Archive for December, 2008

Le CentQuatre: Stephane Couturier & Alain Bernardini

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

From the avenue de Flandres we walked west across the 20e to Le 104 (Centquatre), once the home of the SMPF (le service municipal des pompes funèbres.) Built in 1873 by the chuch, the premises were taken over following the law of 1905 which gave the city a monopoly on providing funeral services; this ensured that everyone, regardless of sex, religion, marital status or cause of death could receive a dignified ceremony, whereas the church had previously discriminated against various groups.

At its height, 1400 people worked there for, including trades such as seamstresses and cabinet makers, working as a team to provide a complete service, transporting bodies from home to cemetery. It had its own footbal team, and even an orchestra. In May ’68 it kept going for 15 days working as a co-operative.

The city’s monopoly was abolished in January 1993, and the SMPF soon ran down its services, closing in 1997.

Considerable redevelopment work has taken place on this 39,000 square metre site, and although it opened in October 2008, much was still unfinished, and the vast building is still largely empty space. There will be a continuing programme where around 200 artists from around the world come to work on about 30 projects each year, and three festivals to show the finished work.

When I was there a few very large prints of pictures by  Stephane Couturier who was photographer in residence during the development work – you can see  3 of his pictures on the web site.

In the terrace of the cafe (opening 2009) was a set of pictures by
Alain Bernardini (b France, 1960) Stop / Tu m’auras pas, (literally ‘You won’t have me’ but perhaps here means ‘you won’t take my photo’)  pictures of workers on the site posing for their pictures, along with some where there are no workers, perhaps because they didn’t wish to be photographed.

Global Underground

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

At the Galerie Blue Square in rue Debelleyme (3e) I was able to see the remarkable images from the Global Underground project by Valera and Natasha Cherkashin who I’d met earlier in the week at the Lensculture party.

They have been working together since the 1990s and using digital photography and video since 1999.  The Global Underground project began in 2005, and is intended to cover some 35 cities around the world, including Moscow, New York, Stockholm, Beijing, London, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo. The project aims to merge underground systems from 33 cities around the world into one Global Underground.

Their images make use of multiple exposures creating an almost mosaic effect both in their still images and video projection. The densely filled surfaces of their prints come to look like canvases that have been painted over and over, sometimes producing an effect that is more like an icon than a photograph.

The images from different cities reflect the different visual nature of the different underground systems. So far I’ve seen work from New York, Moscow, Stockholm, Beijing, Paris and Washington, and each is very different. New York has dark vertical columns breaking up the images of people standind on the platforms, Moscow is light and golden with oval motifs, while Beijing has a frontal fringe of Chinese faces in front of what seems more like a department store than a platform,  Paris seems more linear, while  Washington is a place of shadows. I wait to see how London will appear.

Although this isn’t the kind of photography that normall attracts me greatly it was impossible not to like this work and repsond to its intensity. For once the techniques seem to be being used to say something rather than for their own sake.

Robert McCabe & Aurelia Alcais

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

There were two shows organised by Galerie sit down in the rue Ste Anatase, 3e. In the Galerie itself was a Photo Mois show ‘Grece: les annees d’innocence (Greece: the years of innocence) by Robert McCabe, while neighbouring shop windows were full of ‘Les Poupees Bidons‘ by Aurelia Alcais, a rather less serious part of the Photo-Off.

McCabe’s Greece, which ends 19 Dec, is a fine show of black and white work from the 1950s. Born in Chicago in 1934, he stated as so many at an early age with a Box Brownie, and later as a teenager photographed car
accidents on the streets of New York and became interested in press photography.

He made his first visit to France and Greece in 1954, returning to Greece the following year with a Rolleiflex. His pictures from these foreign trips were exhibited at the time at Princeton University.

In 1957 came to Greece again to work for National Geographic – in colour; other assignments included being sent to the South Pole to photograph for the New York Sunday Mirror Magazine.

His pictures reflect very strongly the age in which they were made, both in terms of the scenes that he photographed and his way of seeing. It was an age of innocence both for photography and for Greece.

Aurelia Alcais‘s work certainly added a little fun to things, taking pictures of the stomachs of pregnant women decorated to make faces. Some certainly gave me a belly laugh.

Lars Tunbjork: Vinter

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Lars Tunbjork: Vinter
Galerie Vu, 2 rue Jules Cousin, 4e
12 Nov 2008 – 25 January 2009


Lars Tunbjork: I love Boras
Centre culturel suedois, 11 rue Payenne, 3e
9 Nov 2008 – 25 January 2009

The basement  exhibition space of Galerie Vu was filled with the large colour images of one of my favourite Swedish photographers, Lars Tunbjork. His show Vinter was drawing a good audience there, and deservedly so, although I felt it lacked the kind of unity found in his earlier books such as “Home” and “Office.”

