20 Sep 2020

buy now and donate

So pleased to announce the launch of my Living Lockdown zine. It's great to have been able to use the experience of my last zine New Europe 2015-19 to create something to benefit people in real need as a result of the lockdown.

The achieve it I had to put a little method to my usual madness. Before I'd even begin to look at layouts and sequences I needed to revisit each of the pictures I'd selected in my daily edit and see where they could be categorised into a common theme. 

Once I had my mini collections of Walls, Faith, Out Of Business, Shoes etc I then tried to see how they could work in some kind of timeline reflecting the early days of lockdown leading into a gradual relaxing of measures. I didn't want to follow an exact calendar of events. One of the fascinating elements of the experience is how the same situation can shift in meaning over time. Shop windows that never came back to life and still advertised Easter in July. Social distance circles on pavements gradually fading away. People's front windows transforming from rainbows for key workers to symbols of Black Lives Matter.

 Living Lockdown layout

Then I started to play with combinations of images within those categories. The zine format is really liberating and appropriate for the project theme and the style of the images. I looked at layouts that reflected the mood of each of the sections. By doing that I began to look at how I could use those combinations to set the rhythm of the whole zine. Segues and counterpoints between them begin to appear too. Some obvious, some less so. It was during this phase I had the light bulb moment to make the zine landscape format not portrait so that flow could really work.

I realised this was in danger of turning into a magnum opus of all 900 pictures. I needed to remember to keep it affordable and not turn it into a coffee table paperweight. This is about raising money not profile. On reflection it's a really good lesson for me about editing work and valuing people's attention.

 Living Lockdown layout

I figured 64 pages would be a good target and worked with Ex Why Zed printers on size and paper stock on a price that would still leave room for a donation. Thanks to them for the discount! The idea of a 50:50 split between printing costs and donation was attractive as I wanted to keep the purchasing process as simple and transparent as possible. Which lead me to the next stage. Selling it online.

That really meant a decision on the book title so I could find a relevant domain name. Fortuitously my working title Living Lockdown was available. A good omen! Next the I needed a simple and secure ecommerce website. I'd bought zines from sites using Big Cartel so that was my first stop. The process fitted the bill but the design options to present the pages were limited. I really wanted to make this as impactful to as big an audience of donors as possible. I'd used Squarespace before which I knew could do that but wasn't sure of the selling bit. With a bit of tweaking it started to take shape

It's been a labour of love but the real measure of success is how much money I can raise. 

 

20 Aug 2020

take a walk on the southside

Books - as well as virtual tours - are a great resource for me right now so I was so pleased to see Paul Treacy had created another wonderful handmade book of his life in south east London.

 

I've written about his work a couple of years ago when he published SE26. I suppose it's one of the benefits - for me at least - of this blog that I can take time travel back to my state of mind over the last ten years and in a way a long time before that too.

I was thinking then of my roots and that concept is very much back on my agenda, courtesy of our current hyperlocal lifestyles. I identify with London, of being a Londoner. Although I'm not quite sure what that means right now. Where I was born in an area of south east London - not central, not suburban - gave me an outsider's perspective of the city. Reinforced to a large degree by my parents' status and a big motivation behind my photography. I've since started to appreciate where I live now in west London over the last few months....again through the medium of photography. 

The outsider-ness is still present (I blame reading French existentialism at an impressionable age) so maybe that's here for good now but to be honest I feel I need to dig a bit deeper, beyond my surface and that of the world around me. The New Europe project was a step in that direction. 

I need to keep walking. 

 

24 Jul 2020

kind of normal

I feel the Lockdown project needs an endpoint - as I'm sure we all do in this endless time.

The phrase getting back to normal is becoming more common even though there's plenty to contradict that. 
 
The streets around us are telling a very different story whether it's the shops that are not coming back to life or the social distancing measures to deal with people still absent. Talk is of the second wave of a surge in cases and local lockdowns in the Autumn. Government support for individuals and businesses will start winding down then as well. The reality of the new normal will soon dawn. 

