Archive for November, 2010

Paris Street Photography Now

Monday, November 29th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall
One of my favourite parts of the Canal St Martin in the 10e

One of the more enterprising parts of the Mois del la Photo-OFF was the ‘Parcours Photographique‘ close to the Canal St Martin, with pictures from the recently published  book ‘Street Photography Now‘ (see Photographers Social) displayed in shop windows in the streets around the Rue de Lancry. Many tourists will know the area for the lock and the Hotel du Nord just across the canal.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
rue des Vinaigriers

It’s an area I’ve photographed in on most of my visits to Paris, and for many years I’ve had a salted paper print of a street corner also just across the canal on my wall at home, and it has been published a few times too.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Alex Webb picture in ‘Du Pain et des Idées, rue de Marseille

The 18 pictures in the show were displayed in the windows of 15 shops – fashion shops, cafes, a hairdresser, an art book shop, a gallery etc all within a few hundred yards of each other. The description on the Photo-Off brochure stating that this show was open “tous les jours 24h/24h” was unfortunately not correct, as we arrived before some of the shops were open and had to walk around a bit until some of the shutters were raised.

It was a nice idea, and certainly was good at raising interest, and there were several small groups of young photographers walking around searching for the pictures and taking photographs of them in the windows while we were there. This was much easier once we had collected the map for the shop from the Librarie Artazart on the Quai de Valmy.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Narelle Autio in Salon de Coiffure, rue de Marseille

The photographs for the show had in some cases been carefully chosen for the locations in which they were displayed, while others seemed rather arbitrary choices, presumably because there was no obviously suitable location.  Some were displayed so that they could be easily seen, but others were made difficult to view because of the reflections in the windows, but of course the photographs I took exaggerate the problem.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Maciej Dakowicj in Boutique Liza Korn, rue Beaurepaire

I found it hard to concentrate on the photographs, because so often the streets themselves were rather more interesting. Many of the others going round were also carrying cameras and taking pictures, so the event was certainly promoting photography on the streets (though I’m unsure whether or not this is street photography.)

So as an event – and one that attracted some publicity in various magazines etc – it was certainly a success, but it would really have been nice to have a more conventional exhibition too. It’s perhaps a pity that they could not have used one of the galleries or empty shops in the area as well for this purpose. Of course that would have added costs – but also there is an inflexibility in the Photo-Off as exhibition ideas have to be submitted a long way in advance.

As we came to the end of the trail, there was even an event on the street for me to photograph. First I saw a group of men with drums and long trumpets emerging from the back of a van:

© 2010, Peter Marshall

then, a few metres down the street, what looked like a party on its way to a wedding, but with only a bridegroom and no bride.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The two parties joined up and walked down the street to stand outside a doorway leading up to the housing above the shops, and started some music and dancing.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Three women’s heads came out of a third floor window to watch them, and after some more singing and dancing, a woman and child came down to the door to invite the party in. I decided it was time for me to leave them.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

More pictures from our walk around the 10e and Street Photography Now as well as this event on My London Diary.

UPDATE:

PARIS PHOTO SUPPLEMENT is now on MY LONDON DIARY

Parcours Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Monday, November 29th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I’ve rather gone off the Left Bank, which has changed almost beyond recognition since I first went there more than 40 years ago. Then it had the charm of seemingly hundreds of years of neglect. Now virtually every one of the old shops is a gallery or some other establishment catering largely for the tasteless over-moneyed. In between there are a few good galleries – including many of the more than 30 showing photographs that we looked into on our late afternoon walk around the area – most were staying open until 7pm. As well as the 31 in Photo Saint-Germain-Des-Prés there were also several with shows in the Mois de la Photo, though unfortunately several closed too early for us to do more than look through a window (and the hours given in the MdP booklet weren’t always accurate.)

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Depardon’s work on the Magnum stand at Paris Photo – the lower picture was my favourite from the show

We started at Magnum’s gallery just behind the former Abbey, which was showing pictures from two bodies of work by Raymond Depardon, a photographer whose work I’ve long admired. As well as the colour prints from La France de Raymond Depardon, there were also some black and white pictures from his ‘Errance‘. I was unimpressed by these – if anything they look slightly better in the book preview – and you can see 77 pictures in the album. I think the concept is too vague, and too few of the images really work for me (and those on show in Paris were not I think the best.) What they do of course show is Depardon’s interest in the urban environment, and that continues in the considerably more impressive colour work.

The Magnum page on the main exhibition of ‘La France’ which continues at the Bibliothèque nationale de France until 9 Jan 2011, has some curious difficulties, perhaps largely from translation. Here is a sample:

The main features of Depardon’s full of empathy former works were the contrast effects of black and white photographs and the use of a dynamic depth of field. This time, he preferred frontality and the use of the photographic chamber, colour, and a soft, neutral and unique light. The photographer sometimes preferred landscapes to human beings; however, it is a way « to focus on human influence which modified landscapes throughout history. »”

The next paragraph starts by talking about the work on display as a “series of 36 very large silver prints.” Of course as anyone with any knowledge of photography can see from that link (which shows the 36 colour images) they are not silver prints at all. What I think they meant to say was that these are colour images taken on film using a large format camera.

