Posts Tagged ‘photographer’

Antanas Sutkus

Friday, March 6th, 2020

Antanas Sutkus (b1939) from Lithuania was one of the photographers I met and saw his work for the first time when I went to Bielsko-Biala in 2005 for their first FotoArtFestival, though while I saw his show there, I unfortunately missed his presentation as I was getting ready for my own.

One of the better aspects of the countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain was their support for the arts, although it was not always entirely beneficial. There was a huge emphasis on cultural activities, with concert halls, large galleries and museum, but also censorship, and artists had to tread an often difficult line between their personal aspirations and interests and the state’s idea of what literature, music or the visual arts should be.

Sutkus it tell us in his brief biography at the RussianTeaRooms gallery “realized more than 120 works. Major works: Lithuanian People (1959); Lithuania from a Bird’s Eye (1973–1980); Meetings with Bulgaria (1972–1979); Lithuanians of the World (1991–1994); Nostalgia for Bare Feet (1959–1979); Pro Memoria: To the Living Martyrs of Kaunas’ Ghetto (1994–1997); Past Times (1999)” and from the various positions he held and awards he gained flourished both when his country was under Soviet control and after the end of Russian domination.

From his photography we can see that he was able to pursue a strong personal view despite censorship and restrictions. There are two sets of pictures on the RTR site, one of the visit to his country of Jean Paul Sartre and the second ‘Miscellaneous’. While the most striking of the Sartre images have a strong formal appeal, it is in the other set that his love for people stands out, particularly in an image of his Aunt Agota, running down the path towards his camera.

The Russiantearoom Gallery in Paris is now the Galerie LIZA FETISSOVA, and “Je t’aime” by Antanas Sutkus opens here on 6 March 2019 until March 29. The gallery page quotes Sutkus “To photograph people, you have to love them” and in their text for the show sums up his work well:

Antanas Sutkus (born 1939) captured love as a man, humanist, photographer, patriot. His native country, his Lithuania and its people, proud and resistant to the Soviet invasion, inspired him so much love, that every image breathes it, radiates it … Gives it away.

The same text with a slightly different set of pictures is on the Eye of Photography page which alerted me to this show. You can also see some of his work at the White Space Gallery. His official web site has a considerable amount of writing, some in English, but I could find no pictures.

Bruno Barbey

Friday, February 7th, 2020

Bruno Barbey, a French photographer born in Morocco in 1941, has photographed around the world over the years, and is one of the few Magnum photographers who deserve to be better known. Not that the others are bad photographers, but rather that they are everyday names, at least in the world of photography.

I was reminded of Barbey by a Facebook post by photographer Antonio Olmos (who also deserves to be better known) of a group of pictures taken in Poland in the early 1980s, when Barbey spent 8 months living in a camper van and working there despite strict surveillance by the communist state, because “Poland was the page in history that was being written and it was the memory of an ancestral society on the verge of disappearing”.

Barbey studied photogrpahy in Switzerland in 1959-60 and first went to Magnum in 1964. He served as their vice president for Europe in 1978/1979 and as President of Magnum International from 1992 to 1995. He is now a contributor and you can see a great deal of his work on their site.

In an excellent short video made for Paris Photo he talks about his life and work and some of his pictures.

I hadn’t been aware until I watched this of the various similarities between his views on photography and mine, though in other respects we are so different (for one thing I hate travel and he has spent his life going around the world.) In part it is a generational thing, though I only really got started in photography around fifteen years later than he did.

He speaks of beginning photography with a Leica M2, a camera I bought back in my early years in photography in 1977, though by then my copy was something of an antique, and of course he was working as we almost alll did, in black and white. He learnt to work quickly and unobtrusively, moving close into situations with a 21mm lens, and saying “I never ask permission to take photographs … except for portraits”, using the depth of field of the ultra-wide angle to avoid the need to focus.

In that early work – like most photojournalists of the era – he worked entirely by natural light, and says at the time he really didn’t understand flash, when for example he was covering the events in Paris in ’68. Of course then flash outside the studio was crude and somewhat unpredictable, usually with flash bulbs, though electronic flashes were coming into wider use and largely replacing these. I still remember the first occasion on which I spent several minutes working out how to use fill-flash back in the 1980s, something modern cameras and flashes perform automatically (and at much faster shutter speeds.) And if he was then still using that Leica M2, it’s X-sync speed of 1/50th was more than a little limiting.

