24 May 2019

home again

I'm always interested in work of Irish photographers so I was really pleased to see Eamonn Doyle and his collaborators speak at Photo London last week, just after I discovered The Republic by Seamus Murphy. I'm shamefully late finding out about Murphy's work so I have to thank Ben Smith's Little Voice podcast. Recommended listening.
Each of their bodies of work are fascinating - and timely - for me. As well as my ongoing project on European citizens, this year's show for my local photography group is on the theme of Home which I'm using as an opportunity to think about my own roots.
My mum Kate passed away two years ago. A migrant from Galway in the 1950s as my dad was from the north of Ireland it was a given for me that she'd be buried in the place she was born and raised in. The word home was always understood in our house as Ireland. On reflection it's an obvious sign of the dislocation of our lives.
To portray that in a single image presents a challenge, for me at least but hey it's one of the reasons for joining the group. I could look at constructing an image, perhaps a still life of an object, to symbolise my emotions. Perhaps it's more of a collage of different elements. Yesterday I heard a word I hadn't in a long time. Kaleidoscope. It really brought back a memory of one I had as a child. As well as the act of losing oneself in a miniature world of shifting shapes it had a maracas-like quality when you shook the little crystals inside. Simple pleasures.
image of gate,field and tree
An alternative route, inevitable in a way, is a landscape image. I say inevitable as land has both political and personal resonance, as it has I'd guess for many emigrant people. It's the place you left and yet it still has a magnetism that draws you back, sometimes despite yourself. 
I've taken landscape before as holiday snaps, scenic views for the record, with a visual language of fine art oil paintings. None that I ever feel really engaged in the way I do my city pictures. Too proud a townie to be bothered with nature. Perhaps it's time to revisit that. 
The Republic Book Cover
Murphy's book is inspiring for me in this regard. I just needed to see the cover image and it was interesting to hear him talk about that on the podcast as it appeared at a moment when he had real doubts about continuing the project, about his work being good enough to justify its subject. Like a vision he came across this particular stretch of road - that he could never find again - and he was on his way.
Eamonn Doyle's Made In Dublin
Doyle's work really made a splash about five years ago and I was really pleased to see the manner of how he presented his work firstly at Arles and now when I saw it in London. I've considered how to present urban/city/street work and never felt comfortable with a purist white wall gallery experience. In fact my first effort back in the late 80s was at a former synagogue in Spitalfields where I photocopied and pasted my pictures across sheets of re-purposed corrugated iron in the basement. A reasonable DIY first attempt at an installation but writing this now has really made me think of what more I could (still?) do.
I wasn't aware, ignorantly, again, of K a subsequent project by Doyle inspired by the death of his mother Kathryn. It's in a way figurative but certainly of the landscape as well. The result is an imaginative contemplation of a woman's life. Something personal but co-created with two friends as a multi-sensory piece of work.
So all in all a timely - as always - intervention of art and life. I wonder if photography for me is less about making sense of the world around me and more about making sense of myself. 

Or does everyone think that.

Do you?

13 May 2019

first shoots

My first crop of work from this season includes pictures from Berlin. It was a flying visit so having the framework of New Europe in my mind was a useful focus, as much as in my contact sheet editing as on the street. It's a tricky balancing act. I've shied away from looking for pre-meditated - as much as anyone can - pictures but I think I've found a position that creates the possibility of pictures that still have my beloved ambiguity without being too didactic.
Anyway. I'll let you be the judge.  
Willkommen to my world.
link to New Europe photograph
link to New Europe photograph
link to New Europe photograph
link to New Europe photograph 
link to New Europe photograph
link to New Europe photograph
Now I feel ready to add these to the ongoing zine project. 
I'm looking forward to some cool origami action.