I don’t know how they were printed, but I think it unlikely that Depardon actually  polished the scans as they suggest, although he may well have worked on them considerably at the computer, and possibly not entirely to their benefit. The colour in all those I have seen is, to my eye, over-saturated, almost garishly so in a few of the prints at Magnum, although others were more realistic. I did find myself thinking while I looked at them that it might well have been a better show had he worked with digital!

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Bruce Davidson and a rather heavy three volume book at Magnum Gallery

His work is interesting, and very different to the view of France by Thibaut Cuisset I had seen a short while earlier, some of the pictures in which were also taken on the edges of urban areas. Depardon’s book too looked good, but far too heavy to carry, and the same was even more true of the volumes which Bruce Davidson was signing while we were there.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Our next stop was a cafe – I needed a beer and Linda would have liked a nice cup of tea, but this was France, so I think she settled for a coffee – like everything else round here rather on the expensive side. But then we pressed on.

© 2005 Peter Marshall.

Closer to the river on rue Bonaparte were two shows by photographers I’ve actually met, Eikoh Hosoe, seen above photographing in Poland (more pictures here) at Galerie Photo4, and Ralph Gibson at Galerie Lucie Weill & Seligmann next door, who made some generous comments when I showed him my work in London many years ago (including some of the pictures I later showed and put on the web as ‘Ideal Cafe, Cool Blondes and Paradise‘.) For me there was nothing new there, but it was good to see some of the work again. Gibson is a photographer who has rather gone out of fashion in the UK (and I think USA), probably now more regarded for his Lustrum Press rather than the actual pictures in books such as ‘Days At Sea‘ but he has remained rather bigger in France.

Another of the MdP shows was by Mac Adams, in Galerie Serge Aboukrat in place Furstemberg. Born in Wales but a US citizen, he is an artist whose photographic work I’ve never really appreciated, even when I can see his idea, visually it seldom seems to me to offer enough. This show didn’t help, though you can download a well-illustrated pdf from his site which is rather better.

Many of the other thirty or more galleries we visited – including some not listed on the ‘Parcours’ map – merited nothing more than a quick visit, but there were things of interest, including vintage work on Paris in the windows of Agence Roger-Viollet (I particularly liked an image of Delbord  diving into the Seine with his bicycle as a part of the 1913 French diving championships on the Île des Cygnes  – there is a larger version on Getty) and the surrealist images at Galerie les Yeux Fertiles. But there were also galleries full of rather stylized portraits and other work which while often technically excellent I failed to see much interest in, along with just a little of the kind of anaemic soft-porn that sometimes passes as art in France.

But at the end of our long and complicated walk we came to the Galerie Arcturus, showing Marc Riboud‘s ‘Icônes et Inconnues‘ and it was a joy to look at some of his great work. One image I don’t remember seeing before was of a street that could only have been in the north of England, taken in Leeds in 1954, a bowler hatted man in a raincoat with a stick struggling forward head down in the foreground while two women in coats and hats, one holding her shopping back chat in the road on the street corner, terraced houses leading down through the murk towards the gas holder.

By now – and perhaps more suitably for Leeds than Paris, it was cold and wet and we were in need of sustenance. Fortunately we’d come to the end of the parcours and we rushed to the Metro to get to a cheaper and more down to earth area.

UPDATE:

PARIS PHOTO SUPPLEMENT is now on MY LONDON DIARY

More Paris – French Landscapes

Monday, November 29th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Finally I’d finished looking at Paris Photo, ending with another look at the BMW Prize pictures (and as usual I wouldn’t have chosen the same winner though I’ll save writing about it for another day) and then, right at the exit and rather more to my taste a show of work by Daido Moriyama along with a book including the same I was tempted by, but decided I didn’t want to have yet another thing to carry around with me. Leaving the show I emerged into the Jardin du Carrousel only to find myself surrounded by naked women.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Not of course in the flesh (apart from anything else it was a cold, dull day), but in bronze, a whole flock of sculptures by Aristide Maillol many surrounded by the small hedges of the formal garden. Apparently 18 of these large figures were placed there in the 1960s, thanks to André Malraux and the model for some of them, Maillol’s last model Dina Vierny. I had a few minutes to spare and wandered around photographing some of them as I made a wandering path out of the gardens of the Louvre towards the river.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I could have walked across the Pont Royal or the Pont du Carrousel, but decided to make my way alongside the river to the Pont des Arts, leading directly opposite to the Instutut De France, stopping on my way to take a few pictures. There were two police on horseback at the lower level on the Quai opposite, stationary and facing towards me across the river. They had bright blue jackets and were underneath a long line of trees with yellow leaves.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Not really my kind of picture, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway, wondering if I could make it work. The Seine is pretty wide here and the longest lens I had for the D700 was a Sigma 24-70mm f2.8, so those blue jackets would be fairly small on the image. I took a frame, then realised it would be better to use a slower ISO to get more detail.

