15 Mar 2020

more distance between us

It seems timely to revisit a book I put together a few years ago called Distance Between Us. The images I chose illustrated my love of city life: the democracy of public space (the civilisation of civic space?). Moments where we share intimate proximity with strangers, creating serendipitous relationships on the wing. 
At least that's what we used to.
The current coronavirus crisis has meant fundamental changes to our daily interactions with each other. A new phrase social distancing has entered the language. It's a fascinating and terrifying concept. It arguably strikes to the heart of our lives as citizens. We take freedoms of association and movement so easily far granted in what I'll call liberal democracies. Well this is a global crisis with lives of millions of people at risk (not forgetting the other one). Rome, Madrid and New York are already under states of emergency. Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin and Berlin limiting public gatherings. The very fabric of city life has disappeared overnight.
London waits.
man at Piccadilly Circus
man on Piccadilly 
Earlier this month I was at a strangely empty Photographers Gallery. Ten days later I wonder when I'll next be at an exhibition, performance or indeed any public gathering. I was there to see four nominees for the Deutsche Börse prize and admired the multidisciplinary approach of Mohamed Bourouissa including a piece of augmented reality.
London street image
Reserve army of the unemployed, Mohamed Bourouissa
The comparison with these shrouded figures to the images we're seeing daily of  health workers clad in hazmat suits was powerful. Seeing them materialise in the gallery, silently observing our entitled behaviour, revealed the surrealism of our situation. It's a rude awakening.

8 Mar 2020

eyes of Dora Maar

I'm really glad I made it to the Dora Maar show at Tate Modern before it closes as, once again, my eyes were opened to another photographer who excelled at candid photography in the midst of social change.
Maar's story goes well beyond her trip to London in the 1930s so this work is very much a moment on her path to her better known life as a surrealist, encompassing photomontage, painting and poetry, but for me it was a fascinating example of little-known street photography - being outside the canon, obvs - that even in the few images in this show really gave me some small insight into her thoughts and motivations 
The portraits in London are very much rooted in their environment. We see individual hardship in the shadow of the bricks and mortar of questionable financial probity. I hadn't seen an image of a pearly king in years and Maar's photographs really made me think of the historical representation and reality of English working class culture. 
No dole - Work wanted - Lost all in business, Dora Maar, 1934
No dole - Work wanted - Lost all in business, Dora Maar, 1934
Pearly King collecting money for the Empire Day, Dora Maar, 1935
Pearly King collecting money for the Empire Day, Dora Maar, 1935
There's a mood about them, and her other photographs from the streets of France and Spain in the same period, that for me has more of an edge than the French humanist style of that time, feeling more affinity with the emerging American outsider. They reflect the social context of the times through the idiosyncratic, compassionate eyes of the photographer. Timeless in lots of ways.