11 Dec 2017

camouflage of colour

The National Gallery in London currently has a show entitled Monochrome: Painting in Black and WhiteIt's an interesting take on the deliberate choice of back and white by artists for their work in painting, printmaking, drawing etc over the last eight hundred years. For me it's a fascinating contrast to the role of black and white in the history of photography: initially the only means of popular expression and then overtaken by colour and identified, ironically, as the choice of artists.
I don't regard my choice as wilfully retro and have more recently enjoyed using the practical benefits of colour to work quickly. This exhibition however really explores the essence of what monochrome brings to both artist and audience. It also introduced me to a wonderful word grisaille
As you'd perhaps expect black and white was a common technique to prepare sketches for the final execution of a painting which invariably was in colour. However over time it was seen to have its own power of expression that artists began to exploit. The argument of this particular exhibition is that power was one to arrest the viewer, to make them look again and look harder by removing the everyday camouflage of colour (gosh I just thought of that phrase, there's my blog title!).
It's not a particularly novel idea but it's one I certainly support and it was developed in one particular image called Grey Mirror by Gerhard Richter. The idea is brilliantly simple, painting a sheet of glass grey and transforming it into a mirror. OK it can fall into an "is that art" argument but for me it very, very much is. Even searching for this image online plays tricks as there is no one definite image as it is forever reflecting the environment around it and, even more so, you as a viewer become implicit in the art work.
Oxford Street photograph
Grey Mirror, 1992, Gerhard Richter
For me it's a great way of encapsulating my take on street photography. Forgive my impudence but hey this is my blog after all :) 
Images of the street are just that. Reflections. They are not fixed. Atoms colliding. We, both actors and audience, perpetually shape shifting between both states. In time and out of time.  
As well as a document of a particular moment on a particular day, street photographs and, to keep on topic, black and white street photographs do something else. They literally arrest us. We are all implicated in the picture by stopping and watching. What are we looking at? 
Our selves.

6 Nov 2017

tokyo drift

One of the many highlights of my last visit to Tokyo were trips to the wonderful photo bookstores of the city. It's not that I needed another stimulus to photograph but the culture those places represent is powerful. I felt the classic crisis of choice where there was just so much inspirational work I could have walked away with nothing except a, rather wonderful, headache. However I did manage to select two beautiful books by Naohiro Harada and Michio Yamauchi.
cover of Naohiro Harada's Drifting
I am immediately taken by the images of Harada's book Drifting. High contrast, displaced snatches of figures. Elusive. The sequencing of images resonates with the push-pull rhythm of city streets.
"All these people are drifting, on the surface of the silent jet black film, my body drifts inside them; and their bodies keep drifting too, inside me."
This sense of flow is something I've spoken about. It has unavoidable echoes with Zen in the Art of Archery which has its advocates, and detractors too I admit. Nevertheless it's fascinating to see the realisation of a sensation like this into a body of work that can leap off the page at me. Subarashī!
cover of Michio Yamauchi's Tokyo Up Close
My love of candid, black and white photography from the street is well met by Michio Yamauchi's Tokyo Up Close. It's a great collection of images, very much what is says on the tin but none the worse for that. 
"The photographs I take are all photographs; even so, I believe that 99% of them are pretty much equivalent to garbage. It's the remaining 1% that intrigues me and causes me to wonder at my reaction to those instances of reality. And then another person, looking at photographs I've taken in response to my arbitrary reactions, reacts too. Other people are able to feel my reactions - that's even more intriguing."
Again another quote and another connection to reflections I've made. The subjectivity of meaning, and the sharing of those interpretations, were my motivations to create the Ambiguous Book Project!
Photography in book form is regarded as an art form in itself and I'm really privileged to have two such examples in my collection. Time to think about some new ideas...

8 Oct 2017

clips with everything

The recent launch of Google Clips struck me as another moment to reflect on the nature of candid photography. In essence it's an evolution of the always-on life blogging camera that when activated indiscriminately records everything before it. The trick with Clips is that it's smart enough to know what and when to record based on what is worth recording. How does it do that? Well it's programmed to recognise what a good picture is of course. Let that sink in.

We're well aware of the literally mountains of images that have been created thanks to the rise of digital photography. Access to that technology has created wonderful opportunities for people to document and share their own daily lives. However the innate problem is the access and distribution of those images. 
One significant consequence of this latest phase of digital image creation is the means to "outsource" the taking and initial storage of pictures to a device using artificial intelligence. The decision making part of the equation, literally the decisive moment, is removed from us. It's another fascinating example of how the social relationships around photography develop through the technology of the day. In this instance we are seeing what's is essentially the conduct of an intimate act taken over by a corporate entity. What was private becomes public. This isn't surveillance as we know it today but it doesn't take much imagination to see where this could go. 
link to 2016 part 2
As a street photographer I'm in no position to be sanctimonious. I myself have documented those intimate moments. I'm comfortable with the usual it's a public place, guv defence but I confess it's made me think about what I then choose to do with them once they are taken. The public recording of images of people is now more than ever a very sensitive topic. In a contrarian way it helps that I still take the majority of my work on film and the production process around them means that details of the time and location are diluted. 
For me the role of street photography in these circumstances retains its relevancy more than ever.  
The eye in the sky needs another witness.