I met Lars in Poland when his work was on show at the first FotoArtFestival at Bielsko-Biala, and was very there were photographers from 25 countries showing in Poland, and I was present as ‘Great Britain’ with  ‘London’s Industrial Heritage‘)

You can see a good selection of his work on the Agence Vu web site and also on the Cohen Amador Gallery site.

Here’s a little of what I wrote about him in 2005, but didn’t publish as I am still waiting for a reply from Lars for permission to use the images concerned!

Lars Tunbjörk

Lars Tunbjörk was born in Boras, a small city in southern Sweden in 1956, in an area that was an exemplar of the Swedish ‘Folkhemmet’ (the ‘people’s home’ or welfare state envisaged by the ruling Social Democratic Party). When he was at school in 1971 at the age of 15 he went on work experience to the ‘Boras Tidning‘ newspaper and was introduced to photography. He went on to become a freelance before getting a staff job with the ‘Stockholms-Tidningen‘, a leading daily in the Swedish capital. His work there from 1981-4, distinguished by its subtlety, established him as a leading Swedish photojournalist. He also worked for Metallarbetaren, the magazine
of the Swedish Metal Workers Union, Manadsjournalen, a Swedish monthly cultural review which ceased publication in 2002, and the Scandinavian Airlines magazine Upp&Ner (Up & Down.)

It was the work published in the book ‘Country Beside Itself’ in 1993 (Swedish title: Landet Utom Sig) with text by Thomas Tidholm and Göran Greider that brought Tunbjörk’s colour photography to the attention of the photographic audience world-wide. His pictures (and you can see a good selection of his work from 1989-99 including some from this book on Zone Zero) show a strong sense of colour and design as well as a taste for the amusing, ridiculous and occasionally surreal.

The images as well as showing his personal vision, also comment on the political and social malaise felt in the country, where much of the aims of the ‘Swedish Model’ welfare state had been acheived, and the consensus that this common aim had generated was being replaced by increasing feelings of alienation, emptiness and lack of purpose, and a movement away from social idealism towards a free-market individualism.

So in Olandi, 1991, a man and a woman recline in their swim suits on almost invisible supports, oddly suspended above a large area of grass, apparently floating as if on some invisible lake or by the yellow umbrellas that seem to emerge from their heads.

Far behind them along the edge of the grass across the centre of the whole frame is a series of buildings, black roofs above offwhite wood or plaster walls, a fairytale like faux-heritage development, stressed by the fake antique black metal lamp post which rises from beside the empty grey tarmac path at left of the picture into the white sky. Even the distant trees are drained of their colour. An image flickers into my mind of bathers floating in the high density of the Dead Sea, but this dead sea is marked as clearly Swedish by the colour – the yellow umbrellas and the complemenatry blue of the woman’s costume are those of the national flag, “a blue cloth with a yellow cross”.

An interior, Oland, 1991 is a simple scene. A room is seen in a wide-angle view square on to a wall, with white ceiling with glowing fluorescent fitting, a rather vivid green floor and pale orange-yellow walls, both facing the camera and to the right. The facing wall has a blue door at right, and in the corner of the room to the right of this a red plastic chair. High towards the left of the wall a TV is fixed, and below it stands a man, dressed only in trunks, socks and sandals, heavily sun-tanned, hands down at his sides. Seen from behind he betrays no thought or gesture through his pose, and appears to be staring at the wall in front of him (again the blue and yellow of Sweden) rather than looking up at the screen. Its a strangely empty room, nothing else except the white skirting board, a white light switch and socket by the door, a picture of loneliness emphasized by the colours. On the screen in cold blue light a couple embrace, the colour contradicting their contact.

In Flemingsberg 1989, a businessman or doctor or politician in an off-white raincoat, grey trousers, black shoes, walks along an empty tarmac road beside a fence past the grounds of some institutional building (presumably a hospital), striding out, head bowed, clutching his bulging briefcase. Perhaps representing the middle-class with all the plans of the ‘Swedish Model’, looking down and not thinking about the future, oblivious to the lamp post that has fallen down apparently towards him, about to pierce his heart with the sign attached. It reads ‘Diagnosv‘(Diagnosis) 13,15,17.

Later in the afternoon we also made it to Lars’s second show in the Mois de la Photo, a much smaller show, I Love Boras, in the Centre culturel suedois in the rue Payenne in the 3e. This too was busy, but for many the main attraction was the copies of his books available for browsing rather than the few prints on the wall.