On the video he also talks about the difference between working with film for magazines in colour – that meant Kodachrome, a film I could seldom afford – in the old days, when after taking pictures you had to send off the film for processing and while travelling he might not see the images until weeks or months later, and today’s immediate digital photography, when instead of having a good dinner in the evening you might be up to the early hours working in front of a computer. It’s something I find it hard to adapt to, refusing to file without properly editing my pictures on a large screen, though often having that good dinner and a glass or two before finishing the edit.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

Issei Suda (1940-2019)

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

I first came across the work of Issei Suda at some time in the 1980s, when I used to make regular visits to the few bookshops in London that stocked a reasonable range of photographic books.

I’d got to know Claire De Rouen when she was running the bookshop at the Photographer’s Gallery (though I think we first met at the ICA) and we both were part of a large group of people who might visit the Porcupine for a drink after openings and meetings. From there she moved to run the photographic section of Zwemmers a short distance away – and of course later to set up her own splendid bookshop a little further up the street on the opposite side. The shop, above a bookmakers (not as often said a sex store), continued after her death, I think aged around 80, though she always seemed so much younger, in 2012 but just wasn’t the same without her and it closed in 2017.

Whenever I went into the bookshop we would have a talk and share our latest enthusiasms in photography – and if the shop wasn’t too busy these were sometimes rather long conversations which always ended in me buying at least one of the books she had enthused about.

One in particular was Issei Suda’s 1978 monograph ‘Fushi Kaden‘, one volume from a long packed shelf of works published by Asahi Sonorama (and possibly some other Japanese publishers) that I think were unavailable elsewhere in the UK. I couldn’t read most of the text (there is one page in English), but could read the pictures, though they were clearly in a different language.

In the Eye of Photography today is an article The Legacy of Issei Suda (1940-2019) : Human Memory which accompanies ” the first posthumous exhibition in the United States of renowned Japanese photographer Issei Suda who passed away in early 2019″ at the Miyako Yoshinaga gallery, the second show of his work there.

You can see a ‘page-through’ of a later edition of his work, Issei Suda – Fushikaden‘ by PhotoBookStore UK on Vimeo. It’s a different sequence to the book I have and I think rather more pictures, though many of them are the same. The hands turning the book sometimes get in the way, and at times some pages escape scrutiny, but it gives a good general impression.

You can also read a scholarly paper about the work,

Archiving the Spirit: Suda Issei’s Fushi Kaden and “Essential” Japan by Ross Tunney in Trans-Asia Photography Review – here is a short quote from what is an interesting discussion:

Suda has nonetheless suggested a sense of native experience in two ways: first, by evoking a sense of natural association to aesthetic practice in his subjects; and second, by fashioning these same subjects into static signs that reflect a putatively timeless and uniquely Japanese aesthetic.


Frank continued (part 2)

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Here is the second of three parts of my longish essay about Robert Frank, certainly the greatest influence on other photographers including myself in the years that followed publication of his book ‘The Americans’ in 1958/9. The final and I think most interesting part, in which I take a look at that book in some detail will follow shortly.


New York and Travel

As soon as he possibly could, in 1947, Frank left Switzerland and moved to New York. Art director Alexey Brodovitch encouraged Frank to photograph for Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion magazines. Frank soon found fashion restricting and also contributed to “Life”, “Look”, “Fortune”, “McCall’s”, and “The New York Times”.

Frank also began to travel, coming back to Europe in 1951, where he photographed in mining villages in Wales and in London, as well as photographing in South America for a book including work by Swiss photographer Werner Bischof and the French photographer Pierre Verger who devoted more than half of his life to the study, promotion, and practice of Afro-Brazilian culture.

In Wales he took a powerful if slightly predictable close view of a miner coming back from the pit, blackened by coal. It is a powerful portrait, the cheery face beneath a cloth cap heightened by contrast with the broader out of focus miner in the left of the frame. His picture of children playing on the slag heap, and of a miner at home scrubbing himself in a zinc bath while his wife sits at the table reading the newspaper are vibrant reminders of vanished times, and were surely informed by pictures from the 1930s of similar scenes taken by Bill Brandt.