10 Sept 2017

tag time

Really pleased to participate in the Tag exhibition with my local London Independent Photography group. It's great to see thoughts that I explored in my Ambiguous book project come to life in a collection of images that ducks and weaves through urban, portraiture, landscape and still life across city, town and country. 
Tag exhibition image
A big bonus is the decision to print all the images in black and white. Without any influence from me, honestly! I actually wonder the difference colour would have made in the connections that each photographer has made. Monochrome's ability to accentuate the composition of an image featured in a number of interpretations. Would colour have led to more emotional responses? I recognised my initial rational response to the images I had to work with but actually enjoyed letting my mind wander...hey I'm a flaneur, right?
It's a well worn topic I know. Black and white was regarded as having a greater truth, whatever that may be. Colour was ironically too much like reality. In a way less art, more artisan. I don't recall making a conscious decision, like with a lot of things, to choose black and white. It's just how I see the world. 
Tag exhibition image
As well as responding to a brief I also enjoyed the challenge of working against the clock. Almost like a real photographer!  
To give each participant sufficient time to respond to their image meant a turnaround time of a week for each photograph. No big deal for digital, not so straight forward in the analogue world. I've come to enjoy the related but distinct parts of my image making process but they don't lend themselves to speed, in fact quite the opposite. For this project I had to condense months into a week and, thanks to the wonderful print work of Stuart Keegan, managed to do that. Phew!
Tag exhibition hanging
The format of the show is the final part of the experience I really like. Prints hung by fish wire and bulldog clips it appeals to my sense of how photography doesn't need to follow traditional gallery practice. Making it accessible in such a way that doesn't undermine the work but removes barriers to viewers, both mentally and physically, is really important to me. In fact it's one of the attractions of using new technology to create work that appeals to me.
That's how I like it. Beginnings not endings.

24 Aug 2017

modernising street photography #2

Thought-provoking. Inspirational. Moving. The second street photography symposium was a real deep dive into this alternative reality we inhabit.  
Developing important themes from last year's event, I was really pleased to see an opportunity for a diverse selection of lesser known photographers with great images plus compelling stories too.

Standout moments for me...
1. Sequence in Nick Turpin's film of Christophe Agou, coat flying behind him, riding a motorbike over Manhattan Bridge

2. Graciela Magnoni's description of her daughter's reaction after seeing her making pictures on the street for the first time 

3. Debate sparked by Andrew Kochanowski's photograph of a Muslim woman in Detroit (more below)

4. Christian Reiser's Whispering Noise
5. Melanie Einzig's interpretation of her image of a man knitting on a subway train, wearing a head to toe knitted outfit, feeling comfortable with his particular form of expression, just fitting in with everyone else 

6. The "women's panel". Hopefully putting to rest the need for any more in future events

7. Richard Stern's thoughts as a psychiatrist on the benefits of the practice of street photography to mental health

I'm sure I'll revisit each of these topics but there's already a connection to the topic of privacy in a new report this week on facial recognition. It reminded me of my book Street View People View looking at the role of electronic surveillance in London and street photography as an unwitting accomplice in that practice. 
link to Street View People View series

This was echoed in the debate last weekend on the photography of people that may have good reason not to be associated with a particular location i.e. women in need of protection could be innocently communicated through EXIF data for example.
It’s certainly a debate that’s only going to get louder. We know the right to photograph in public spaces is continually under threat and is severely restricted in some countries. However in parallel there is a growing suspicion by the public – as illustrated by Stephen McLaren working in downtown LA where the Latino community feel a real threat of deportation – of the motivations behind that activity, however well the photographer justifies it.
Whose rights win?
This isn’t a new question but I feel the context is changing significantly. There’s certainly an argument that the turmoil of our times warrants an even greater need for a real-time record. The 1930s are now evoked as a warning from history. It’s also worth remembering it was a period of vitality and invention for street photography. 
So what do we do? A new manifesto for our times? A topic for next year's symposium I think.

10 Aug 2017

Tokyo 360

I've been toying with new ways of working. Film will always have a special place and it's been wonderful to fall back in love with it again over the last year. 
Singular focus and dedication to a cause, the 10,000 hours story, has its merits. That perfect shot is just around the corner, it has to be...surely? I confess at the same time it becomes a comfort zone. I've taken the plunge into digital, although just through a camera phone, dallied with video and so next up is the wild west of 360.
Link to 360 Tokyo images
A trip to Tokyo seemed the perfect opportunity. A collision of ancient and modern, Blade Runner in a petri dish. 
How did it go? Well it's certainly out of my comfort zone! Pretty much every maxim I follow is quite literally turned upside down. 
Link to 360 Tokyo images 
Is it street? Absolutely. As you immersive yourself in the image you are in the moment as well as outside it. A participant and an observer. Part of a bigger story. 
That's life. That's street.

