15 Dec 2019

a cruel beauty

It's that time of year for me to enjoy the guilty pleasures of the photobooks I've picked up over the years. I say guilty as they do feel like an indulgence. Often bought on a whim, they still serve as an inspiration. I don't have a most wanted set and I don't really keep up with the latest releases, apart from the ubiquitous lists at this time of year. I just tend to let them find me. 
So it was with Krass Clement's Drum. 

The circumstances in which the photographs were taken have a romanticism underpinned by a sense of absence and loss. Arguably that's a reflection of a lot of cultures not just Irish but it's one I have to say I identify with. The world depicted by the images evokes memories of not just back home but here in London in the world my dad and his compatriots recreated.
I was taken aback when I found the work was made in 1991. It's space borrowing time from another dimension. Ireland again. I recall the disorientation of entering bars - and homes - like that. A certain theatricality to the arrangement of the room, the order of who sits where, the silence.
Family at home in Ireland

It's interesting how much the analysis I've read is about the photographer's empathy with the others in the bar. Each an outsider in their own way. A form of reflective photojournalism. Not judging. Observing a ritual.
Bearing witness. 

14 Nov 2019

southam street blues

I've known the powerful images from Roger Mayne's Southam Street series for a long time and was honoured to be shown in his company at the survey of London Street Photography show a few years ago. Made at a time in London's history when my parents had arrived to be confronted by a culture of "No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish" his pictures have a social context that give them an added edge for me. I had a real thrill when - oh what's that word? Oh yes - serendipitously, I came across the street sign while out walking beneath Trellick Tower, one of my London icons.
London street image
Southam Street, W10, Roger Mayne
I say sign because the fabric of the street has all but disappeared save two buildings looming like Warner Brothers film lot facades. Those terraces and sounds can now only be experienced in social documentaries of the era. I know I'm in danger of a nostalgia wallow - which could be said of my whole practice -  but it's interesting to read Mayne's own words from 1959,
The reason for photographing poor streets is that I love them. Empty, the streets have their own kind of beauty, a kind of decaying splendor and always great atmosphere - whether romantic on a hazy winter day, or listless when the summer is hot; sometimes it is forbidding; or it may be warm and friendly on a sunny spring weekend when the street is swarming with children playing, or adults walking through or standing gossiping. I remember my excitement when I turned the corner into Southam Street, a street I have since returned to again and again. 
It's hard not to avoid a comparison with Cartier-Bresson's privileged upbringing and subsequent love of photographing everyday life. Granted having the time and money to pursue this way of working for its own sake was - and arguably still is - a characteristic of street photography but should it have any bearing on judging its merit from our perspective? 
I'd go back to my opening point that I take as much from the social context of street images as their own composition. You could say that's not untypical of any photography but for me it's particularly relevant to street which by its nature is a real time reflection of both the location of the photographed and the culture of the photographer.
London street image
So where are the Southam Streets of today? Well there are still plenty of poor streets but people are now documenting their own lives, spending as much time on written narrative as the image. Jim Mottram and Paul Sng are two notable examples and I'd also include James Hopkirk too. 
The images speaks with originality and energy, giving insight into worlds too easily neglected. The photographer here is no longer bystander or daytripper but implicated and yes exposed by the work.
I was on that journey too once upon a time. Time bends.

27 Oct 2019

halftones and halftruths

Visually, with digital technology we’re actually coming closer to nature...If you look at anything natural under a microscope, it breaks down into fractals. And we are now looking at the world in fractals, through pixels, rather than a halftone, which is how we used to see images with print.     Michael Stipe
I like the literal layers of these ideas, meanings uncovered as I read. I can see how digital brings us closer to nature in a literal sense. Does it leave room for mystery? Granted that's another word for ignorance or superstition or delusion and we're in the age of a second renaissance right? 
Tokyo street photograph
I'm not about to rehash a digital versus analogue debate but having worked with both media I'm still drawn to the less than definitive qualities, the halftones, the half truths of film and print. They reflect my take on the world and as I've written about - at length - the ambiguities I enjoy.

28 Sept 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 Sept 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.

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.

18 Jul 2019

zine take two

New Europe has certainly benefited from new work from Berlin and London. I've now put together a second draft of the zine. 
In terms of format I'm now looking at A5 pocket size and the layout is more magazine-y with images cropped and overlaid. For me it's giving more urgency and pace to the experience of flicking through it. It's about finding a (poly)rhythm that reflects the theme.

New Europe zine next draft from Sean McDonnell on Vimeo 
The hard questions remain over sequencing. It's a challenge in a more traditional one-image-a-page-one-opposite but here I've sets of threes and sixes to juggle. It's great to have a collaborator in this situation and so far Fabrizio and I are still talking ;) 
Take a peek.