I've decided to use my pictures to help raise money for Ealing Foodbank as a small way of directing this work into something practical. I'll make use of the experience making my New Europe zine (hey that feels from another planet right now) to make something affordable and hopefully interesting enough to buy.

My challenge will be to distil over 900 images into some kind of narrative. To put that in perspective it's more than the number of my final prints over the last thirty years! I like the flow of the slides I put together for the Ealing LIP group so that gives me a start.

I tried to segue the themes with images that had an ambiguity about them. The easier option would be to present them in separate categories e.g. shop windows, walls, schools etc. If I was being more savvy another route would be to organise the images by area or by street, perhaps with a map or index for people to look up their own neighbourhood. 
 
Needlesstosay neither option is satisfactory for me. It's back to my jazz metaphor. Create a tempo. Build a mood. Solos. Counterpoint. See where it takes us.

 

7 Jul 2020

reality check

In a year when the 4th of July has been vigorously challenged as a day of liberty for all there's an uncomfortable parallel with England's own Independence Day billed as the Day We Smiled Again by some and #SuperSpreaderSaturday by others. 
Whatever the outcome it marks a moment in the Lockdown story. Whether it's the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning we don't know. It does feel timely to reflect on my experience expressed through my own documentary project 
I confess I've become a little obsessive. Each morning I think I've taken all the photographs that can be made of household belongings on garden walls, of socially distant pavement markers, of going out of business/opening soon shop window signs. No. They keep coming.  
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I don't want this project to become a kind of dystopian scavenger hunt. Behind all these signs, symbols and ciphers lie people's livelihoods and lives. It's so moving to observe all this so vicariously. Is it a very English breakdown of society? Polite. Apologetic. Decent.  
There's been plenty of allusions - and illusions - of war. The nation coming together. Spitfire flypasts. No room for dissent. The hidden social impacts have still to play out in public.  
I've always looked forward to summer. Lately I've come to regard the sun with more portent. Now the weather feels more part of a bread and circuses strategy. To distract and to palliate.
Ah yes. How could I forget. We've been here before.
Humankind cannot bear very much reality. T.S. Eliot

12 Jun 2020

eye opening

There are far more significant impacts on peoples' lives in lockdown but, for the privileged, access to collective experiences of any description are one that people miss. The last exhibition I saw feels in retrospect both prophetic in its content and historic as an example of a world since turned upside down.
Our experience is now like a lot of things screen based so I was impressed by the approach Four Corners took to switching their Another Eye exhibition to an online version.
Another Eye exhibition
Another Eye exhibition catalogue cover
A survey of women photographers displaced from Germany and Austria in an era of anti-semitism and political persecution to make new lives in Britain in the 1930s caught my attention as another reflection of our times. The perspectives  and subsequent influence of these women was fascinating to discover. I confess the only one I was familiar with was Dorothy Bohm who I had the fortune to hear speak a couple of years ago at Street London. 
Another Eye exhibition - social documentary
Illustration from Another Eye
The significance of Gerti Deutsch, Elisabeth Chat and Edith Tudor-Hart on the development of Picture Post was my highlight of the show. I love finding copies of this magazine which is such a rich resource of social history and discovering their work was another wake up to the (un)recognition of women in the history of photography.
This work are great examples of the humanist tradition of photography that publications such as Picture Post and Life championed. However nowadays it's a form that is rightly challenged. The rights of people to control the representation of their lives is paramount to help empower them and dismantle stereotypes. However for me the work in this exhibition has an integrity that does not dilute its effectiveness. It's a salient illustration of what an outsider can do using their own experiences of alienation. 
Empathy. An important word for our times.