It was fairly dull and I hadn’t bothered to alter the ISO from the 1600 I had been using inside Paris Photo, but I now set it to ISO 320 (though as I had an exposure bias of -2/3 stop I suppose it was truly ISO 500.) Everything in the picture that needed to be sharp was on the other side of the river, so I hardly needed much depth of field, but I wanted to use the lens around its optimum aperture for sharpness. The lens isn’t pin sharp wide open, but its pretty good at f4, and although I’ve not tested it, will start to lose sharpness through diffraction probably at anything smaller than f8. I settled for f5, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/100. At 70mm I would expect to hold the lens steady at that, especially as I was leaning on a small wall to take the picture.

It doesn’t work at the size it is on this blog, though if you open it in its own window in your browser (in Firefox, right click and select ‘view image’) you can just about make out that there is some blue there, but on a large print it does, or at least in the one frame where the two men are both looking directly at me. Some pictures do need to be fairly large, though I’d spent quite a lot of time in the exhibition hall earlier thinking many of the large large colour images there would look better very much smaller.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

But I think some of the other pictures I took as I wandered along are better, despite needed rather less thinking about from a technical point of view, although they are unlikely ever to end up as being more than a picture on a birthday card from us.

Campagne française – Fragments

My destination in the Institut opposite was a landscape show, Thibaut Cuisset‘s  Campagne française – Fragments, which according to the Mois de la Photo programme ended on 17 Nov, but was actually continuing until 21 Nov. The show included 40 of his pictures and most of them are on the web site.

They are quiet and precise views, avoiding the kind of drama or anecdote that characterises much landscape work. They are in a way typical views, images that attempt to show the essence of the place. As the notes on the pictures state, “il ne cherche pas le scoop optique” and there is nothing false or forced. The colours are natural and accurate (or at least appear so), the lighting flat. The subject, the French countryside is clearly shown as it is, it’s nature shaped by the work and actions of its inhabitants.

Cuisset has photographed in countries around the world over more than 20 years – and on the Filles du Calvaire site you can see work from Japan, Turkey, Corsica, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Australia and Syria as well as France.

Perhaps what I found most surprising is that work that is as quiet and considered as this was the product of the winner of a major prize, the Prix Photo 2009 de l’Académie des Beaux-Arts, produced with the aid of its 15,000 Euros. It seems to me that his work is very much the kind of work that could and probably would be overlooked or dismissed were it being produced by someone outside the charmed circle of the art establishment.

I’m not generally a great fan of landscape photography – too often it seems to attract photographers whose idea of creativity is to use a graduated tobacco filter and turn up the saturation beyond belief, or large-format clones of St Ansel without his originality or talent. But Cuisset shows that it can be done sensitively and well – and still be recognised, at least by the French establishment.

UPDATE:

PARIS PHOTO SUPPLEMENT is now on MY LONDON DIARY

Paris Photo – Lab East

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It was thanks to Teresa from Blurb that I was invited to the book launch of ‘Far East‘ at the Lumen Gallery stand in Paris Photo. Far East, a roughly seven inch square slab of 260 or so pages, “printed with the friendly support of blurb, the creative publishing platform” is I think an important work in several respects. Edited by Horst Kloever of photeur.net, it presents “30 photographic positions fron Central and Eastern Europe“, work by young photographers – all born in the 1970s and 80s – few of whom will be known outside their own countries, although there were one or two photographs I recognised, and a number of those included have worked or studied in the west.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

One of those included is Bevis Fusha from Albania, who I got to know when we both showed work at the first FotoArt Festival in Bielsko-Biala, Poland in 2005, and whose work I’ve written briefly about on several occasions, and it was good to see his black and white images exploring the antagonistic aspects of the ‘Supermodel of the World’ annual competition in Tirana. Although there were half a dozen of the photographers there for the book signing, unfortunately he wasn’t among them.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I don’t entirely agree with the forward by Walter Keller, the organiser of the Labor Ost show in Zurich in May 2010 and was an important advisor for this book (the show included many of the same images.) Perhaps there are countries where “a dense net of art schools, supporting foundations, photo museums, commercial galleries and curators all merge into a promotional engine of high energy, making it almost impossible for a young photographer not to be discovered“, but I certainly don’t live in one. It seems to me that most photography of interest in the UK arises outside of any such system and probably only a small proportion is actually devoured by it. But the UK has a particular inbred cultural aversion to photography, or rather photography as art, and things are perhaps different in Switzerland.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

But what is obvious is that although most of these photographers were still in school or kindergarten when the Berlin Wall fell 31 years ago, photography still has to seriously address its own Iron Curtain. This book, like this year’s Paris Photo, is one small step in that direction.

However the very richness of the work on display in this book – and to be found elsewhere across the former Soviet empire – surely owes something to the importance placed on culture and cultural organisations during those years – and which in turn stimulated vital dissident work. These artists grew up in more fertile soil than that provided by McDonalds and MTV.

Reading through the short biographies traces of this still exist – for example I learn that Pawel Bownikreceived a scholarship from the polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in 2008.” Here our governments give money to people who can run, jump, swim, throw, row or sail instead.