Both shows continue until 25 Jan 2009, so if you are in Paris before then, they – and the Galerie Vu show in particular are worth a visit.

Gilles Raynaldy: Domiciles

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Gilles Raynaldy: Domiciles
Ecole nat. sup. d’architecture de Paris la Villette, Paris
4-28 Nov, 2008

Domiciles by Gilles Raynaldy turned out to be one of the more pleasant and rewarding shows of the Mois. It was a simple enough idea and project, taking photographs of the interiors (mainly) of the homes of different people, mainly in France, but also some in Morocco. (The examples you can see on his web site are arranged in two projects, Parisian apartments and Moroccan interiors.)

Each residence was represented with a short text about the person or people who lived there, giving their occupation (or former occupation for the several who were retired.) There was then a short series of pictures of the interior of the house or flat, nicely taken and well-printed in colour.

The interiors reflected the personalities of the individuals concerned, but not just that, also of course their affluence and other aspects of their background, as well as the locations. These varied from tiny flats in Paris through mansions in the south and some rather more rudimentary housing abroad.

It was very nicely done and rather fascinating in a kind of voyeuristic way. It reminded me of the glimpses inside houses that one gets walking down the street in the early evening, when people have put on their lights but not yet closed their blinds or curtains, often fascinating but it would be rude to stop and stare. In these pictures Raynaldy has gained access and permission to do just that.

I did wonder about the choice of these particular examples, which was not dealt with in the notes on the show but were certainly in no way a random sample or cross-section of the population. There were, for example, several photographers, a rahter small element of society.

There were apparently a hundred 30x40cm colour images on show and I think it would have been at least as effective as a book or a high quality presentation on CD or DVD (my normal screen has an almost identical size.)

It made me think briefly of another series of domestic interiors, Bert Teunissen’s Domestic Landscapes  but these are very different, with Teunissen photographing the inhabitants in their own homes. Raynaldy’s people, who are perhaps his true subjects, remain invisible (or almost so), and the photographer roams their creation, recording their arrangement of territory and traces of their existence. It’s a project that perhaps has rather more in common with my views of shop interiors that made up a large part of the series ‘Cafe Ideal, Cool Blondes and Paradise.

Lewisham, London, ca. 1990 by Peter Marshall

Also on display in the show was a book of work by Raynaldy ‘Habitat social en Meuse‘ (also on his web site) which looked like a fine urban landscape project.

Showing in a projection area at the centre of the display were a couple of extensive slide shows by various photographers. One, on children seemed to me to have rather too many images that were largely of interest to the families concerned, mixed in with some more interesting work and some visual candyfloss. ‘Contempler et construire’ was made of sterner stuff, although not all the work appealed to me, but I was particularly interested to see the urban landscapes of Normandy as shown by Benoit Grimbert. The subject seemed rather more appropriate to his rectangular format and upright approach than the North Circular Road show I had viewed the previous day.

London & Greece

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

You can’t really compare the events in London with those in Greece, but if the Met haven’t yet started shooting harmless teenagers for being on the streets, they do seem to be stepping up the pressure against anarchists and other demonstrators, as well as journalists.

Over the last week or so we’ve also seen an inquest verdict on the shooting of an innocent man, in which the jury were clearly prevented from reaching the verdict of unlawful killing they felt deserved,  making clear that they didn’t believe the evidence given by several of the police concerned. (And it’s not clear if the shoot-to-kill policy they were following was legal – it was certainly introduced without proper debate.)  We’ve seen a photographer, Jess Hurd, covering a travellers’ wedding for The Guardian detained by police for forty-five minutes in London’s docklands by police misusing anti-terrorist legislation, (you can see the wedding pictures here), photographers  covering a demonstration outside the Greek Embassy assaulted, (it happened again later in the week) and many other smaller incidents in which the press is harassed and obstructed in covering protests.

So I expected there might be some problems with the police last Sunday when I went to photograph a march by Anarchists along with Greek students and workers in protest against the events in Greece. Rather than at the embassy, it was being held in North London in an area where there is a sizeable Greek population.

Police arrest and unmask a protester they alleged to have assaulted an officer

What I didn’t expect was that the police would decide to use the powers they have under the 1994 Public Order Act to force people to remove face coverings where the officer concerned is convinced they are worn wholly or mainly to conceal identity – and an Inspector or higher rank has issued an authorisation for such actions in that particular place (and time.)