8 Jun 2020

waking up

The death of George Floyd and subsequent reaction has brought home to me the privileges I've enjoyed as a white man with or without my acknowledgement in all aspects of my life. Thinking about it in terms of my photography feels like an indulgence that illustrates exactly that position of entitlement. To have the time and means to pursue my passion in a public space that for a lot of people is a hostile environment that needs to be negotiated everyday cannot be ignored. 
Black Lives Matter sign
I've been really pleased to see the rise of groups promoting the work of women street photographers. I need to wake up to the liberty I enjoy, especially in my most recent work taking pictures in residential streets and shopping areas in the early morning across my London neighbourhood. Little notice is taken of me as a suspicious person in the better off areas. Conversely on some streets I pose a threat as some kind of state snooper.  
Apologies for the public hand wringing. I know I need to use my privilege so those structures are changed. Education is a start. Action has to follow.

25 May 2020

life during lockdown

London street photography. A London street photographer. Phrases I feel proud to associate myself with. Yet - like a lot of life at the moment - I took for granted what they meant. 
Let's look at London. I roamed the West End, celebrating the choreography we each practice to navigate our individual paths through the city, filling the veins of its streets with energy. My London is now as far as I can run to and from my home. Places that some would dispute even are in London! The life on those streets is now represented not by faces. Those I meet are often masked, on their way to work, a memory for me. The frontline feels an apt description as the journey and workplace will mean exposure to the risk of infection and possibly worse. 
Street photography for me now is, with grim irony, just that. There are no people in my pictures. The streets themselves take centre stage. The only constant in a future still not fully comprehensible. Along the way there are signs, some explicit, others less so.
Chalking's making a comeback, another echo of an era of austerity, fear and of making do but now I see another meaning. A moment of uninhibited expression in the fresh(er) air away from the confines of the house and family. Front gardens double up as mini circular economy models or impromptu safe distance conversation stations.
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High streets and malls are also redefined, shop windows frozen in time, succumbing to a nuclear wind at the moment of the lockdown announcement. Messages of hope to customers, some corporate, some heartfelt. Shop displays decay, winter coats a dissonant reflection of our summer selves. Book pages curl, scrolling themselves into messages for bottles. Plants die and thrive recalling a prophecy from David Byrne.
Doorways and windows have been repurposed as pick up points for the outriders of the gig precariat. Combined with reversing supermarket delivery vans and emergency services vehicles traffic has a disturbing characteristic. The sound of sirens. 
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It's a world that's familiar but, as referenced a month into the UK lockdown, strange. I feel the current direction of my work is a prelude, documenting a phoney war to adopt the language of our time, before the consequences of these days take hold. As is my style I photograph the everyday, arguably the surface. The New Europe project considered how that's not necessarily opaque. 
It reflects and refracts

14 May 2020

life skills

One fascinating consequence of the advent of social distancing is an acute appreciation of our bodies in proximity to others. It's second nature to me, and it's been a major motivation for my work, so it's really interesting to observe this go mainstream. I'd love to find out how different cultures are adapting to these circumstances. Is the motivation purely self preservation or a more altruistic? A recent article by Gia Kourlas, the New York Times dance critic poses a great question How are we using our bodies to navigate a pandemic? 
Two figures in London street

Ways of walking is for the moment no longer an independent exercise in getting from A to B. It's now reliant on mutual cooperation, overt or implicit, akin to the social nuances of a Regency society ball. Head-on passing by is sometimes facilitated with eye contact or gesture. The more agile take it upon themselves to pre-empt any confusion and step into the road. This is also a shrewd tactic when overtaking but that domain is replete with the risks of incurring a worse fate by crossing the path of a newly habilitated cyclist or jogger. 
link to my Museum of London street photography show selection
How long this behaviour lasts for, like a lot of our new ways of living at the present time, is a matter of conjecture. Situational awareness is no bad thing. Consideration of who we share the streets with, those levelling moments, are a force for change. How we share those streets again is no longer an April Fool.

