Archive for October, 2010

Paris Photo 2010

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

When I wrote about photography for, one of the things I was keen to promote was photography that was taking place outside the charmed circle which was largely defined by US dealers, US galleries and US academics, with a little help from their Western European colleagues.

Of course there were photographers from outside that area who were recognised, but they were largely restricted to a few whose work had somehow been discovered in the USA and rewarded with major exhibitions there, for example the great Czech photographer Josef Sudek.  His work was brought to New York by Sonja Bullaty.  At the age of 22 she had escaped from a death march after four years imprisoned by the Nazis  in the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen concentration camps, and hid until liberation when she was able to return to Prague and became ‘apprentice-martyr’ to Sudek. Two years later distant relatives discovered she had survived and sent her the money to go and live with them in New York, where she worked as a photographer (along with her husband, New Yorker Angelo Lomeo) for the rest of her life. It was her work and particularly her book of pictures by Sudek, published in 1978 that brought his work to the attention of the US-based photography world – and to me.

There were many others too – including many from the USA – who brought pictures from photographers around the world to exhibitions and wrote about their work, and of course many photographers from around the world made their way to America and to New York – in many respects the world capital of photography –  in particular. But when I started writing a professional column in 1999 it was still true that photography was very much dominated by US photographers and US opinions. There had even been some little discussion about whether as a non-US citizen who didn’t live in New York I was actually a suitable person to write about the medium (and not being American was one of a number of reasons why I finally lost the job, though it was more important that I insisted on taking photography seriously.)

I tried to do a little to educate the photographic public (and although I had many readers around the world it was mainly an American public) that there had been and was photography outside the states of the union and outside the at times narrow definitions largely set down by the Museum of Modern Art. One area of the site I set up was devoted to ‘World Photography’ and at first I concentrated on Central and South America, treating it country by country, starting with Argentina (by the time I was sacked I had got as far as four features on Mexican photography in a total of 16 from that area, 6 from Africa, 13 from Asia, 2 from Australasia, 38 from Europe as well as 23 from North America.)

Most of those from Europe were from England and France, but I had written about photographers from Hungary, Albania, Lithuania, Russia and Finland, and was preparing to write more about photography in Central and Eastern Europe when my contract was terminated. But while I don’t pretend my work had any great influence,  it did I think represent a current of opinion whose time had come and others obviously shared some at least of my ideas, and photography has been opening its borders and becoming more international in the past decade.

I’m particularly pleased to see that this year’s Paris Photo has a special emphasis on photography from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Whether or not you are going to Paris this year you can see some of this work on line, and Lens Culture has  a preview of more than 300 images in a high-resolution slide-show.

Not all of the pictures are from Europe; the second image in the slide show is by one of my favourite Japanese photographers, Issei Suda. One of his books was the first book of Japanese photography I ever bought, many years ago.  The slide show, like Paris Photo, is an incredible mixture with work to suit every taste (or lack of it) with quite a few images that seem to me totally pointless, but also much to delight.

See Also

Meet Me in Paris?
November in Paris & Lensculture fotofest

Alex Ten Napel on Verve

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I’ve mentioned Verve, a web site set up by photographer and photo editor Geoffrey Hiller to feature new documentary “photographs and interviews by the finest contemporary image makers today” several times before, and it’s a site where I often find interesting work, too often to write about it every time. It’s a site I’d recommend you to bookmark and browse through from time to time, or add to your RSS feeds.

As I do. And yesterday I came across some work from a Dutch photographer I met a few years ago in Poland, Alex Ten Napel. I started to write about his work at the time, impressed by his water portraits, but somehow that piece never got published (I think I may have been waiting for permission to use some of his pictures and then simply forgot about it.) The work on Verve is from his black and white series of portraits of people with Alzheimer’s that he made in the 1990s, and there are more on his web site along with several other projects.

