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.


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 Sep 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 Sep 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.