29 Apr 2020

the past and other foreign countries

Pleased to announce the arrival of a test copy of my first foray into zine territory New Europe 2015-19. 
I've appended the dates since I put this together last year as it really does feel like another world. Perhaps pre-2020 will become a phrase of the future freighted with meaning. In the meantime it already has an nostalgia skin to the wonderful Café Royal books. I see so many instances of our former paradigm of privilege that it puts the themes I was exploring into profound perspective.  
Here's my original thinking, way back last year... 
European cities have long been shaped and identified by immigrant populations. No news there. 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. 
When I think of London I don't think of monuments to the past. I think of people. People like my parents who came here for a better life. But it's not easy. London is a dream as much as a place. The streets don't always glitter with gold. But still people come from all around the world. We make lives, love, work, bring up families. Along the way we keep a connection to the home country. But something else happens. Out on the street we share the everyday. Struggles. Triumphs. Despair. We share space and time. 
We belong.
Well. 
The ease of travelling to European cities for the fortunate is now elevated to an aspiration for the few.
National consciousness is heightened. Borders are porous to this particular migrant. Tensions rise between city and village.
The advent of social distancing, a contender for phrase of the year, makes some of these images appear reckless. Some may say good riddance, granted. 
Will we ever return to that way of walking, way of life even, with the same confidence? I'm sure we will but right now, with talk of one-way pavements, it feels a little distant.
Here's to the memory. 


6 Apr 2020

only the lonely

I'm fundamentally challenged not just by the current restrictions on personal movement but by the impact of them on my very impulse for taking photographs. The irony of the phrase street photography comes home to me. The streets are nothing without people. Without people's faces.
Sadiq Kahn, London Mayor on TV
For succour I'm drawn to photo books. My guilty pleasuresI recently saw a picture by the photographer William Gedney posted on Twitter which lead me to a lovely collection of his work by Gilles Mora, Only The Lonely. Wilfully resisting or indeed neglecting to create any public profile for his work during his lifetime Gedney has only since his death achieved any recognition. His work has plenty of stylistic traits that interest me but I was drawn to his working practice, what Mora calls his "commitment to his art...born solely of a internal necessity"'
Myrtle Avenue, May 5, 1969, 4:45 pm by William Gedney
 Myrtle Avenue, May 5, 1969, 4:45 pm, William Gedney
His work is part of but also separate from the American 20th century documentary tradition. The words immersive and complicity are used to describe his technique and it's fascinating to see how he transposes that to his street work. One of Gedney's significant project was the documentation of life on Myrtle Avenue as he looked from his window in Brooklyn. One image that caught me eye is the only one in his archive titled with such specificity. It place not just himself but me as a viewer in that moment in time. I've always eschewed titles of any description yet this made me think again. It made me think of Chris Dorley-Brown's use of it in The Corners to root his images in an alternate reality. For me knowing the time the picture was taken doesn't define it but adds another layer of story telling, of possibility, of ambiguity. 
I'm intrigued. Why May 5? 4:45 in the afternoon? What happened on that day? At that time? I thought of the turmoil of that decade in America, powerfully portrayed by Paul Fusco's Robert F. Kennedy’s Funeral Train. I imagined Gedney listening to the radio and feeling impelled to record and reflect the moment. It'd be fascinating to see if anything is revealed in his writings. I don't think it's what I found.
I recognise this relationship of the ordinary to the extraordinary was my motivation for my New Europe project. It's also poignant that any photographs taken in 2020 will need no such checking. 
Everyone knows what started then.

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.