Other people have written about him and published articles in various countries. On his web site you can find a PDF with magazine pages with his pictures and text  in (I think) English, Dutch, French, Italian, Greek, Russian and Polish.

2012 Pics

Monday, October 18th, 2010

My camera hasn’t yet travelled into the future, rather the opposite, as the pictures that I’ve just contributed to the 2012 pics blog run by David Boulogne actually date from 1990 and 1992.  So far I’m the third photographer to contribute work to the site, after Boulogne himself and Dominik Gigler.

David describes this site, under the sub-heading memory for future generations as:

Collection of photographs about the east part of London where the core of the 2012 Olympics will take place. The project aims to capture a landscape in transition. Not only of the site but also of its surroundings. Anyone with original concept using film photography is welcome to send submission.

I think the first post on 2012 pics was made in March this year, although the pictures were from December 2009, and the site gives a good idea of what the site looked like around that time and since.

Of course its an area I’ve visited many times over the years and which is covered in my Blurb book, Before the Olympics, as well as on my River Lea – Lea Valley web site. There are also quite a few pictures on My London Diary, including this one of the blue fence being put up:

© 2007 Peter Marshall
From My London Diary, June 2007

Among the five pictures on my first contribution to 2012 pics is one of ‘Pauls Cafe’ also known as ‘Cockney Hideout, which makes clear that there “aint no airs or graces ere“and there weren’t. Another shows the Pudding Mill river which at that time still flowed south under the Eastern Region main line. Now it just gives its name to a station on the Docklands Light Railway – alight there to visit the viewing platform/café on the Northern Outfall Sewer (now called the Greenway.) It’s name lives on too in ‘Pudding Mill River: Purveyors of Sporting Spirits and Foodstuffs‘ which according to their blog have been gathering the wild fruits of the Lower Lea Valley for generations, and which produced some amusing videos, including one of the Pudding Mill River Song which appealed to my warped sense of humour.

Pudding Mill is apparently the name given by the planners to the whole of the area to the south of the Olympic site between the railway and Stratford High St, the remaining parts of which are to be redeveloped after the Olympics.

I’ll be posting a further series of pictures to 2012 pics shortly, probably from my colour work along Carpenters Road and the surrounding area around five years ago.

Alec Soth

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

I’ve written a few times recently about Alec Soth, and he now has a new web site and its front page says:

My name is Alec Soth. I live in Minnesota. I like to take pictures and make books. I have a Labradoodle. I also have a business called Little Brown Mushroom.

Go there and click on the link and you’ll find the Labradoodle is well-named. Fortunately the site also has pictures from half a dozen of his projects:

all of which need you to scroll across the page* to see more pictures. The site also has quite a lot of information about him, definitely a good idea as he must get thousands of students writing to him with similar questions and he can just tell them to look on the web site.

If you have a large screen, it’s better to click on the picture and watch them larger as a slide show, but you need to have a screen around 1500 pixels wide to see the landscape format images properly, as on smaller screens the left side menu gets in the way.

The images in the slide show good quality jpegs, maximum dimension 1024 pixels but may not look their best in your browser as they are AdobeRGB images. These will only display correctly if your web browser is color managed. You can find out more and check that on the image at top right of this Web Browser Colour Management Tutorial, which should not alter when you move your mouse over it or click on it.  If you find it changes it is worth considering updating your browser. Recent versions of Firefox are colour managed (though it can be switched off) and I think Safari always has been.  The only version of Internet Explorer I have is IE7, and it isn’t.

Without colour management browsers will normally display all files as sRGB (or at least roughly so) as 95% of monitors use the same 2.2 gamma as sRGB. This is why it almost always makes sense to convert your files to SRGB before putting them on the web. Very few monitors can actually display many colours outside the gamut of sRGB in any case, so if you display an AdobeRGB file on them with colour management it won’t look any better than if it was converted to sRGB, and without colour management will look considerably worse.