9 Jul 2017

looking for a new Europe

My reflections at the end of last year have led me to looking at my work in a bigger context. For a long time I resisted any kind of interpretation of my work. Hey this blog was the cause/effect of doing just that.
My idea is to develop a body of work around people in cities – no surprise there – but recognising Europe is in a particular period of change. European cities were in the vanguard of the first waves of urbanisation. They are now the destination for another mass movement of people. So far so good. It's how they've historically grown and prospered. This time things are different. Attitudes and assumptions are being challenged. The essence of what it is to be a citizen is being fought for, intellectually and physically.    
link to new Europe images 
I’ll say up front my pictures aren’t documentary in terms of taking a journalistic approach. These are more personal which I appreciate can be a euphemism for self-referential shoe-gazing. As if.
My angle on this story is an appreciation in some way of what it is to be a child of Irish immigrants. Granted with the privilege of blending in but still with an appreciation of what it is to be an outsider. 
There’s no set plan or timetable yet. I’ll share work in progress here. I’m also interested in other forms of presenting it. I’m not rejecting books by default but hey it’s 2017 and other ways and means are possible. 
Wish me luck.

24 Jun 2017

street music

Wonderful to see Markéta Luskacová in conversation at the National Portrait Gallery this week with my friend Paul. She's an inspirational figure for me and her work in 70s London really does feel like another country where they do things differently. It was really apt to see her with Paul who played a big part in the development of my own ways of looking at the world.
Markéta Luskacová’s London Street Musicians
               London Street Musicians, Markéta Luskacová
I'm always fascinated by how people go about pursuing this passion in relation to the real world of making a living and looking after a family. Markéta's description of taking her son in his push-chair on her trips around Brick Lane was a wonderful illustration of the compromises made. 
Her story is also a timely reminder of the role of immigrants in London's growth as a world city. Undoubtedly Markéta felt a cultural affinity with the musicians she photographed but their outsider status reflected her own experience.
Buy her books! 

3 Jun 2017

over the threshold

Not my typical topic but I must mention the artist Mat Collishaw’s current installation using virtual reality (VR) with the subject of the world’s first exhibition of photography held by William Henry Fox Talbot in Birmingham in 1839.

At first sight you see a white washed room empty apart from a set of tables and cabinets also painted white. Donning a VR headset transforms the space into a detailed recreation of the room at the time of the exhibition.

This is itself a compelling idea but I admire the attention to other facets of the experience both sensory and historical that enrich it. Mice scurry across the floor, smells and heat from a fire prickle your face. Moths get too close to the candle flames. You can hold a glass photographic plate. From outside the window the sounds of Chartists demonstrating against new technology taking away people’s jobs echo through space and time. Other 21st century visitors appear in your field of view as ghostly shapes.
Thresholds by Mat Collishaw from Mat Collishaw Studio on Vimeo.
My fascination is in the way Collishaw uses
  • new technology to tell a story in way that enriches it without it becoming a product demonstration 
  • VR in particular as today’s magical way of representing reality 
  • the original uncertainty around what photography was and who was it for as a counterpoint to the current ubiquity of images 
  • photography as a harbinger of social disruption (last but not least)
As a practitioner of photography very much rooted in the 20the century it prompts me to revisit my thoughts on modernising street photography. Can these technologies add another dimension to my ways of working? Not only in creation but in production, display and distribution?
Interesting times! 

30 May 2017

veni, vidi, vici

Last year's cameraphone experiments were rewarding but, a little like following a particularly restrictive diet, left me hungry for more. A recent trip to Italy gave me the opportunity to indulge myself with a full menu of digital and film, colour and black & white. The first time I've worked with these combinations all together. The modern world, eh? 

Well despite my fears of analysis paralysis it didn't really disrupt my natural ways of working. In the same way my fears of "thinking too hard" about my work by reviewing and editing my pictures for a book were unfounded, walking the streets of Venice with 3 different camera types felt more like enhancing my ways of expression. More seasoning if you will. Never miss a chance to overextend a metaphor...
link to Venice images
Another first for this work was the resurrection of my social presence. I've tried Instagram but the way of collecting images together on Flickr was particularly useful for this piece of work. I appreciate I'm missing out on the sharing/following/interacting bit but that's for another time. 
Patience, patience.

18 Mar 2017

ambiguous redux

My inclusion in fLIP's on the streets edition gave me a kickstart to re-join my local group. I attended my last meeting in 2005 so it was a bit of a rip van winkle moment when I stumbled back in.
links to my Ambiguous Book Project image
The timing of my (re)arrival became more propitious when we started talking about a new opportunity for the group to exhibit a sequence of images created by each photographer responding to the picture before to create a chain of apparently random but connected images. In one of those lovely moments of serendipity that street photography seems to cultivate I happened to have a copy of Ambiguous with me.  
Nice to see the idea have another life.  
Bit like me.