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.

6 Mar 2019

one step beyond

Despite best advice to approach my new publishing project with a cool head, systematically categorising my photographs according to style, composition and symbolism I've gone ahead and put a flow together intuitively, serendipitously and accidentally. 
I've just realised it echoes my Three Graces of street photography so perhaps there's a method to my madness. 

New Europe zine first draft from Sean McDonnell on Vimeo 
Hey it's first draft. Please be gentle.

26 Feb 2019

the day the earth

The sun's splitting the stones in London and I'm torn. Sun is the prime ingredient of my photography. So what's the problem? It's February and I'm out on the streets, a month ahead of schedule. That's the problem. 
I confess I'm already uncomfortable with the environmental impact of using film. Now I'm facing up to fact I'm literally fiddling while the world burns. Movies set in the future but made in sixties had a big impression on me, especially, no surprises, ones set in London.
Now I'm wondering if my work is becoming more like a nature documentary. The sun is so strong yet still low in the sky. Shadows are still relatively cold. People wear sunglasses, shorts...and scarves. We're in the headlights. Transfixed by the sun, knowing the danger but compelled to stare. 
London 2019
Oh yes and London had a high pollution alert today. Apart from the risks posed by couriers, security guards and manhole covers I do wonder if particulate exposure is an occupational health hazard of street photography. That's if the sun doesn't get us first.. 
Stay safe. 

5 Feb 2019

the unbelievable truth

I'm trying to develop my ideas around New Europe so when I saw an event billed as Experiencing Europe: Borderless Artists I had to go. 
It was really rewarding in ways I didn't expect. Elisa Perrigueur described the motivation behind her powerful illustrations of refugees seeking to enter mainland Europe and the UK was to find a better way of describing her experiences than through her primary role as a journalist. The practice of photojournalism is well known but Perrigeur deliberately didn't choose this medium. Illustration as an art form without any obligation to be faithful to reality, visually at least, gave her the liberty to tell her own story.
Borderless Artists talk
For me it illuminated a topical debate about truth and photography. It's easy to say we're at the point now where it seems na├»ve to put both those words in the same sentence. As well as the ease and sophistication with which images can be manipulated, there is a broader cynicism about any attempt to document real life in words or in pictures. 
For those taking pictures on the street it's an even more contentious topic and the preservation of an unadulterated decisive moment an article of faith for many. Using film my only involvement with post production is scanning prints to publish on my website so my opportunity - and interest - in any manipulation is minimal. My interest in this topic has always been around context and the caption in particular which can be a far more powerful way that the viewer can be misdirected
All of which brings me back round to thoughts on my own work. Apologies for the tangents but hey it's why I blog. I've never used captions on my work - well OK then, maybe Untitled once in a while - but inevitably any kind of titling of a collection or a book certainly leads the viewer towards a particular interpretation of the related photographs. In the past these have been more around their compositional relationships.
Distance Between Us spread
Distance Between Us spread
That technique will certainly be a factor in the New Europe zine but I'm looking at another strand to help tell my story. Will it be purely how I sequence and layout the images or are there are other techniques I can use. Introducing other media as I've done before in Portrait of a Street Photographer? Perhaps different sorts or paper to give a more tactile impression? Or is now the opportunity to use augmented reality to really engage the senses? 
Well that was fun. Thanks for reading.

26 Jan 2019

renga time

I'm thinking of making a zine with the photographs from my New Europe collection. Why zine? Wouldn't it be an opportunity to add to my fabulous publishing empire? Well I'm seeing this as a punctuation point not an end. This is still very much a work in progress, as is the immigration debate itself of course.
I have to credit my friend Fabrizio from my local LIP group for the inspiration as he has used the zine format to really complement his wonderful work. 
One characteristic of a zine I like is that you can do away with the reverence of the high end reproduction values of a book. For me it's a more accessible way of presenting images and their sequencing in a visceral way that can really engage you. It reminds me of my conscious rejecting of what I called the white gloves school of photography back in the day. For me the word zine recalls the work of Jamie Reid. In no way could I call myself a punk but the DIY ethos of creating art - whether music, design, film or photography - of picking up whoever or whatever is around you and expressing yourself is really vital to the individual and society.
Zine planning
This is also another opportunity to do something different to how I've worked before by collaborating on the selection and flow of my pictures. Typical of my practice it's always been a solitary process. I had a foray into collaborative working thanks to the Ambiguous Book Project which was quite magical so the seeds are there. This time I'm keen to use the process to interrogate my own work.It's taken me time to feel comfortable doing that myself so I'm excited...and a little nervous.
Fabrizio and I have shared our separate experiences of taking photographs in Tokyo and so listening to the radio this week I was caught by the Japanese phrase Renga.  It's a genre of collaborative poetry but for me it captured perfectly what I'm trying to do...and I never miss an opportunity to see serendipity.
Kore wo yarimashou!

8 Jan 2019

selfies and sunsets

I'm fascinated by the role cameras play in reflecting our social relationships at any time. The boom in image making is well documented and I was interested in a recent stat from Google that 10 - 15% of them are of receipts, shopping lists i.e. "practical things" and not just selfies and sunsets. The article describes how this insight drives the thinking behind Google Lens 
...it will help you search what you see, browse the world around you, and get things done. 
It's an arresting statement and got me thinking about how it could be applied to my own practice of browsing the world around me. I went so far as to download the app to see if its powers of identifying the breeds of pets and species of plants could be used on the street to reveal anything. Sinister? Well yes but not so far fetched
London 2019
I'd like to think my motivations are more altruistic. Hey I'm an artist right? I've written about my consciousness of the shadow of history while I'm walking the streets of London. Rather than reveal an individual's personal data - although that's already a risk of using digital - I'd love to make some kind of visual connection between people across time sharing the same space. I know it's all possible in post production but real time is a phrase I'm intrigued by.
The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.   David Bowie