Of course if you are at all interested in looking at photographs on the web you will have already have a properly profiled and calibrated monitor – to to 2.2 gamma and D65- 6500 Kelvin – and you can read more about that on the tutorial linked above. As G Ballard explains, the Mac default of 1.8 can cause problems.

While many lesser photographers (and sites such as Magnum) are pretty paranoid about putting images on the web, limiting the size and decorating them with watermarks, Soth does neither. It’s good for all of us who like looking at his work and particularly for those students I mentioned earlier who can print them off in their reports, and for other ‘fair use‘ of the images. If your work is as well known as his, you don’t need to worry too much about the images becoming ‘orphans‘, the main reason I now include both metadata and a visible watermark on all new web images.

*I’ll possibly think that is sensible design when I get a mouse that comes with a ball on top rather than a wheel, but not before.

Shore: Photography and the Limits of Representation

Friday, October 15th, 2010

I didn’t get to Stephen Shore’s talk in London on Tuesday, but I’ve just been listening to it and watching it on video on the AA School of Architecture web site. Shore has been the director of the Photography Program at Bard College in upstate New York since 1982, but most of us probably know him for his 1982 Aperture book Uncommon Places, which gave many of us a new impetus to explore colour photography.

He talks about the nature of photography and the four tools that a photographer has at his disposal, “focus, moment & duration, choice of frame and choice of vantage point.” He says “Photography is essentially an analytic medium  … a photographer starts with the whole world and every decision brings order to it … a photograph is solved more than it is composed.”

It’s a long video – 90 minutes – but it held my interest for most of that time, and is a very clear exposition of his views on photography and of course of his own work. As well as the actual talk the video also includes the whole of the question session with Shore after the talk.

Photolounge/Photo-Open/Flowers East

Friday, October 15th, 2010

If you are in London this weekend, it worth a trip along to the Old Truman Brewery in Hanbury St, just off Brick Lane, where in spaces T3 and T4 of F Block you can see both the Photolounge and the Photo-Open, both parts of Photomonth 10, this year’s East London Photography Festival. Both are open from 11am to 6pm Fri, Sat and Sun.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
The large space of the Photolounge – and more behind me

Photolounge is a three day event which gives a large number of photographers the chance to put up their own small show. The overall standard of work seemed very high, although some of the better photographers had relatively little on show. Far too many for me to comment in detail, but among the work that particularly interested me was Graeme Vaughans ‘Prague: a notebook‘ and work by Jon CardwellAndrew Meredith and Steve Schofield. But there was really a pretty overwhelming array of talent on show, with very little that held no interest for me, a considerably higher standard than some other open events, and it reflects the enormous amount of talent in and around the capital.

Given that there are another 92 galleries and exhibition spaces on the Photomonth 10 map, this with over 200 exhibitions and events is by some way the largest annual photographic event in the UK, and has a very good claim to be the most important of them all.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A corner of the Photo-Open

The Photo-Open attracts a high standard of entries and they remain on display every day until 25 October. Also in the same building is one of those 92 galleries mentioned, the Cynthia Corbett Gallery as well as a display by Photobox of the Worlds Biggest Photobook (yes it was big, but…) to mark ten profitable years of their on-line digital printing service.

Many other shows in Photomonth 10 are an easy walk from the Old Truman Brewery, including my own ‘Paris-New York- London‘ around 15 minutes walk away (though quicker if you hop on a bus – and don’t forget you’re invited to our mid-show party on the 20th Oct.) There are over 50 venues within a similar distance, and the map, although not perfect (and our show has been put on Hoxton Square rather than Hoxton Market) is generally rather better than the Brighton one I criticised a few days ago.

But yesterday night, though I could have walked the whole way, I went instead to the bus stop at Primrose St (get off here rather than Liverpool St for the Old Truman Brewery)  and took another bus the three stops to Flowers East on the Kingsland Road for one of the truly outstanding shows of the festival (incidentally they recently opened a new London Overground station, Hoxton, very handy for it.)

