5 May 2013

London joins the Photobook Club

I recently had a great opportunity to share my love of photobooks with some like-minded souls at the first Photobook Club London event.
I'd discovered the club earlier this year and was particularly taken by a project that the force behind it, Matt Johnston, had initiated based on a book that had really fired my imagination back in my New York days, Invisible City by Ken Schles. Matt and Ken created a "digital resource" effectively enhancing the experience of the original work with interviews and notes. A real treasure.

OK back to the event. The Photobook Club idea has spread far and wide around the world. Formats range from Bring Your Own Book, sharing its personal significance, or more formally discussing a "book of the month". I'm pleased to report the first London meet-up took neither course.
Hosted at the marvellous Ti Pi Tin space in East London we were able to spend time perusing the photobooks on display and pick one, or more, off the shelf that took our fancy to discuss with everyone else. The choice is intriguingly diverse. Japanese miniatures bound by silken threads, idiosyncratic self-published pamphlets, heavyweight tomes from the major publishers all vied for my attention. 
Between chatting to the other attendees my attention was caught by a navy blue cloth-bound book. The subtly embossed cover listed names, like a roll call of lost souls. Inside I found a collection of portraits, consciously stylish, but for me at least with a more personal, deeper connection. The mood had an elegiac quality, informed both by the title, Nothing Lasts Forever, and the subject itself, the transition from youth to something, somewhere else. I had no knowledge of the photographer, Tyler Leboneor of the book beforehand so when I came to discuss it with the group it was wonderful that someone could tell me yes it was a fashion photographer's study of his friends and, in addition, they were from South London, place of my roots. OK not so challenging but a great way of broadening my usual diet of monochrome urban grit. Not so good for digestion.
Anyway around the table we became gradually more confident to express and discuss our thoughts. I'd like to think it was very much in the spirit of the Photobook Club idea. Everyone had something to contribute. Everyone came away a little richer. Can't wait for the next one.

29 Jan 2013

pickpocket photography

“This is going to be interesting,” Robbins said. “O.K. Time to go shopping.”
When Robbins hits his stride, it starts to seem as if the only possible explanation is an ability to start and stop time.
"My goal isn’t to hurt them or to bewilder them with a puzzle but to challenge their maps of reality."
In pursuit of his craft, Robbins has ended up incorporating principles from such disparate fields as aikido, sales, and Latin ballroom dancing.
But physical technique....is merely a tool. “It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention,” he said. “Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”
So he is this Robbins guy, a new street photographer on the block? Well he's actually a highly successful street pickpocket. Indeed. But before I go further let me assure you he's a "gentleman thief" i.e. he gives back what he takes. In a similar way to Derren Brown, Robbins has found greater satisfaction in the practice of his psychological and physical techniques of control for the rewards of entertainment and education. 
What he's also done is describe his ethos and his approach in ways that I, in that bubble that I live in, empathise with. I've often referred to the relationship between sport and street photography. The ability of a tennis player to place their racquet in just the right place, at the right angle, at the right time, all at speed, is a perfect metaphor for my practice of street photography. However when I consider the mental processes going on, the act of being drawn to a stranger on the street, to not simply observe them but to take, quite literally, that step further, I wonder if there's some deeper connection here.
link to street photograph
"What I'm doing is taking inventory and making sight maps and getting a feel for who these people are and what I'm going to do with them. I'm a jazz performer - and I have to improvise with what I'm given."
Aha. Another illusion I'm fond of. The romantic anti-hero driven to pursue their craft beyond rational reason. Alone in the spot(sun)light, conjuring beauty out of thin air. 
Idle thinking perhaps but, for me anyway, it's a little insight into why I do what I do.
If I haven't been out on the street for a while, my return is intoxicated by a sense of being both part and apart from the world of people. That moment of absolute focus on an individual is ordinarily reserved for friend or family. But, instead of an unconditional offer, the street pickpocket/photographer gives one of dispassion. The "mark" in return offers opportunity, oblivious to the transaction. For the street pickpocket the stakes are high, financial reward or criminal penalty. For the street photographer these consequences are at extreme ends of a spectrum of possibility.
Our pocket picking takes what we didn't even know we had.