Latvian photographer Arnis Balcus, who took his MA in photography in London after after studying communications in Riga, addresses the Soviet past, or rather the ‘Collective Amnesia’ around it in his pictures which, by fortuitous alphabetism, start the book. His image of a young man in military uniform sitting on a rough bench outside a dreary and run-down block of flats, another identical in the distance, grass overlong and pushing up through the cracks in the pavement seems to me truly an archetypal post-Soviet image.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

To go through all 30 of the photographers in this book would take me until Christmas, and I’ve other things to do. You can order it from Blurb and it will cost you £31.47 plus postage; not cheap, but perhaps someone will give it you for a Chrismas present? You can see 69 pages on the preview there, including some of the work I found most interesting, for example by Krisztina Erdei from Hungary, whose work was on display at the Lumen stand (she is a founder and curator of that gallery and foundation.)

© 2010, Peter Marshall

This is a book I intend to return to from time to time, and perhaps write a little about some of the others included in it. I can’t say that I like every work in it, but certainly a much higher proportion than on the walls of Paris Photo hold some interest for me.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

But this book is also important in that it is a part of the new photographic publishing, through Blurb (and perhaps also other print on demand services, though at the moment Blurb seems clearly to be in the lead.)  Although print on demand will still remain as a cheap way for anyone to produce personal books for themselves, friends and family, increasingly it is becoming the way that serious photographic books – such as this – will reach their audience. The Blurb London Pop-Up – in which I took part in, and it also had a ‘Magnum‘ day – and their ‘Photography Book Now‘ contest and even my own Blurb books are all a part of this (and might solve those Xmas present problems too:-))

UPDATE:

PARIS PHOTO SUPPLEMENT is now on MY LONDON DIARY

Paris: Wandering in the 20e

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Paris has a number of ‘garden villages’ and one that I’ve visited several times is close to the eastern edge of the 20e, close to the Porte de Bagnolet on a small hill, reached on foot  from the south by a long flight of steps made of rather rustic concrete. It’s really just a couple of tightly packed streets tightly packed with small villa type houses, which undoubtedly have a certain charm and period detail.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

This small area was developed by a cooperative called La Campagne à Paris (the countryside in Paris) from 1907-1926 with around 90 closely packed houses with differing designs, from different architects, except for the more vernacular that just had builders, with small and often flower-filled front gardens (though some are now converted to give access to garages in what were presumably built as their wine cellars.) It comes as a surprise to find such an essentially car-free cobbled rural street in Paris.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Beyond it is an area more typical of the outer areas of Paris, mainly distinguished by a whole rash of streets named after people killed in aeronautical accidents.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

© 2010, Peter Marshall

We continued our stroll westwards walking through some familiar alleys and streets, including some we had visited following Willy Ronis’s favourite trail a couple of years ago. There was an alternative big photographic event taking place at ‘La Bellevilloise’ all weekend, but I just didn’t have the time to visit it.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

On the Rue des Pyrenees the Bistrot / Brasserie where we had a fine lunch two years earlier had changed considerably – so much that it took us a few minutes to be sure it was really the same place. It was still a café and we were hungry, so we went in and had a meal, but it was rather a disappointment.

UPDATE:

PARIS PHOTO SUPPLEMENT is now on MY LONDON DIARY

Paris Party

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Lensculture is one of the best photographic web sites around, and Jim Casper publishes some great interviews and sets of work, and gets to know some of the most interesting people in photography from around the world. Quite a few of them were in Paris last week for Paris Photo, and quite a few were at a great party given by Jim and Millie in their flat on the rue Saint Antoine, where the champagne was flowing freely and, once I started taking pictures my shutter too.

So thanks to everyone – and Jim and Millie in particular for the invitation as well as all the others I talked to, including Joanne, Damian, Xavier, Vee, Ute, Mike, Ed, and all the others. If you are in the pictures I hope you like them, and if I missed you I apologise, but you may be pleased. Here are just a few, and I’ll put up rather more in a few days on My London Diary.
© 2010, Peter Marshall
You can see the rue St Antoine through the window

Technically all these were straightforward. All with the D700 and 20mm f2.8 Nikon, everything auto using program setting at ISO 3200, which gave exposures from mostly from 1/15 f2.8 – 1/60 f4 depenidng on the room lighting and exactly where people were standing. One or two were a stop or two underexposed. I doubt if you will notice from these small images, but I used rather stronger luminance noise reduction than I normally do when processing these images in Lightroom (I’m using Release Candidate 3.3 which seems fine apart from a few quirks in File Import, which also likes to crash occasionally) and although it significantly lowers the noise, it ends up with sometimes giving skin a slightly plastic look.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
The official party photographs – guests take their own pictures

It’s something that I’ve seen too on some high-end digital images – including some of the large Brian Griffin pictures I was looking at earlier before coming to the party, which were taken on a Leica S2, £25,000 worth of kit loaned him by Leica. I wonder if it really is how skin looks, at least under certain lighting conditions, but that we are so used to seeing it with film grain that our mind demands something with a little more visual tooth?