Upstairs was ‘Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out’, a part of Edmund Clarks very impressive project on the lives of the men who were held in Guantanamo Bay (and that shameful camp is still going, despite Obama’s pledge.) The show at Flowers ends on 14 Nov, but you can also see more of this work at Photofusion in Brixton until November 26 2010.   Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, who almost certainly knows more about Guantanamo than any other single person, has written about this work, and hist site includes an interview from ‘Spoonfed‘ between Clark and Loredano, as well as a selection of pictures. At present the best way to see this work online is at Lensculture, where there are 30 pictures along with text by Clark – and I think gives a better impression of the project than the limited space at Flowers allows; I understand a new web site featuring the project and book is under preparation for next month.

Nadav Kander‘s Yangtze, The Long River fills the ground floor at Flowers (until Nov 13), its large prints impressive on the walls, although the opening was a little too crowded for me fully to appreciate this internationally acclaimed work. I hope to go back and take a longer and calmer look. Instead I went outside for some fresh air and to chat with some of the photographers who had come to the opening.  It’s a particularly handy place as there is a bus stop right outside the gallery and so I could make my goodbyes as the 243 came along to take me back to Waterloo.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
From the bus – Holborn

© 2010, Peter Marshall
From the bus – Waterloo Bridge

Travelling by bus in London at night is usually a visually interesting experience, although one that is difficult to capture. But I sometimes try.


Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Although I wasn’t able to see the show ‘Degeneration‘ by the collective  Human Endeavour which is upstairs at the Bellis Gallery, 8-9 Kings Road, South Lanes, Brighton until Friday 14th Nov (Wed-Sat 10-30-18.30, Sun 11.30-16.30) I did meet briefly with one of the photographers, Alex Currie, who has kindly sent me four of his images:

© Alex Currie
Edinburgh, Alex Currie

© Alex Currie
Glasgow, Alex Currie

© Alex Currie
Salford Garages, Alex Currie

© Alex Currie
Salford, Alex Currie

These are pictures taken with great deal of respect for the subject and with care using the movements of a 4×5″ camera. Together with the other work I’ve seen on this project they well reflect the objective of the project, stated to be

to take a critical look at the state of housing and regeneration in the 21st century, and the implications and complex nuances this may have on some of the poorest in society,reliant upon social housing.

As they make clear, much of what they are recording has not occurred by chance and cannot be blamed on the architects and builders, but is the result of deliberate policies.

After several decades of neglect, consecutive governments have overseen the gradual disappearance of social housing, due to ‘Right To Buy’ and a lack of new housing stock built, arguably fuelling the necessity to own rather than let that has instigated the artificial inflation of the housing market. This opens up many questions as to why this was allowed to happen, has fuelled the rise in homelessness and poverty and left the majority of people living in social housing trapped in so called ‘sink estates’.

There are indeed examples where blocks similar to many of those shown in this project have been sold to private companies and refurbished to become luxury flats. But for councils and social housing associations the alternative of demolition (sometimes also creating a little local spectacle through the use of explosives) attracts, perhaps because of the financial incentives available, or simply because over the past 40 or 50 years we have become increasingly a throwaway society. Or perhaps sometimes because of the profits that others can make.

The house I live in was built around 1880, condemned in the 1950s and still (with minor alterations and occasional maintenance) performing its original function reasonably adequately. It wasn’t well built, didn’t use the best of materials, but the design was basically sound. The prefabs I photographed a few days ago, made in 1945 were only meant to last 5-10 years, but some are still in reasonable condition, and their owners and tenants happy to remain living in them. So it is a very good question why so much of the building around the 1960s are now considered only fit for demolition (although some of those I knew erected in Hulme in the mid 60s were in a terrible state within months of completion.)

