28 Sep 2019

time bends

Ever wondered what it's like to travel back in time? Well I've just managed to go back thirty years to a former synagogue off Brick Lane via a disused shop in Rotterdam. Just like Mr Benn.

  
Why was I there? Let me start at the end. 
I don't often put my work forward for awards. I like to find a particular angle of interest. I'm a photographer obvs. Gus Powell's curation of a show in Los Angeles last year ticked a couple of boxes as someone's whose work I respected in a city where one of my daughter's was living at the time. 
This year my eye was caught by Shutter Hub's STREET/FORM show featuring photographs printed on newsprint pasted around the walls of a disused shop in the south of Rotterdam, part of POW WOW NOW a festival of urban culture encompassing graffiti and spoken word artists, street dance, music and sports. I ran out of boxes to tick.
New Europe photograph
New Europe photograph
New Europe photograph 
New Europe photograph
I selected work from New Europe I thought would work well in that format. Graphical, lots of tones and with a common theme.  
I was really pleased three were selected and even more so when I saw them up as part of a group show of seventy photographers from around the world. The theme leaned towards the fabric of the street rather than people so it was interesting to see my work in that context especially as I'm trying to bring more of the environment around us into my pictures.
Street/Form Rotterdam
I also enjoyed the irreverence of using newsprint and sticking them to the wall with tape. It immediately took me back to one of my first photography shows in the late 80s in 19 Princelet Street in a place immortalised in Rodzinsky's Room by Rachel Lichtenstein and Iain Sinclair
The former synagogue was in transition to becoming a heritage centre and we seized the opportunity to put on a show of painting and photography. I took the basement as a suitable space to reflect my aesthetic, taking pleasure in dragging pieces of corrugated iron down the stairs to paste my photocopied photos on to. Hey forgive me. I was young and crazy. I do remember taking a sack truck out of the building along Brick Lane and wondering about the circumstances it last made that journey. 
I pause to reflect. Have I moved forward at all? I hesitate to use the world professionally so let's use the art word practice.  It's the same technical approach using essentially the same cameras. The location is constant and any variation is again very similar. So that's the How. What about the Why? 
I confess there's something obsessive if not insane about repeating the same task over and over again hoping for a different outcome. My pictures are to a large degree the same. I find it fascinating that my earlier work in particular has a timeless/locationless (is that a word?) quality. It means I miss out on a chance to submit to the tremendous Cafe Royal Books as they really don't work as site or date specific documents of those times. However for me they convey something more universal and that's taken me into the territory of a more oblique kind of storytelling: metaphor, suggestion, ambiguity. Not a radical departure granted but another way of seeing, another way of walking. 
Another point of departure.



21 Sep 2019

last roll of the dice

It's September and both my film stock and opportunities to photograph diminish with the sun getting lower in the sky. 
London street image
It's been a fascinating and frustrating season. 
For good or ill we're now getting used to sunshine rather than rain in London. It's reflected in abundant street life especially as the city's tube experience flushes people above ground. My beat of Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Regents Street, Charing Cross Road and The Strand is still as busy as ever. 
However New Europe has changed my patterns of when I'm active, now not as interested in the early morning/late evening moments of high-lit individuals silhouetted or squinting. I'm now as interested in the context of the street around those figures, the billboards and the buildings. It's already reflected in my pictures. They've lost that immediate impact (I missed my moment with Instagram) and they now require a little more time to reveal themselves, often not individually but collectively too. 
London street image
I'm looking forward to discovering what pictures I actually made this summer. It's a nice time when everything is possible. It's mysterious and magical. I feel like a big kid. But then again. Maybe I am.

25 Aug 2019

happy returns

Well it's a little fraudulent to celebrate a tenth birthday  - we had a three year hiatus along the way - but I'm proud to still be writing this blog and staying true to my original intention to use it to think about how and why.
My Ambiguous Project posts drew the most visitors. I've even managed to generate the odd comment along the way too. But I'm also conscious this has become very much an interior conversation and you, dear reader, must be complimented on indulging me. 
Committing to writing regularly has been really rewarding, for me at least. It's helped me think about my work. Before then I thought that would obstruct my natural, intuitive style. But hey even Barcelona need a plan. 
I've enjoyed joining the dots or hyperlinking, to use a technical term, my thoughts across the years. James Burke's Connections was perhaps my favourite TV show growing up (well along with The Goodies) and he's embraced the web in the same way. Spanning time and space. Not a bad way to describe my work if I think about it. 
Bakerloo Book Cover
Coincidentally it's my own birthday around this time and I was delighted to be given a book by my family of the work of a London photographer I was shamefully ignorant of. 
Bakerloo by Harry F Conway is a vital record of Londoners in their moments of passing through one of the West End's arterial tube lines. The images achieve a remarkable balance of both confrontation and compassion. I really admire this work not least because it's diametrically opposed to mine in many ways. He engages with the people in his pictures, forming momentary relationships that are complex and disarming. He's a visible presence going about his business in an constricted space in an open and transparent manner.
He puts it so well
...fleeting moments of pure humanity were shared, deep underground with complete strangers. 
Where people see an monotonous system to merely transport them, I saw life in all its ridiculous beauty.
Amen.