© 2010, Peter Marshall

As often when photographing by available light, rooms often contain light sources with differing colour temperature, and many low energy lights in particular are pretty discontinuous sources, with big spikes in their spectral distribution as well as some fairly empty areas.  The Nikon auto white balance setting usually takes a decent stab, but there is no perfect solution. Almost always if you use a neutral gray to balance the image it ends up looking too cold, and you need to add a little warmth by increasing the colour temperature –  perhaps from 2400K to 2650K. It’s then generally necessary to remove a little magenta. But always the important thing is to try and getting the skin tones look healthy, if not necessarily accurate.

In situations like this, working with colour film would have been pretty much impossible, and I would have shot on black and white, probably either pushing Tri-X to its limits or perhaps these days Ilford Delta 3200. But digital makes colour at least reasonably usable.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I was sorry that I had to leave the party early – at around 11.30 when things were just beginning to really get going. But our hotel was rather a long way to walk if we missed the last metro.

More pictures on My London Diary.

Riot Girls?

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Schoolgirls join hands to peacefully stop attacks on a police van during student protests in London

Wednesday’s student fees demonstration in London had its interesting moments, but it wasn’t easy to photograph, partly because it was pretty chaotic. I got very much crushed in the crowd a number of times and it was fortunate that most of those there were friendly to the press – and when I went flying in the crush hands came out immediately to help me up.

I think together with most of the press who were actually there I was very clear that the police were determined to stop the students and try to discredit them, and that their tactics were designed to encourage the kind of mindless extremism that would give the protesters a bad name. The police took a lot of flak over their failure protect the Conservative HQ during the march on October 10 and were determined not to be caught with their pants down again.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
The start of the student march

Before they confined the large numbers of demonstrators in a small space in Whitehall the protest had shown its anger in the chants and placards, but had remained good-natured and entirely peaceful, at least so far as we could see.

Once prevented from the peaceful protest by kettling, things got a little more confused, but the great majority of those present were simply standing around looking confused. A few small bands of mainly young men who were masked up started to light small bonfires of placards in the middle of the street, and to push their way through the police, but gained little support.

In what everyone present was convinced was a deliberate police ploy, one rather old and rusty police van – its tyre treads worn almost smooth, had been left in the middle of the area where the protesters were confined. Later I was told it was due to be decommissioned the following day, but was unable to confirm this. Stewards and others warned everyone not to be taken in by this trap and provide images that would be splashed over the right-wing press and TV of “violent disorder” that would be used to discredit the demonstration by smashing it up, but a dozen or two masked protesters took no notice, pushing those who tried to stop them out of the way.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A young woman argues with masked protesters who want to smash in the van windows

I was threatened while taking pictures like this one that I had better move away or they would smash my camera. I had my suspicions that at least one of this group might be an agent provocateur, one of a number of student and ex-student protesters in the pay of the police. There is at least one such young man who I regularly see at protests, but I couldn’t see him. Another who had deceived all his friends for years and encouraged vandalism and illegal acts at a number of protests was unmasked a couple of months ago, and there are almost certainly others still in most activist groups.

By now a number of young women on the protest had begun to surround the vehicle, and I took a number of pictures, one of which – at the head of this post was used in a couple of newspapers, and particularly in a piece headlined ‘Student protests: the riot girls’, although the caption accurately records ‘Schoolgirls join hands to peacefully stop attacks on a police van during student protests in London’.

Today, Sky News published a video taken shortly before the demonstration was kettled which shows the van already abandoned and the entirely peaceful atmosphere on Whitehall shortly  before police imposed the kettle. Although it describes the suggestion that the van was deliberately left there as a ‘conspiracy theory’, at least it is beginning to ask some of the right questions.

Later there were some more violent scenes as students tried a little half-heartedly to push their way through the police lines and escape the kettle. I was watching from one on top of one of the tank traps, and it was clear that a determined group would have pushed through them with little trouble in the ten or fifteen minutes before reinforcements arrived. But most people who got to the front of the crowd simply stood there and watched the police, not wanting to get involved in anything other than a peaceful demonstration.

A few light sticks and placards and the odd mainly empty plastic bottle were thrown at the police, many falling short on the crowd. One officer clearly lost it at one point and lay into some of the demonstrators around the side of one of the barriers wildly with his baton, but his colleagues restrained him. At another barrier an officer in riot gear obviously decided he wasn’t going to miss the chance of a bit of mindless violence and launched himself into the crowd, but had to retreat when none of his colleagues followed his lead.

Soon people gave up and drifted away towards a longer police line blocking the way to Downing St – where I followed but it was too crowded too get near. I pushed my way back out of the mass and made my way round to the side and then managed to get in just in front of the police line, but by then nothing was happening.

Unlike some kettles in past years, the police at this point where little was happening let those with press cards through the line. They were also letting a few demonstrators – mainly younger girls – out so long as they promised to go away and not come back. I did not see any young men being allowed out in the ten minutes or so I was around there.

It was clear that the kettle was going to keep going for some hours, keeping protesters confined largely without food, water or any toilet facilities on one of the coldest days of the year, but there seemed unlikely to be much more to report. I went home to file my story around 4pm and it was not until 10pm that police reported the area as clear, around 8 hours after they had confined the protesters there.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
CU*TS

On my way home I’d seen a group of 12 mounted police, and had thought “On No!” but decided I couldn’t wait to see what would happen. It was several hours later before they made a charge into the protesters. The Met at first denied that this had happened, but although most of the press had gone home by the time it happened, it was still caught on video. More recently police have tried to diminish its significance by claiming that the horses were only “trotting”, but the difference if you are a protester in a dark and confused area is hardly significant.