The answers lie not among the planners and the architects but in the politics of the era (and perhaps things have not changed much.) I’m currently reading a book by a friend of mine, Franklin Medhurst, ‘A Quiet Catastrophe: The Teeside Job‘ (ISBN: 978-0-9566550-0-40 in which he tells the story behind his dismisal as Director of the Teeside Survey and Plan in 1967, largely because of his insistence that pollution be taken into account in the location of housing in the plan. The two men who fired him were Hugh Wilson, responsible for Cumbernauld, recently voted by its residents the “second crappiest town in Britain” and Lewis Womersley, responsible for the Park Hill terraces in Sheffield that feature on Currie’s site as the first picture in his project, Redundant Ideals. Its also worth looking at the other two projects on his site, which include one ‘Nonscape‘ which turns out to be black and white images of central Croydon.

This is a very different view of the place than on my own website where I have a set taken a few years earlier in 1991 along the then recently opened tram line. Looking at the two I think his work looks to be older, and not just because it was taken in black and white rather than in colour. Unusually my Croydon Tramlink was taken on medium format (and I also took some panoramas that have have yet, 9 years later, to be added to the site) but after that I reverted to using 35mm with a shift lens.

Finally, one thought that I left Brighton with, from the theatre opposite the station:

© 2010, Peter Marshall

New on Niépce

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

For many years since its re-discovery by Helmut Gernsheim, a view taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce from his upper-story workroom at his Saint-Loup-de-Varennes country house, Le Gras, has been regarded as the world’s first photograph, but the process, heliography,  has been dismissed as incapable of producing anything but the crudest results.

Niépce brought it, along with several other examples of his heliography to England to show the Royal Society in 1827, but circumstances prevented this, and he left the metal plates with his host in Kew. On his death they were sold, later sold again and in 1884 when they came up for auction again they were split into two lots. Three ‘heliographic reproductions’ of engravings and what was though to be an etching made using a heliograph on the plate as a guide were bought by the notable photographer H P Robinson, and on his death went to the collection of the Royal Photographic Society (and were lent to the Science Museum in London for display.)  The second lot, of one ‘heliograph’ and Niépce’s words on the process was bought by the Editor of the PHotographic News, H Baden Pritchard, and later disappeared from view.

Helmut Gernsheim attempted to enlist the help of the Times newspaper in 1948 to find the Pritchard family, but they refused to print his letter about the missing image – and did so for a second time in 1950. But a few months later, when he was contacted by the Observer newspaper about the photography of Lewis Carroll he had rediscovered, he got that paper to print his appeal for news.

Pritchard’s son immediately got in contact but only with the bad news that the family had no idea what had happened to it. But a year and a half later after the son’s death he got more news from the widow. The metal plate had been found in an old trunk – but unfortunately it had faded and there was no picture on it.

Gernheim knew this could not be true, as the process was extremely permanent, and was able to show her the faint image that could be seen if the plate was looked at carefully from the correct angle. He persuaded Mrs Pritchard that  rather than put the plate up for sale – when it would probably be sold at a very high price to a private collector and disappear again – she should make a gift of it to the Gernsheim collection – and later, when that collection was sold to the University of Texas, it was also as a gift.

You can read more about that familiar picture at the Harry Ransom Center site, and also on National Public Radio.

But now a new example has emerged among early photographs, and certainly it is a better image than the Le Gras window view. New tests on the image that was previously thought to be a hand-worked etching on a heliotype plate have shown it is actually a camera-produced image without any extra work, leading to a re-assessment of the process.

Since ‘Interior of an Abbey in Ruins’ is dated c. 1827, it seems likely that the Gernsheim image remains the first, but it does show how Niépce was able to develop his process further.

I read about the discovery in the BJP,  which has a reproduction of the image, but more details should be given today and tomorrow at the conference Niépce in England being held at the UK National Media Museum in Bradford. On the conference web page you can hear Dr Dusan Stulik of the Getty Conservation Institute waxing a little too lyrical about the import of the new discoveries from his investigation of this image.

But I don’t think many of us will be abandoning digital to become heliographers.