25 Jun 2019


Another summer break, another excuse to try something different.  
For good or ill I'm finding it hard to disassociate my black and white street work on film from my New Europe project. Using my camera has become synonymous with a certain way of working (which I've commented on at length!) so a trip to North America was an opportunity to use mobile/digital/colour in a new way. 
This combination actually got me started again in London a few years ago after a quiet period. Perhaps it was the more relaxed vibe of the city but I wasn't driven in the same way in Vancouver as I am in other cities. It made for a more deliberate approach which for me is not a bad thing. 
Vancouver 2019
I've shied away from this style as I - arrogantly to be honest - find it hard to make it individual to me and not too generic. However using a mobile phone without changing any settings pre or post let me work in the fluid way I enjoy with my camera (that in the moment thing) and feel more excited about the making process as well as the resulting picture. Yes I still like to see them as two separate parts! 
Vancouver 2019
I like the results. The images themselves are a - small - change in direction but they also represent a way of working I should consider in London too.
Vancouver 2019
They are still one-off pictures in a travelogue style but in the same way I've built a narrative around my more recent work it's perhaps a way of looking at other ideas. Short stories, not novels.

4 Jun 2019

desert island pics

My photo group was recently set a challenge to choose our Desert Island Pics. If you're not familiar with the phrase it's based on there's a nice summary here  
As I'd be thrown by choosing 8 pieces of music then 8 photographs was I'd say even harder. The format of the show is to tell the life story of the guest and the music often relates to particular moments so I chose to pursue that approach rather than select a set of fantastic images that really didn't mean anything personal to me.  
That said I did look at family snapshots as very much part of my story. An interesting point of departure from the music route as I've rarely heard home recordings selected.  
Anyway. Where to start?  
Well as I've mentioned before growing up in front of a black and white TV gave me a particular perspective on the world. I do remember old American comedies - excuse me movies - broadcast on Saturday mornings: Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton etc so I've chosen a famous still from a film by Harold Lloyd. I love the view of the city below. It obviously adds to the drama but for me it's a window on the everyday world below. In retrospect - I'll be doing a lot of that here - it plants a seed for my interest in America and cities in particular
Harold Lloyd film
Harold Loyd in Safety Last!, 1923
I can't leave this period with acknowledging film noir. There are so many to chose from but this is a memory from a Sunday afternoon. We're in front of the telly again. Turned down low while my mum and dad rest after their working week. On comes a film set not in Chicago or Pittsburgh but in Belfast. The atmosphere is tense. We're following an individual in real time with odds stacked against him. The city has a personality of its own, Swaying passionately from violence to humour. I'm transfixed. It's called Odd Man Out by Carol Reed starring James Mason. Watch it.
Odd Man Out film
James Mason in Odd Man Out, 1947 
OK so now I'm a little older. My first time living away from home. I've a bedroom wall to decorate. What do I put on it? Pop stars? Political manifestos? Family photos? Nope. Pictures of sports photography cut out from the newspaper and mounted neatly on card. Yep. What can I say. Eamonn McCabe was the premier sports photographer of the time and  I remember looking forward to seeing his pictures in the Sunday paper. Here's one of Bjorn Borg that was on my wall. although I must admit to fancying myself as more of a McEnroe.
Eamonn McCabe
Bjorn Borg, Eamon McCabe, 1978
Doing this exercise now it's interesting how significant photography was in my upbringing but how I made no real effort to pursuing it as a career. Put it down to an academic education, absence of any peer support or simply lack of self belief. Anyway next pic. Sorry for the self reflection but hey it's my blog.
We're now in Leeds and there are two images I've chosen to represent that period in my life. Apologies still back and white. We're going back a bit but I believe colour had been invented by now. 
I never saw The Clash (although Mick Jones played an important part in my later life) let alone any bands I should have done in that tumultuous era. However I did buy the album! Two in fact as the were selling for 99p each in a bargain bin and I gave one to my friend Paul. This is getting very Adrian Mole. Here's the cover photograph by the great Pennie Smith.