The press were slow to pick up on the story – but the video had been on YouTube for some time finally appeared on the Guardian site. Next morning I heard it mentioned on the BBC Today programme which simply interviewed a police spokesman advertising how useful police horses were in public order situations rather than looking at the actual incident.

Brian Griffin – The Black Country

Friday, November 26th, 2010

One of the more exciting events of the month – but outside Paris Photo, the Mois de la Photo and the Photo-Off as it was apparently planned too late to be included – was the latest show of work by Brian Griffin, The Black Country, in the superb setting of the recently renovated 13th century College des Bernadins on the Left Bank of Paris in the 5e.  The building is a splendid old religious building and Brian’s show was in its former sacristy, the place where the vestments, sacred vessels, and other treasures were kept. It was a building of impressive size and height and a fine setting for his work.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
The Sacristy at the College des Bernardins

The Black Country is a work that goes back to Brian’s roots, and to the town were he grew up, Lye, in the Black Country around the north and west of Birmingham. The area got its name from the coal seams close to the surface, and together with iron ore, limestone and clay this made it one of the powerhouses of our first Industrial Revolution. The particular specialities of the region were the making of nails and chains, and Lye itself was “the bucket capital of the world” and there were also brickworks and galvanising plants. The work was heavy and dirty. Many like his father worked in filthy jobs, inhaling dust and other pollutants, absorbing toxic materials through their lungs and their skins. Brian’s father retired in 1983 and died within 18 months, worn out and poisoned by a lifetime of poorly paid factory labour.

Brian’s mother Edith too had a hard life. Her mother had died giving birth when she was only seven and she had been left to care for her younger sister. She worked at a factory a short walk from where they lived, packing nails in boxes and making tea. They lived in a two-up two-down terraced house in a short cul-de-sac, in an area surrounded by factories. Although they had no running hot water, their house was unusual in having an inside toilet, rather than having to go out into the yard at the back. But bath night meant boiling kettle after kettle to fill a small galvanised iron bath with perhaps three inches of water, before each member of the family got in and washed themselves in turn. Brian was lucky as he got first turn. The landlord of their rented home refused to make any improvements or even do repairs to the property.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Brian speaking at the opening in Paris

Brian was the only kid in the area who passed his eleven plus; while everyone else went to the local Secondary Mod he went to Halesowen Technical School. But he had to leave and go out to work as soon as he was old enough. He was working in a factory in Lye when the foreman suggested he join the local camera club, and although he didn’t have any real interest in photography he did so. Three years later, after a girlfriend had left him, he wanted to escape from everything he knew and applied to photographic colleges as a full time student just to get away from Lye and everything he had known. Despite the fact that his pictures then were – as he says – “dreadful and displayed little talent” he was accepted.

The Black Country is an intensely personal project, inspired by the people that he knew in those early years and the experiences of life in Lye. Among those present at the opening was one of his oldest friends, a man from there, and during Brian’s speech they had a short exchange in the Black County dialect that would have defied most of the English speakers present, let alone the French.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Brian’s assistant (right) at the Paris opening

Some of the people in the images, most of which were made on location, are from the Black Country, while a few others were carefully cast for studio portraits based on people he knew who are now dead. Brian works as a part of a team, and liberally acknowledged the contributions made to the project by his assistant, his stylist, printers and others.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

For me the strongest image was based on the Gunpowder Plot which fascinated the young Brian as the conspirators met just a few miles away and it’s mastermind, Robert Catesby was arrested not far away. The image was made in the Boro foundry where his father had his final job before retirement and the man on the left is Dennis Norton, the son of the man who employed him and who has now taken over as chairman and managing director of the firm. It’s a powerful and classic group image, based on a painting ‘Cardsharps’ by Caravaggio, with Catesby played by Steve Goldby, who has blogged about it, and the figure at the right is actor Callum Coates as the Earl Of Dudley, the landowner of much of the Black Country.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Another striking image shows a young woman as a foundry worker, holding a red hot chain link in tongs. The glowing link on her chain is echoed by a similar shape in her red hair, a small touch which really makes the image far more striking, and suggested by the stylist. The young woman was actually a worker in the factory, although not I think normally doing this particular job, and apparently before the shoot had always kept her hair combed straight down, but was rather taken by the effect.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Another strong group image from the foundry shows a group of men making the chain. For me this show had a personal involvement by Brian that made it stronger than some of his other projects, but it also illuminated some of his earlier work. Included in the show were some of the portraits he made of workers at Broadgate shortly after the death of his father – and as he writes, “I photographed the men like knights lying in a cathedral with their swords.” His background (which in some respects is similar to my own) goes a long way to explain the empathy that he showed to the workers in his work on projects such as the Channel Tunnel rail link, and perhaps also a certain ruthlessness in some of his images of management.