Brighton Photo Fringe

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

There are an impressive number of shows in the Brighton Photo Fringe Open this year, and some are of a very high standard, others of course rather less so. Organising events such as this must be extremely tricky and I suspect those responsible will be a little frustrated at some of my nit-picking after all their hard work. But I hope they will be taken (and are meant) as constructive suggestions to improve the festival in future years, especially for visitors coming from outside Brighton.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

As with the Biennal, several of the venues – including the major ‘Fringe Focus‘ – were closed on a Tuesday. Some other shows listed either did not exist or I was unable to find them. It would be considerably more helpful to divide the shows in Brighton into areas each with its own local map and fuller key rather than the large area map provided. This would enable precise locations to be shown – numbers which are seldom actually present on the streets are of little use.  Finding the work – for a visitor to Brighton – was something of a logistical nightmare and there were a number of shows that I looked for but could not find at all, and some I did eventually find were invisible from the street – not even a small ‘Brighton Photo Fringe notice in the window – and so could easily be overlooked. Then there was the gallery I walked past three times, and twice the door was locked with a notice saying ‘Back Soon.’  Nothing the organisers can do about that of course.

Although the map gave opening and closing dates for shows, to find which days and at what times they were actually open meant consulting a separate booklet, arranged  in a different order to the map list and not making use of the numbers on the map. Again with so many shows – and doubtless more in 2012 – it would also help if this were broken down into geographical areas. It was actually hard to find a copy of the booklet, so many who visit this year will only have the map, so it is unfortunate that these details were not on it.

The show I was most sorry to miss was ‘degeneration‘, a project by the collective ‘Human Endeavour‘ which “is a study of key areas across Britain” –  Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Salford, Sheffield, Birmingham, Cardiff, London and Portsmouth – “of 20th century housing that has slowly fallen into decline and is now due for regeneration.”  It’s a project that fits very well with my own interest in urban landscape – for example in my work on Hull – that arose out of an active grass-roots involvement in the redevelopment of Hulme and Moss Side, Manchester when I lived there in the 1960s.

So far all I’ve seen is a nicely printed folding card with one image by each of the photographers, Alex Currie, Richard Chivers, Simon Carruthers and Oliver Perrott and a well-illustrated web site. This is the third show by this collective and the second to receive Arts Council support. Looking at the work on the web, I was particularly impressed by the pictures from Glasgow by Alex Currie and Richard Chilvers.

It was interesting to be reminded again of the work of Michael Ormerod, (1947-91) a British photographer who took to America very much in the footsteps of Robert Frank and Stephen Shore. Ormerod died in a motorbike accident at the age of 44 in Arizona in 1991, and shortly afterwards there was a show of his work at the Zelda Cheatle Gallery as well as a book to accompany this, ‘States of America‘.

While I quite like some of his large colour images, I can’t help looking at them and thinking that other photographers – such as Shore – have done it rather better. I get a similar feeling too about his black and white, which perhaps also leans too heavily on  American precedent without really establishing a voice of his own. Ormerod was a pretty good photographer and I quite like his work, but… You can see for yourself at the Crane Kalman Gallery.

Was he one of the UK’s leading photographic talents at the time of his death in 1991 as the exhibition text suggests? It’s something you could say (if you were an art dealer) about any of several hundred photographers of the time – many of whom might well have taken rather similar pictures on a trip across the USA, and some did.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Bascom Avenue by Kit Fordham, on show in JB’s American Diner

The USA was also the source of another show on the fringe, shown in JB’s American Diner on Kings Road. I found this a more interesting view of America than Ormerod’s, partly because it played a little further from some of the stereotypes but I think largely because it’s subject was so much more clearly defined, with Kit Fordham focussing his attention on ‘Bascom Avenue: The Unloved Hear of San Jose, California.’ The show starts here on Fordham’s web site, although I think the colour was better on some of the prints than in some of these on the web.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
JB’s Diner, Brighton. Peter Marshall, 2010