Pennie Smith
 London Calling, Pennie Smith, 1979 
I remember the university library at Leeds had two photography books, Minamata by W Eugene Smith and the other was I think by Don McCullin. By now I'd started taking photographs around Leeds with my first proper camera a Zenit and my style evolved with what I saw around me. Bradford wasn't far away and at the time the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television had recently opened there so my self-education continued inside those walls and outside on the streets surrounding it. McCullin's work had particular resonance and I devoured his work to the point of forfeiting my fare home to London to buy his book on Beirut.
Don McCullin
Bradford, Don McCullin, 1979
So my life took another turn after Leeds and the fulfilment of a dream to see New York City. Music was again a stimulant. Seeing Stop Making Sense at the Hyde Park Picture House wasn't quite Buzzcocks at The Free Trade Hall but the spectacle of David Byrne propelled me to go.
David Byrne
David Byrne in Stop Making Sense, 1979
I've chosen two photographs to represent my time there.  
The Village Voice became a staple read for me every week and the work of one photographer in particular stood out. Sylvia Plachy's Unguided Tour column eloquently captured the energy, madness and passion of the city around me. 
Sylvia Plachy
Unguided Tour, Sylvia Plachy
At the time I still really hadn't discovered the canon of street photographers that are now so well known. My education was browsing book stores and going to see exhibitions and at that time there wasn't a great deal on offer. One day a book called Invisible City caught my eye. The photographer was Ken Schles. As Plachy represented an exuberant exterior life of the city Schles refracted an underground perspective that I was also conscious of. 
Ken Schles
Invisible City, Ken Schles
Oops. I've got to 8 and I'm just into my twenties. I knew this would be tough. So what's this telling me? Well after that period I settled into developing the style of work you see today and is actually picked up at the start of this blog. Would I choose some of my own work - public and private - to represent that later period in addition to other photographers? I certainly think so. 
All the pictures - except one - are black and white. I need to keep breaking that upIn addition only two pictures are by women and they're all from a white western perspective. I think my later selections would have a range of far richer source as I keep learning about new photographers and practices. 
So I could have picked the most influential, well known photos over the same period but I think sitting on my desert island, wondering what on earth I'm going to cook for supper, looking at these particular images will kindle some important memories. 
Excuse me while I choose the next 8 and see if I can smuggle them with me too.

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?

22 May 2019

tell me a story

I've just experienced the most remarkable evening of photographers discussing their work. A new initiative called the Photojournalism Hub brought together Rob Pinney, Giovanna del Sarto, Tavis Bohlinger and James Hopkirk to tell the stories of their work. They each well met the ambition of the evening to expose and engage pressing social justice issues through committed and courageous photojournalism.
Refugees' experiences connects the work of Rob Pinney and Giovanna del Sarto but each of their approaches are distinctive. Pinney's searingly honest description of his initial emotions at The Jungle in Calais and the evolution of his work as he became more familiar with the people - camp refugees and town residents - and their codes of behaviour was fascinating. 
Del Sarto's work explores the power dynamic between photographer and subject, turning it around in her Polaroid for a Refugee project. Recognising the significance of family photographs in the journey into the unknown, the act of taking - then giving back - an image with the commitment to follow its path is incredibly powerful.
The next story took us inside a very personal reflection by a father on his son's journey with autism and epilepsy. Tavis Bohlinger's The Epileptic felt like a real time commentary on his emotional struggle in dealing with what was happening to his son by having the presence of mind - such an apt phrase - to make a photographic record of his interactions with health carers. Using them to interpret the impact on his son of this process was both harrowing and insightful and, as someone with family impacted in the same way, thought-provoking.
The final story was another dimension to the refugee journey, that terrible period of uncertainty once arrived of being granted permission to remain. The Blood of a Woman by James Hopkirk is far more than a documentary project. His involvement with the issues raised by following the story of Mirela cross the traditional boundaries of the objective photojournalist but for me represent a far more humanist approach than the questionable practices of some contemporary photographers.
Do spend time with each of these stories. They are all inspirational. 

19 May 2019

insta fame

Well I've enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame this week c/o a post on Instagram and a chance (more of that later) meeting with Matt Stuart outside Tottenham Court Road station. 
I first met Matt many years ago when he - and others - were conceiving In Public arguably the first collective of street photographers. I was oblivious to the fact that I was the subject of a selection process for the group and had simply appreciated the chance to meet some like-minded souls! In a nicely circuitous way I've now found myself recognised under the flag of new name of the group Un Public whose Instagram account Matt's currently curating.
Unpublic Instagram
I was really interested in Matt's selection of a set of images from my website. Of the 10 only one is recent and to be honest does "fit" well with the older ones.
One person with arm around him
Without dwelling on it too much - as if - it's a useful piece of insight into how I'm trying to develop my work with the New Europe project and how I can balance those standalone images with less obvious ones that are developing that story.
Oh yes. Chance. Yes I'd seen that Nick Turpin, the other driving force behind In Public was in town the same day and thought about trying to meet up with him but in the end found myself on Oxford Street with a real sense I was going to see someone. Well my street photography diving rod was obviously on to something when I saw Matt.
There you go. It's all street.

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.