28 Apr 2019

street theatre

I've been inspired lately by hearing some photographers talk about their work. An interview with Alex Majoli and talks by Jillian Edelstein and Clare ParkEach of these photographers presented bodies of work developed over time. Despite the diversity of their subjects I was drawn to a common theme of the "openendedness" (if that's a word, you know what I mean!) of their work. 
Majoli was candid about the challenge to find a point where his project was complete. Perhaps complete isn't the word. Ready to share/show perhaps? It still leaves the mental door open on continuing without absolutely closing it shut. Even if that's the reality. The consequence of this approach was revealed when it came to publish and exhibit his work. The inspiration for the project came from literature, the play Six Characters in Search of an Author by Pirandello, which lent itself to presenting the work itself in a three act structure. I loved the idea of this, permitting multiple narratives within a broader story. However the final curatorial decision was to segment the images into the countries they were made in. Understandable but I feel missing an opportunity to trust the audience to be able to experience what Majoli himself called the ambiguity of these scenes...
It's real. It's not real. 
It's real. It's not real.
This theme of narrative was also illustrated by Edelstein discussing her life as a photojournalist, weaving personal projects into the professional. The nature of news photography is often around the single, defining image so it was fascinating to look at a more essay type approach, revisiting a place again and again to build relationships, deepen understanding and create a more personal response.
The personal is the absolute centre of Park's work. It was disarming to see her refer to her book of photographs and then say it was the only one that existed as the project itself was never meant for public distribution. The photographs were a testament to a set of relationships that used symbolism, private meanings and allusions to portray love and life in a powerful way. For me they represent yet another dimension to story telling and one that's just as rich.
So all in all valuable points for me to reflect upon.  
Two people with ID cards image
I have an affinity with all the approaches. The need to give shape to my work - for myself at least - is one of the motivations behind my current project. It certainly has its roots in documentary photography but my work casts itself adrift off from that source. It's certainly not so obscure that any meaning at all is impossible but the practice of it must have some deeper personal motivation. It certainly feels like I'm approaching a crossroads. 
Whether I'll make a deliberate choice is another matter!

11 Apr 2019

looking at me?

In vain I'm trying to control my collecting of books, in particular ones which reflect city street life, especially London, so I try to choose ones with an original take. I'm pleased to say Nigel Shafran's The People on the Street is one of those.  
Like a lot of great ideas, it's very simple. It's becoming more common to encounter homeless people on the street. For me they have no choice in the matter so I don't purposely take pictures with them as a subject, however in its own way that's ignoring their existence. There's already an argument that self censorship in this way will mean future generations won't have a record of children on the street so I like seeing projects where they can document their own lives. Following similar logic Shafran empowers homeless people by giving them a camera to take pictures not of themselves but of himself.
People on the street book cover
The resulting book is a powerful commentary on a societal responsibility but also, if it's not too indulgent, on documentary photography itself. There's an important debate about the best photographic practice in documenting people's lives all around the world which doesn't simply objectify them or worse. We're not now living in a time where Life or National Geographic ran photo stories of exotic other worlds, reinforcing stereotypes of difference, and yet that form of representation is hard to shake off. Homeless and, more broadly, other disadvantaged people occupy a similar status of otherness in this country today whether that's a kind of "by the grace of god" or "it's their own fault" attitude. It's worth mentioning two other current UK photography projects that directly address this, J A Mortram's Small Town Inertia and Paul Sng's Invisible Britain. Not worthy or patronising photographs. Work that's part of a broader context of social engagement and change. Inspirational stuff.

30 Mar 2019

walking with ghosts

I've grabbed a chance to spend a few days in Berlin. It means putting my zine project on hold but if I can add some new ideas as I managed with my Stockholm visit last year then it'll be worth it :)

On reflection it's unbelievable this is my first visit to Berlin. It represents so many of my fascinations. Streets layered with history. A city divided geographically and psychologically. At the heart of a continent with a traumatic history that echoes today.

For me it's a great lesson in bringing to life historic events I've experienced through other's eyes. Travelling to Alexanderplatz on the U-Bahn, stepping across the stumbling stones, witnessing political demonstrations in the streets of Potsdamer Platz are powerful and inspirational. 

Berlin undergound station image
Channeling that while working intuitively is my goal. Following not just what's become my natural inclination to look for instances of street serendipity but also moments that have a layer of symbolism without analysis paralysis is challenging but it's pushing me into a new way of walking as well as working. 

London's waiting.