, but given its slang usage it’s best not pursue this train of thought far) while others give us the make of the printer,  the paper, the day of the week and the name of their cat who sat next to their printer (well, almost.) I was pleased to see a few that simply said ‘inkjet print’ or ‘archival inkjet print.’ Giclee (or even giclée) is a term than should have long since been dead and buried.

Someone still working in an office round the corner as I went home