18 Aug 2019

street reverb

I've just read a great conversation between two people I've enjoyed following over the years, Blake Andrews and Brian Formahls
I was so happy when Blake contributed to the Ambiguous project. His blogging was a source of inspiration and Brian's LPV has been a great resource to find about new street work. It was fascinating to find out more about his recent thinking on urban walking and I must share them 
For me, when I’m on a long walk time tends to slow down and feels more abundant. Four hours can feel like a week. It's that hyper focused attention mixed with the ability to allow your mind to drift, that allows you to enter into a different perceptual space. When you add photography with meditative walking, then I truly feel that you can enter new dimensions beyond our normal perception. Or I should say photographic seeing because I don't think you need to actually make the photographs but there's a lot of reverb when you see the actual photos.  
I love that last sentence.   
The first part corresponds to an approach I describe as a five act production of making photographs... 
- The initial sense of a possible picture. 
- Choosing the moment to release the shutter. These two happen in quick succession for me.  
- The revelation of the resulting images on the contact sheet. Some weeks/ months later, we're talking analogue here folks.  
- The selection and making of a print. Eventually. After the Interval.  
- Re-looking, editing and sequencing those prints into a book or, even, a zine 
Each act is just that. A set of separate actions that have their own worth not just part of a process but greater than their sum. I could go on about actors, narratives and drama but I think you're already there :)
Regents Street image
Secondly the word reverb captures both a visceral response, not purely intellectual, and also a kind of echo rippling out from the original act. It's also a musical reference I enjoy. I've compared street photography to jazz in terms of technical words like standards and improvisation as well as the spiritual and soulful. As an aside I was fascinated to hear Mark Sealy talk recently about how he now looks to John Coltrane as he once did photographs for that quality of experience.
Oxford Street image
So what about the act of walking itself. Can the definitive act of the flaneur/euse incubate those conditions of meditation, of the satori moment? I certainly recognise the state of attentiveness, of being immersed in my surroundings to a point of invisibility. I remember reading Cartier-Bresson's thoughts on Zen archery and recognising the reference. Interestingly enough it surfaces obliquely in the conversation too. Here's Blake 
It’s strange to comment on Soth because he actually made a direct comment on this thing years ago, that photography was NOT a Zen Buddhist activity. Photography involves wanting, and acquisition, and collecting, and all the little things you're supposed to let go of.   
It's a salient point and I'd only counter (between you and me) that the wanting/acquisition/collection desire can be satisfied by simply connecting with the world around us - in this case the streets - by focusing the mind on people on proximity, how we move, interact, dream. On rare occasions it can be an overwhelming experience. Even at an every day level there can still be a common bond of emotion...simply if it's crossing Oxford Circus before the timer runs out and the 159 bus bears down on us.  
OK reverie over. There's work to be done. 

28 Jul 2019

speck on a clover

Today could be hottest day ever as 39C heat roasts Britain read the headline. In my contortions over the climate emergency versus my photography, he(art) won and I found myself on the street subsumed into Manhattan-style humidity. However by lunchtime clouds were creeping over Oxford Circus with the promise of lifting later so I sought solace in the company of Trent Parke's pictures at the Magnum Print Room. It was my second contact with Magnum in recent weeks. I attended their symposium last month where interestingly enough the best part was the keynote by Mark Sealy on western photographic practice. More of that in a future post. 
Trent Parke show image
I was first made aware by Nick Turpin of Trent Parke's The Camera is God at a street photography symposium a couple of years ago. He cited it as an innovative development on the tradition of the genre and I must agree having seen them. The images are fascinating in themselves but I also love they are made by what are now called analogue practices in taking them on film and printing them in the darkroom.However this project is certainly not rooted in nostalgia .The literally indiscriminate practice of CCTV cameras in cities shaped Parke's approach taking 30 second bursts without specifically framing anyone. As if that would ever catch on.
The way the images are displayed form a chorus of fragmented fractured faces, discernible as human but anonymised into atoms of light and dark. However there is still just enough detail in each image to project possibilities of gender, age etc on to them. I can now see why Parke talks about creating a narrative with them. It's fascinating to read the lines from his diary describing a moment in the life of this project
Back to my corner… he emerges from the shadow of the building into the light. There he is … the big clock on the other side of the road says, right on time … the sad boy in the white collared shirt who everyday stands in the same position on the same corner at the same time. He remains motionless, staring at the street before the lights eventually change once more and he walks his same sad slow walk off into the west and the blazing setting Adelaide sun. 
I wonder who he is. I wonder where he goes.
Back in London I balefully look at the blazing London sun still cloudy sky and vainly hope there will be a break as the BBC Weather app confidently predicts. I find myself not far from another regular refuge, the Barbican, my favourite building in London. The big show there at the moment AI: More than Human and one of the pieces before you get into the show caught my eye.
Trent Parke show image
I couldn't - needlesstosay - avoid a connection to Parke's piece. But beyond the symmetry the concepts aren't a million miles apart either. Es Devlin's POEMPORTRAITS takes a word donated by a participant which then generates a two line poem authored by machine learning projected across the face of the donor to create a portrait. I was struck by Devlin's comment 
We are predisposed to seek meaning in these fragments that have been offered to us personally, as we seek significance even in the lines we find in a fortune cookie. 
In our age of selfie surveillance both projects acknowledge the omnipresence of technologically generated imagery. Both then use that as a place to reflect upon what it is to be human in that kind of world. To take Devlin's word, how we can converge?
I was left intellectually if not physically stretched in a way I hadn't anticipated and, cursing weather forecasters, descended into my own convergence with another world, the London Undergound.