There was a synergy between the show and the surroundings that worked well and it was the only venue where I really felt I had to take some pictures myself. It can be hard showing work in cafés and shops and this was a great example of how it can really work well.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Installation View of ‘Closer’ by Stuart Griffiths

But the outstanding show of those I saw was ‘Closer‘ by Stuart Griffiths, even though looking at his web site I see very clearly how much stronger a show this could have been. I find it hard not to see the presentation at the Phoenix as an example of a kind of curatorial vandalism, pushing his work into a rather different aesthetic. Of course I’m not a great fan of the cult of the curator, which I think has been a curse on photography, particularly in the UK, for the last forty or so years. The show still worth seeing for the rawness of some of the images, but afterwards look at the web site and see how much more it could have been. It’s a pity that they didn’t get around to adding labels to the works (obviously actually a deliberate decision but equally obviously an poor one) but you may be lucky and be given a list of them if you view the show.

I’m not sure how much the smaller room given over to small pictures and letters from Griffiths’s time in the Parachute Regiment from 1988-93 where he became a unit photographer with the Intelligence Section in Northern Ireland actually adds to this as a show. What is perhaps much more relevant is the film about his life, Isolation, was shown as part of the Photo Fringe at the Electric Palace, Hastings on 10 October, and will also be projected at the venue for this show, the Phoenix, Brighton,  on 30 October. You can read about it in The Guardian which also has a  gallery of his pictures. Isolation had its World Premiere at the 2009 Edinburgh Film Festival and from there you can watch a short trailer which includes some of his still images.

I could see no point for the use of three very similar portraits shown in the installation picture above – and it suggests a kind of indecision that although doubtless a decision by the curator seemed to suggest that the photographer was unable to arrive at the image he wanted.  Griffiths actually chose a different image  from the session for his web site in the series ‘Back From the War’, where you can also see some of the other powerful images that were not selected for the Brighton show.

It was, despite the weather forecast, a pleasantly sunny day for a walk around Brighton, although at times a little frustrating. As well as those I’ve written about I saw quite a few other shows which for various reasons – largely that they didn’t particularly excite or interest me – I’ve not mentioned. I’m very aware of having missed much of both the Biennial and the Photo Fringe, partly because some things were not open, but also because this is a very widespread festival – as well as the more outlying areas of Brighton & Hove there are also Fringe shows in Chichester, Lewes, Peacehaven and Portslade and the Biennial also has related photography shows in Portsmouth, Bexhill, Chichester and Eastbourne. There are of course all kinds of events too taking place in Brighton and elsewhere, making this a considerably more exciting event for photographers based in the area.

For some years Brighton has been establishing itself as a major photographic centre in the UK, and in many ways I think more important and certainly more vital than London, which has largely failed to develop a photographic culture, largely due to the stultifying effects of some of our major institutions, but also because of its sheer size. This year’s festival marks another step along that road.

See also: Brighton Photo Biennial

Brighton Photo Biennial

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Unfortunately I was only able to visit the Brighton Photo Biennial (which continues until the 14th November 2010) on a Tuesday, when some of the possibly more interesting venues were closed. Perhaps I’ll manage to get back to see them but it isn’t easy for me to find another day to visit Brighton and see more work in both in the Biennial and the Photo Fringe. But if you are thinking of going, this is a festival that – if you want to be able to see almost everything – is only fully open on Fridays and Saturdays.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The Brighton Museum where the headline show ‘Strange & Familiar‘ was taking place is well worth a visit, although perhaps more for the building and the permanent collection than the photography on show. Commissioning new work is always a gamble, and here I think the dice have rolled to give Brighton an near minimum score. Of course, having given commissions, the commissioning body is more or less obliged not only to show the work but to praise it inordinately whatever. But I found it hard to believe in emperor Parr’s new clothes.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I’ve already written about Alec Soth‘s problem on entering the country (in UK Customs) and my thoughts on that; the images on show have some interest as the work of a seven year old with a certain fairly large amount of parental direction, but frankly not very a great deal. I think her drawings are better than her photography. For those of us who on first hearing about the commission had been looking forward to seeing Soth’s take on the city I think this is – to view it generously – a rather poor third-best.