In London too he was drawn to the stereotype, but rendered it in a personal and interesting fashion; men in bowlers and top hats stroll through the fog of city streets, carrying umbrellas. There are also some odd moments and places – a dog in a foggy street, an angel peering over a wall, mothers (or nannies) struggling with giant wrapped babies and prams in the park, bombsites and hearses.

Back in New York in 1953, Frank began to work with Edward Steichen in selecting work for an exhibition on ‘Post-War European Photographers’ at the Museum of Modern Art, and later on ‘The Family of Man’, although as Frank says, he did not share the ‘Captain’s’ sentimental vision behind this. Frank took Steichen to visit the studio of Jacob Tuggener among other photographers, and his work was included in the exhibition.

American Influences

Meanwhile, Frank had discovered another of the elements that was to influence him greatly, Walker Evan’s seminal book ‘American Photographs‘. Again this was a carefully and subtly sequenced work, with picture linking visually to picture and recurring themes. Evans possibly drew his ideas about sequencing more from literary than film sources. Frank took his work to show Evans, who was impressed; it was Evans who was the major support behind Frank when he successfully applied for a Guggenheim Grant to make a journey across America taking photographs.

A further influence on Frank was also largely literary (although at that time derided by the literary establishment.) This was the ‘beat generation’ – writers and poets such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Kerouac had written ‘On the Road‘, his second book, using a single long roll of paper in his typewriter so he could let his stream of thought flow out through its keys to paper without interruption, without pausing to think or editing. The book is based around a series of four largely pointless journeys by Kerouac (Sal Paradise), driving across America with or to visit his friend ‘Dean Moriaty’, whose wild behaviour and unreliability are legendary.

Written in 1950, Kerouac’s publisher turned it down, and it did not appear until 1957. Frank was probably not familiar with the detailed text, but certainly was aware of the movement and had met some of the principals including Ginsberg in the early fifties before his own road trip around America, and in his attitudes and view of America he echoed those of the beats.

On the Road

Frank’s journeys across America were however rather less frenetic than Kerouac’s and fuelled more by his experiences than drugs. Much of the the time he was accompanied by his wife and son who both appear in the final image of the finished book. Throughout 1955/6 he crossed America, driving a second-hand car given him by Peggy Guggenheim, shooting around 500 rolls of film, photographing on the streets and in post offices, Woolworth stores, cafés, small hotels, bus stations.

He started work early in the mornings and usually continued all day. He seldom talked to people and usually tried not to be noticed while he was photographing, though his subjects in some pictures are clearly reacting to his camera – and not always positively. After his travels he edited the roughly 18,000 images down to the 83 which appear in his book, on average around one from every six films.

The journeys were not without problems, particularly when he was arrested and held in jail for 3 days in Little Rock, Arkansas. A police officer saw a Ford with New York plates being driven by a badly dressed and dishevelled Frank; he stopped the car and spoke to him and discovered not only did he have a strongly foreign accent, but saw that there were several cameras and other boxes and bags in the car. Clearly this was a spy, and that he had a piece of paper with something about Guggenheim on it (another foreign name) made circumstances even more suspicious.

So Frank was arrested and left in jail for around seven hours before being subjected to a series of interrogations for another four hours. This was at the height of the cold war and McCarthyism, and the police were totally unable to understand what Frank was trying to do. Why was anyone photographing America other than to supply information to a foreign power? Every possible point in his papers and his attempted explanations was fuel to their paranoia –the name Brodovitch – one of his Guggenheim sponsors – was clearly Russian, one of his children was called Pablo – a foreign name, he had marked routes on his maps and so on.

Fortunately Frank was able to persuade them not to have any of his films developed locally as they had threatened to. When they asked him if he knew anyone in politics or the police or similar, he told them he knew Steichen, and that his wife’s uncle was a close friend of Mayor Wagner of New York.

What concerned Frank most after he had been released was that his fingerprints had been taken and sent to the FBI; he was worried that this might prejudice his application for American citizenship.


The final piece of this essay, first published on the web in 2000, will appear shortly and looks at the content of ‘The Americans’ and then concludes with a very brief section on his later work.