You can see more pictures of the show and the opening on Facebook, and I’ll put more up on My London Diary shortly. In the meantime here are a couple more of my favourites from the opening. There were a couple of speeches in French, but as I expected Brian gave his usual fine performance, though parts of it proved tricky for his interpreter, and it was a more distinguished audience than most UK openings. I think this is his first major show in France (and he is one of those photographers who I think was entirely missing from Paris Photo) and it should do much to increase his reputation here.

I did find it slightly difficult to take photos holding a glass of champagne, though after several it seemed to get easier. The light level wasn’t too high in the sacristy, and I was glad I was using f2.8 lenses – the 20mm and Sigma 24-70 on the D700. Faster lenses wouldn’t have helped a great deal as most of the time I needed the depth of field, but it was good being able to work at ISO 3200 and know the results after processing would be fine. I did take a couple with flash as insurance, but the available light was so much better and of course less intrusive.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A little Black Country exchange

It was a very nice event, and a great show, and I was sorry to rather rush off when the official business was over (particularly as I could have had dinner) but Paris in November is a busy place and I had a party to attend!

More pictures on My London Diary.

Thursday Afternoon in Paris 3e

Friday, November 26th, 2010

I’d chosen to meet Linda for lunch at the metro Filles du Calvaire so we could start our walk at the gallery of the same name, and for once our trains arrived from different directions at the same time and I shouted her name across the tracks. A short walk away we found a decent but not exciting café for the plat du jour and a beer.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

One of the pictures I took in Paris 3e between visiting shows – more below

The Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire was showing the work shortlisted for the 2010 Prix Pictet on the theme of ‘Growth’ which I mentioned in a previous post. Actually seeing the work for real rather than on the web did little to change my prejudices expressed then, except that I was rather more impressed by one of Edward Burtynsky‘s images. He is one of relatively few photographers where the large scale of the print is often vital to the appreciation of his work, although his largish images were relatively small compared to some of the other works on display as you can see from the gallery view. But whereas some of those larger works actually look better on the web – and you can see them on the Prix Pictet site – than they do on the wall, with his Highway #5, a mere 121.92 x 152.4cm is really necessary to do justice to the detailed nature of his work.  Had I been asked to vote on the day from solely the evidence on the wall, this picture would have been my choice.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The rue des Filles du Calvaire leads on directly to the rue Veille du Temple which was studded with photography shows, including a number outside the MdP and the PhotoOFF. Most of them didn’t detain us long, a short walk around or in some cases even a look through the window was enough to convince us that they were not our kind of thing. But you can look at the work of Bertrand Flachot, Frédéric Chaubin and (in nearby rue Charlot) Arno Lam from the Photo-OFF and make your own judgement. If you think photographs are improved by scribbling on them, or that naked woman in landscape = art you may like the first two, while Lam’s work rather reminds me or some scientific photography of specimens undergoing stress tests. Some of Chaubin’s other work does seem to be a great deal more interesting that this and these three shows were of rather more interest than several that we walked past.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

By the time we got to the Instituto cultural de México I was beginning to lose the will to live but Ombre Et Lumière there revived me. Subtitled PHOTOGRAPHIE MODERNE MEXICAINE this show featured work mainly from the 1930s by Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Agustín Jiménez et Luis Márquez. Bravo has long been one of my favourite photographers and it was good to see a fine selection of his work. Jiménez and Márquez were very much photographers of the period but beside him seem rather shallow, making pictures that are often somewhat clever but, with one or two exceptions, not profound.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The next good show we found was around the corner in rue Perche, New York Promenade – USA Underground at Galerie David Guirand. It was an enjoyable show, and you can read a good write-up in English on Actuphoto; this enjoyable show was one of a number in Paris (I was told around 50) which included work on loan from the extensive collection of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

A few yards down the road was La Galerie Particuliere  with ‘We Are Watching You’ including work from two projects by Michael Wolf, large blowups of found images from Google in Paris Street View and also Tokyo Compression.  You can see a more extensive selection of work from his two Street View projects and the Tokyo piece, which shows people suffering from poor air quality in cars on his web site, and again I think this is work that hardly benefits – if at all – from the large prints on show. I would certainly have preferred perhaps two or three times as many smaller images.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The next show of interest we came to was a short walk away in Galerie Sinitude, where Andoche Praudel was showing his series Les champs de batailles – panoramic views of battlefields around Europe, including Glencoe, Waterloo, Agincourt in the Photo-OFF. Also in the gallery were ceramic objects by Praudel, some of which bore some resemblance to cannonballs but with intriguing texture and decoration. However it was the photographs that interested me more, quiet scenes, sometimes with a certain air of malice, nicely printed on large sheets of cotton rag paper. It was an intriguing show, and the images had an unforced quality quite at odds with much I had seen earlier in the day at PP.

Praudel works with an Art Panorama 240, a similar camera to the Art Panorama 170, made in Japan and giving three 6x24cm negatives on 120 format film.  The 240 is normally used with a 105mm lens giving a rectilinear image with a horizontal angle of view of just under 100 degrees, around the practical maximum for rectilinear perspective.