It is of course arguable whether masks are worn at such events to conceal identities rather than as some kind of ‘uniform’ or even a fashion statement or just to keep warm. Few of those taking part in demonstrations have any real need to conceal their identity, and masks are seldom a truly efficient way of doing so – most of their wearers remain easily identifiable and many remove their masks at times during events.

What is clear than an attempt to get all those taking part to remove masks was doomed to failure and would considerably raise tempers at the event.  Those making the decision clearly did not want the march to go ahead but wanted to create a flash-point that would lead to a confrontation between police and anarchists.

Demonstrators in the kettle.
Police complained I was too close when I took this picture – though a gap between three separated lines of police.

It was a confrontation set up to show who was boss. And although the police were rather slow in bringing up reinforcements after they only managed to “kettle” a small fraction of the anarchists (along with rather more of the Greek students and workers)  they were clearly in command.

I’m starring in the film for the Police Xmas Party again

You can read a more detailed account of the events in Dalston on My London Diary, where the story is also told in pictures.  My job was occasionally made difficult by the police, particularly in their insistence on keeping a clear zone around the kettle and I did get pushed around a few times when the crowd spilled over into the street and colleagues took a few amusing pictures of me arguing with police about the rights of a free press, but I saw none of the assaults and attempts to grab cameras that had marred the events outside the Greek Embassy in the previous week.

Catherine Cameron

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Another Paris  show I didn’t want to miss, also outside of the Mois and the Photo-Off, was by Catherine Cameron. Here Photographies was showing at Galerie Plume on the rue de Monmorency in the 3e, from 10 Oct to 29 Nov, and the gallery was open until 19h. Earlier in the year she also showed work in China, Poland, Argentina and the US.

You can see her work on her web site, but although this has an idea that lifts it above the ordinary, with a nicely designed slide-show in the pages of a book, it doesn’t actually do a very good job of showing her pictures.  The images are just too small, the shadows too blocked and the work has a coarseness out of keeping with the delicacy of her images.  You can see her work shown better at Lensculture but it is still no substitute for the real thing.

There are photographers whose work can look better on screen than as prints, but Cameron’s work is very much linked to the craft of photography. She shoots on medium format film and still makes her prints on photographic paper in the darkroom (though this is not to say that craft skills can not be equally applied when working with digital capture and inkjet printing – and increasingly it is clear that they can.)  Whatever the photographic means, the photographer needs to master them and produce work that leaves you not thinking about the means but entirely caught up in what has been created, and I stood entranced before several of these works.

Catherine comes from Norway, where together with her partner  Øyvind Hjelmen  she arranges photographic workshops on the island of Stord, on the west coast.  Among those who have taught there are Keith Carter (2005), Anders Petersen (2006) and Michael Ackerman (2007/2008). It was good to meet (and photograph) Catherine and Øyvind again at the Lensculture party in Paris earlier in the week.

This was our last visit of the day to a photography show – the end of what had been a very long day, and we needed to find something to eat before we collapsed. There were after all lots of shows to see tomorrow…

Photographies Récentes: Gilles Perrin

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

This was one show I didn’t want to miss in Paris, even though it wasn’t a part of the Mois or the PHoto-Off,  and like a number of others organised by photographers, its opening hours were fairly restricted, although the bonus of such things is that often this is because the photographers themselves will be invigilating there.

I’d already checked with his partner Nicole that she and Gilles would be present on Friday afternoon, and I knew that Linda would both be interested in the work and the issues it raises and would welcome an opportunity to talk to Gilles about it.

Photographies Récentes was showing from 18 Oct -28 Nov on Fridays and Saturdays in the Batiment des Douches in rue Legouvé in the 10e, close to the canal,  and a short Metro ride and walk from the previous show we  had visited at the Cité des trois fushias. Other than me getting the map up the wrong way and making a short sally in exactly 180 degrees the wrong direction (easily done at night and when street signs are nowhere to be seen) there were no problems in finding the location,  and we walked in to be greeted by Nicole and Gilles.

Batiment des Douches, rue Legouvé

I first met Gilles Perrin and his partner Nicole Ewenczyk when they came to show me work at Rhubarb-Rhubarb in Birmingham and I was very impressed by the quality of Gilles’s large format black and white images and the dignity of those sitting for him. I wrote about his work fairly recently on here on  >Re:Photo and so I won’t say much here. Most of the prints were similar to those I’d seen before, but they had one that was printed as a very large wall hanging, and it really made it come to life dramatically. Nicole says it was printed by one of the best printers in Paris, and it certainly looked great.

We spent some time talking about the work and the people shown in the pictures and their way of life, as well as the logistical and political problems involved in photographing them.  I found it hard to follow the conversation – which was in French – in detail, but most of the things I’d talked about before with them. But at least it gave me time to stand their and enjoy the pleasure of looking at a fine print.