If you like rather wacky ideas you may like Stephen Gill’s ‘Outside In‘ but I found seeing more than one or two images made with rubbish picked from the streets of Brighton in the camera (including cut up bits of transparencies he took for the purpose) tedious. Actually I do tend to appreciate the weirdly unusual, but my first impression that it was an amusing idea was soon undermined by asking the question “But does it work?” and finding myself giving a fairly negative answer at various levels, and found myself wondering if that old computing acronym, GIGO, might have been a better title.

I think it is partly a matter of scale and it does for me work considerably better in some of the smaller prints on display than on any of the rather large ones, perhaps because the collected detritus in the camera (and in a large display case) is closer to actual size. And in the Blurb book which I’ve just seen rather small on line, I really begin to warm to them considerably more. His video chat with Martin Parr did have me laughing at times, though for all the wrong reasons. In the interview Gill talks about feeling restricted by straight photography; perhaps why I don’t appreciate his work here is that I’ve always and still feel empowered by it.

But there was I think a second problem that lay behind this and to some extent all three of these shows; the pursuit of novelty for its own sake and a determination to avoid the stereotypes of Brighton at any and all costs. Gill’s work seemed curiously dislocated from the city despite being based around objects from it, and I think would have been considerably stronger had this not been so.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A Brighton stereoype

Of these three major commissions I felt only half of one of them, the ‘Murmuration‘ of starlings around Brighton Pier in the winter dusk by Rinko Kawauchi was really at all successful. It’s perhaps a pity that she returned in Spring to do more work, which I think largely fails. Her pictures (like the others) were shown as large unframed inkjet prints pinned to the walls, and they had become somewhat buckled. This was a shame as I found it detracted particularly from those large images of the flocks of birds in flight.

I think I would probably have found both New Ways of Looking and Queer Brighton considerably more to my taste but unfortunately both galleries were closed. Should you want to see all four shows in a single day you need to go either on a Friday or a Saturday between 11 am and 5pm.

The only other major show in the Biennial I could see was ‘A Night in Argentina‘ with work by Alejandro Chaskielberg and Esteban Pastorino Diaz, in the University of Brighton Building on Grand Parade.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Both sets of pictures were impressive, though in quite different ways. With Diaz, my main interest was in the incredible architecture of Francisco Salamone, which was however splendidly brought out by the photographer. I couldn’t understand why the programme leaflet labelled this an experimental strategy – how does it differ from the many other photographs of buildings using long exposures at night, certainly since the early years of the dry plate process, if not before? Or was there something I missed? But they were fine images. Perhaps the ‘experimental’ label referred to the fact that he usually prints by the gum bichromate process (which dates from the same era around 1900) but of course there are many other photographers using that – including my old friend Terry King who started using the process around 1980 (with a tiny bit of help from me) and has since taught it to hundreds if not thousands of mainly British photographers – part of a worldwide awakening of interest in ‘alternative processes’ over the past 30 years. But the large prints on show were fairly ordinary inkjet prints, perhaps just a little lacking in the delicacy that the best of these can now achieve.

Chaskielberg‘s work (see the BJP video) is without doubt experimental although others have previously worked with lengthy exposures and the full moon to give results with a distorted colour palette. I find his pictures ugly and brash but also fascinating. He adds light while taking them by using a flash, and using a 4×5 camera appears in some cases to being doing some interesting things with lens tilt, though honestly I could be sure about little. But whether it “open up new ways of representing the world” or “effectively refreshes our photographic vocabulary” I have grave doubts. For me this work was not representing the world, but about creating fictions about it.

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