The prints were around 50 by 200cm and appeared to be inkjet prints made on to uncoated traditionally made Japanese Washi paper made from Kozo, the most commonly used wood for the process. They have a slightly less bright and less saturated appearance than prints on the coated matte rag or baryta papers used for most gallery prints.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

By now it was getting a little late and the light was beginning to fade as we came to the final show of the afternoon, which was also a highlight. This was in the fine mansion of l’Hotel de Sauroy on the rue Charlot, and was a travel show with a difference, part of the MdP. Nous avons fait un tres beau voyage which included prints by Jacques Borgetto, Françoise Nuñez (from the Galerie Camera Obscura), Bernard Plossu (from the Maison Européenne de la Photographie) and Sophie Zénon. All of these are interesting photographers, but it was particularly the work of Plossu that caught my attention.

More pictures on My London Diary.

Thoughts on Paris Photo

Friday, November 26th, 2010

There is no doubt that for a month every two years Paris is the centre of the world of photography, and at its centre is Paris Photo (PP), the largest annual trade fair for dealers and collectors, with this year over 38,000 visitors and some outstanding sales, particularly for work by photographers who were also showing in major galleries as a part of the Mois de la Photo (MdP). As well as the two Sudeks mentioned in my previous report, the PP press release also records a number of other large sales, with Edwynn Houk from NY selling a Moholy-Nagy print for 265,000 US dollars. Other work with a central European connection also sold well, with Budapest’s Vintage Gallery making sales of 22 prints with a total value of 58,000 Euros (€). Other high prices for older works included the entire (and rather boring) collection of images from a 1931 colonial exhibition held in Paris, bought by a Paris museum for more than €100,000 and a self-portrait by Man Ray which sold for €75,000. Hamiltons Gallery from London sold what I’ve always regarded as a spectacularly ugly image by Horst P Horst, his ‘Mainbocher Corset’ for 150,000 USD.

More recent work too seems to have sold well, although I think that some of the buyers may be regretting the high prices they paid for some of the pieces in a few years time. But there is certainly a lot of money around for a few people in photography, and New York’s Yossi Milo (one of the more interesting contemporary galleries) reported sales of 40 prints at €6-10,000 each. The gallery representing  Hungarian Gábor Ösz who was the winner of the 2010 BMW-Paris Photo Prize, Loevenbruck  from Paris, sold four of his pictures at €20,000 a time.

There were also good sales of some high priced collectors books, both rare vintage items and at least one of the kind of high price limited editions which I think are one aspect of the future of photographic publishing (when most more normally priced books switch to e-books and print on demand), ‘What Man is really like’ by Rachel Whiteread, (with story by Ingo Schulze and layout and case by Naoto Fukasawa) with 20 copies (half the edition) selling for €7,000 each though that does include 11 rather ordinary signed colour prints. It was a book that had it been remaindered at a tenner I would probably have looked at and put back on the pile. One gallery with some rather more desirable vintage books on its stand was rather less fortunate in that an expensive volume was stolen on the opening night.

Although PP is important, and it is an incredible treasure house for those of us with an interest in the history of photography as well as showing a considerable range of contemporary work, it is important to keep in mind that everything there represents a particular viewpoint on the medium. PP holds up a very distorted mirror to photography, and many great photographers of the past are missing simply because they made few prints, and most of those are already in museum collections. There are many from the more recent past, and many living photographers who have either chosen to work outside the galleries or, for various reasons, have not been taken up by them. And when it comes to contemporary work, the selection on view is very much a matter of current fashion.

This year it was particularly useful in the emphasis that it put on photography from Central Europe, but even this was a rather dim searchlight that only penetrated into a few shadows. Three years ago I was presented a book published by the Association of Polish  Art Photographers, ZPAF, ‘Polish Photography in the 20th Century‘ and including the work of around a hundred photographers, beginning with Edmund Osterloff, born in 1863 and ending with Pawel Zak, born in 1965. All seem from the one or two images in the book to have been as interesting as some more familiar names whose work was in PP, but I think only Stanislaw Ignacy Wietkiewicz, Jerzy Lewczynski, Zofia Rydet, Zofia Kulik and Bogdan Konopka were shown at PP, along with some younger Polish photographers, including those on the ZPAF i S-ka Gallery stand. There really is a great deal more to be found – and I think this is likely to be true of all Central European countries.

And of course not just those. Even for England – one of the two countries which saw the birth of the medium – the coverage is very patchy. I could have done a similar exercise with, for example, Photographers’ London, 1839-1945.

Any view of the history of photography will always be the product of a particular bias, and at the moment the two major aspects from which photography is viewed are those of academia and the art dealers. Both are very much centred in the USA, and both have over-emphasised the very considerable role of US photographers in twentieth century photography. We are still at the early stages so far as expanding both views, both with photography entering the art market world wide – and there were galleries from 26 countries at PP, 7 for the first time: Canada, Iceland, Luxembourg, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, and only 16 of the 91 were actually from the USA (21 were from the host country, France) and photography gaining greater acceptance in the academic world of art around the globe.

Even in Paris, the real heart of photography isn’t in PP but in the many other shows scattered around the capital. Its at these, shows in the MdP, the Photo-OFF and many others that the real interest lies.

UPDATE:

PARIS PHOTO SUPPLEMENT is now on MY LONDON DIARY