Before we knew it, it was time for the exhibition to close at 18h, and, with a quick look at another show upstairs (which wasn’t my kind of photography at all) we hurried away to view yet another show.

Cité des trois fushias

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

We had to hurry away from the bar Floréal because there were several other things I wanted to see and it was getting late. Our next call was not far away at the Cité des trois fushias, blocks of modern ten-storey flats around a large courtyard.

Cité des trois fushias

The first problem was getting in through the security gate from the street to the courtyard, solved in the normal way of waiting until someone came out! We then wandered around inside, vaguely hoping to see some notice telling us about this Photo-Off event, but these were too small and insignificant for us to see. Finally one of the group concerned, Colectif Tribuydom, who were setting up a film for later, saw us wandering around  and took pity on us. He phoned a friend to get the security code and took us over to the block on the east side of the court and let us in.

Here we found, in the lobby and on selected doors off the stairway all the way up to the 10th floor were images, largely photographic in some way, meant to relate to the inhabitants, the cite and the quarter.

Slowly we climbed our way up the stairs, stopping to look at the various doors, and to photograph all or most of them in some way. It was a long way to the top of the block, and by the time we got half way we realised it would have been more sensible to take the lift up and walk down!

I’m not sure that it was really worth the effort – and perhaps something that is more for the people who live there than outsiders – but it was certainly one of the more unusual experiences of the Photo-Off, and a reminder of what a broad church photography is. I’ll put a few more pictures from the show in the Paris supplement to My London Diary shortly

Retour en Lorraine, bar Floréal & Willy Ronis

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Retour en Lorraine
bar Floréal
43, rue des Couronnes, 20e
7-30 Nov, 2008

In 1979, when workers in the steel industries of Lorraine were under threat of closure and there were strikes and violent disorder, centred around the steelworks of the basin of Longwy, Alex Jordan et André Lejarre went there to photograph the people and the dispute, producing some powerful black and white images in the ‘concerned photography’ tradition. Despite a long struggle in which their pictures played a part, as did the first free radio station, Lorraine Coeur d’acier (Heart of Steel), the industries closed.

Jordan and Lejarre went on to found  le bar Floréal photographie in 1985, a photographic centre in Belleville in the north-east of Paris (20e). It became a thriving centre for photography in the area, run by a collective of photographers, and noted for its great shows and crowded openings. The name comes from the eighth month of the revolutionary calendar and means flowering, and ran for the 30 days (3 decades) starting on April 20 or April 21.

In 2008, the ten members of the collective, including Jordan and Lejarre returned to Lorraine to photograph the same area – the others were Jean-Christophe Bardot, Bernard Baudin, Sophie Carlier, Éric Facon, Marc Gibert, Olivier Pasquiers, Caroline Pottier and Nicolas Quinette. (You can see more about the photographers with links to their work elsewhere on the Bar Floréal photographers page.)

What they found was in many ways depressing but typical, with many former skilled workers unable to find suitable work, some moving across the bored to Luxembourg to find work, ex-miners retraining to become Smurfs in an entertainment park…  As we have seen in many areas of this country, de-industrialisation isn’t easy.

This was certainly one of the more interesting shows in the Mois de la Photo, and one Linda and I would have liked to spend much more time at. I think if I lived in Paris I would end up spending an awful lot of time at this particular bar. But then I was born on the 25th (or Carpe) Floréal CLIII!

The show was also on at la Maison des métallos, a cultural centre owned by the city of Paris, not far away in the 11e. Next year there will be a book published to accompany the show as it opens in Lorraine, at first in Mont-Saint-Martin and later in Longwy itself.

At the bar Floréal, I notice a thin book about one of the great photographers of Paris (and one I wrote a long feature on a few years ago) Willy Ronis, whose finest work was all from Belleville, where he started taking pictures in 1947. Published for a show they had of his work in 1990, it described his favourite walk around the area by contact prints and illustrated with larger reproductions of some of his better images.

La Traversée de Belleville isn’t listed on their page of books, but it was truly a bargain, as when I offered the 5 euros to buy a copy, I was told that they were all damaged by damp during storage and given a copy for nothing. A few pages were slightly stuck, but with a little careful handling came apart with no damage.

It was pleasing but perhaps a little disappointing to discover that Ronis’s favourite route around the area was almost identical to mine, and that I had already walked most of it yet again a couple of days before. But we decided to fit in another walk following his footsteps if we had time before we went home. I’ll post my pictures from that walk on My London Diary in a few days.