15 Feb 2020

left eye dominant

The Trial of Tatsuo Suzuki sounds like a 19th century novel. The artist guilty of following an unacceptable moral code to create his work. Sounds familiar? 
I first saw Suzuki's work about a year ago as part of Samuel Lintaro Hopf's On The Street series.
I find films of street photographers' working fascinating. Nick Turpin's In-Sight is a fine example. This one however had more of a punk aesthetic to it. Suzuki's modus operandi is closer to a 3 minute 3 chord than an improvisational jazz piece.
I must confess to empathising with his technique. No surprise there. However the controversy over his use in a Fuji ad campaign has been interesting for me as it's brought this particular style into public debate. He's seen as aggressive and rude.Others say it's very much on the tradition of street photography and it's seeing the making of the pictures that reveals actually what it takes to produce that work.
I take this to a point but the advent of digital must play a part too and can easily be characterised as spray and pray which can upset the purist. At one point in the On The Street film there's a discussion of SD cards and that 16GB is not enough as you can only take 500 pictures. That's 6 months' of images in my world.
New York street photograph
I agree it's a masculine way of taking photographs. There's a sense of entitlement that it's OK to behave in this way. There are plenty of examples of arguably more just as creative work by women that aren't promoted at all.
Which, once again, leads me to think street is actually more about the photographer then the photographed. This is an argument that of course could be applied across all forms of photography but I think street comes closest because what can one ever really know about the people in the pictures? 
When Cartier-Bresson goes to China, he shows that there are people in China, and that they are Chinese.               Susan Sontag
So back to Suzuki who undercuts the theory with a very practical reason for his from the hip style. Looking through a a viewfinder doesn't work for him. He's left eye dominant. Furthermore he himself twists a cultural stereotype in his favour, "I'm just a stupid tourist". Hmm. Good line that. 


31 Jan 2020

eyes on the street

The announcement by London's police force that it will use live facial recognition reminded my of a book I published a few years ago called Street View People View
link to People View Street View book
The arguments against it are essentially the same (although the quality of the technology is still moot) but what's changed is the sense of threat to personal safety on the streets of London. It's well documented that London is, outside China, the most cctv'd (if that's a word) city in the world which I think has normalised (not a nice word) surveillance here. I'm certainly conscious of its absence when I visit other cities around Europe.
I'm also conscious that street photography is itself a form of surveillance. I've excused myself with the well worn argument that anyone - voluntarily - in a public space is open to being photographed. I must admit even writing this now makes me stop and think. I find myself thinking of clauses like some dodgy small print. 
My pictures take months to produce so I don't share them randomly with my thousands (sorry, tens) of followers 
They are on film so there is no exif data of specific time and place 
People are in my pictures but the subject is the city 
It's not about you...it's about me 
etc etc 
Figure on Oxford Street
I acknowledge my work is becoming more anachronistic the longer I pursue it. The universal truths of earlier practitioners appear naive or repressive now. Street is still a valid form but it needs to reflect the present to work best, as it's always done. The New Europe project is my attempt to address that. It's given me greater motivation and purpose. It's also given me something else.  
Empathy.

20 Jan 2020

snooker not slalom

Well the summer 2019 results are in and I must admit to feeling underwhelmed. The patchy weather after the excesses of the spring didn't help but I never felt I got in the groove all summer. Kept missing the beat.
Man on London street
It's not surprising in some respects. I've tried to move away from that high contrast morning or evening sunlight raking across the West End silhouetting figures or exposing them to a brutal blinding beam. I've become more interested in the environments, social and emotional, around people. It's not about finding juxtapositions. More about taking a step back. Thinking a bit about context. It could be the news or something more personal. The consequence is a more deliberate, less pacey style.  Snooker not slalom.
I don't think that's about losing the physical drive. It's an evolution of my style that really started after my break a few years ago that led to the New Europe project. It becomes evident when I look at my contact sheets. Now it's less obvious to see the ones to take on to print, there's fewer obvious "keepers" (forgive me). My rate of return is less but I'd like to think the images have greater depth, especially when seen in the company of others. I've tried to express it in the re-looking part of my 5 Acts approach.
Where does it leave me? I seem to say this every year but end up feeling like a football fan looking forward to the next season. It's not the despair, it's the hope that kills you. So the cliche goes. Roll on 2020.