24 Aug 2018

modernising street photography #3

The significance of street photography in the mental health of those who practice it was a fascinating insight for me from this year's Street London event. It was touched on in last year's event by Richard Sterne but two testimonies by Cam Crosland and David Gaberle were incredibly honest and all the more powerful for that. 
In a way they put the main theme of the event about ethics and morality into perspective.  
There was some consensus around the photographer's personal responsibility to treat people with respect but not to the point of self-censorship i.e. shoot first, then decide what to do afterwards. That visceral, instinctive response is for me one of the essences of working in the street. Over-thinking dilutes that spontaneity and indeed originality.  
However Jeff Mermelstein's private text photographs proved a challenge when the "how would you feel if it was you?" question was posed. Certainly using the technology of the day and reflecting the culture of the moment made it an interesting project for me and something ironically I was taken by in the inaugural London Street Photography Symposium.
Post production as illustrated by Chris Dorley-Brown's The Corners was another angle on the premise - or promise - of authenticity. That contract between photographer and viewer that what they're seeing did happen in reality. Ah reality, there's an idea. Merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
These debates are not new. Take Weegee and Fenton for example. Yet it's interesting to consider the impact of digital on both these topics. Arguably the initial taking and then the re-making of photographs has engendered less and more thought respectively.
Dear me, this post is getting a little too existential. Back to the event.
It was refreshing to hear Simon Roberts talk, well introduced by what can be regarded as the first street photograph, highlighted the detailed planning that goes into his work. Hours of preparation for literally a handful of great images. 
Dorothy Bohm also proudly recounted her ability to make the most of the limited resources in post-war Manchester. Her lifelong commitment to photography was inspirational.
Perhaps Joel Meyerowitz nailed it in his address. Neatly closing the loop on Julie Hrudova's Street Repeat he made a powerful argument for the role - and the right - to take photographs in the street to make your own signature regardless of how original or not the composition or subject of the image. What's important is to be your own witness. I'd interpret that message both of the external and your internal worlds.
 Honest pictures.

29 Jul 2018

open city?

Rome has been in my sights for a while now. 
Perhaps it's the influence of William KleinRoberto Rosslini, or even Francesco Totti but it also has present day relevance at the front line of the debate about immigration, nationality and citizenship. 
My series New Europe is a personal reflection I've been developing around the context of my pictures. Not the specific location or time of day. Still respecting the anonymity/ambiguity of people. Back to one of my favourite words, palimpsest. Another layer of interpretation, of possible meaning, that intrigues me.
link to Rome contact sheet 
Anyway. It's a good opportunity to show a contact sheet and start the post-conception phase I enjoy! 

21 Jun 2018

always first steps

I'm really enjoying my participation in the my local London Independent Photography group. I'm in my second year which feels like a (small) achievement after previous failures to commit to group photography projects.
As well as showing and discussing photography the group is actively involved in local exhibitions. Last year's group show had a really interesting theme and this year's is just as good. So good I've ended up in the team organising it!
Oblique Strategies is an approach that Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt evolved in the 70s to overcome creative blocks. I remember interviews with David Bowie talking about his writing technique of cutting up words so it was fascinating to see how this had been formalised, industrialised even, into a process and used on his Berlin albums produced by, guess who, Brian Eno.
Each of the group were drawn a statement from the set of Oblique Strategies to respond to with a photograph. Always First Steps was mine. Well how easy was that going to be? Despite an aspiration to try different techniques by joining the group I do find myself back in my safety zone. So how about a blur of shoes on Waterloo Station's Odessa Steps? Perhaps a crowd crossing Oxford Circus Shibuya-style? Over complicating it? OK then, a kid on reins. Job done.
Well not quite. 
To do justice to the project - and Brian and David too - I felt I needed to dig a little deeper. One of the many exciting aspects of talking photographs on the street is, one of my favourite words, serendipity. That moment when two, or more if you're especially fortunate, elements come together. They are rare but incredibly rewarding
So what did I come up with? 
link to Venice images
The reason why I don't title any of my pictures is just to let people read whatever they want into them. It was one of the motivations for The Ambiguous Project!
It's fascinating showing this image to people, revealing the "title" and listening to their interpretation. I'm sure there's some psychological process at work here. The same way perhaps we make connections between images and soundtracks we need to rationalise what we're seeing, no matter how arbitrary. To achieve dissonance is a real challenge. Aha. 
I feel another project coming on...

10 Apr 2018

dear, damned. deceptive city

I'm always on the lookout for photography books about cities - London in particular of courseso I was really pleased to discover both a wonderful book and a photographer I'd known nothing about. It affirms my faith in the photobook as a 
Londýn 60. let / Sixties London by Miloň Novotný affirms my faith in the photobook as not just a nostalgic trip to the past or an arms length glimpse of a  another world but as much a reflection on our own place and times. I found myself visualising the exact spots where Novotný would have stood in Picaddilly Circus, Tottenham Court Road or Cornhill. Reminds me of the Street Museum idea that I still would love to do something with. Oh dear. Too late.
Milan Novotny's londyn 60. let review 
For me there's a connection to the work of Markéta Luskačová and Sergio Larraín which makes it all he more interesting, a kind of cross referencing of people and place with the eyes of a outsider.
Social class as explicitly referenced in the photographs of the City and the East End is a common denominator but so is the less stratified world of the West End. It resonates with me as I've always enjoyed the social mix drawn by the shops, businesses and tourist attractions there. The City has some of that and arguably the East End is on its way. Maybe it's the South Londoner in me that's behind this so I love to see how photographers from different backgrounds approach the city.
I couldn't resist titling this post with a phrase A.G. Hughes uses in his essay accompanying Novotný's photographs. Dear, damned, deceptive city. It's a dramatic phrase, in a way at odds with the images at first glance. Yet thinking of the times these pictures were made London was undergoing enormous social and physical change, transforming the city in similar ways to our present time. I can't see it appearing as an advertising strap line on the Tube but I feel it around me. 
 Dear, damned, deceptive city.

27 Mar 2018


Ah the Spring Equinox is here. No, I've not suddenly converted to pagansim, although it's somewhere in my roots. It's my time to come out of hibernation and start to take pictures again. I often wonder why I make things so hard for myself. 
I love making photographs in the sun. In London. Yes London.  
I like working during the week. The West End at the weekend just doesn't have that mix of people and purpose I love. 
Oh yes and I love film. 35mm, 36 frames. 
link to Venice images
Let's do the maths. 

Optimal light, Spring to Autumn Equinox, 26 weeks. Tops.

5 days a week. Not sunny every day. Call it 1 day a week. Average. It's London remember?
1 roll of film a day. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. It's expensive.

Makes 936 pictures by my reckoning.


For the year.

Now we can begin.

5% of those 936 are worth looking at a second time.

Half of those 46 a 3rd look.

Of those, 5 (6 if I'm lucky) might have something about them. Not always obvious but just enough.

So you can see why I'm excited. The new year is now.

Can't wait to see what it brings me.

Busy Sean Time.

3 Mar 2018

street philosophy

I see a new book on Garry Winogrand is about to be launched. Written by Geoff Dyer whose book The Ongoing Moment I really enjoyed for his lateral take on the history of photography I'm sure it'll be a good read.
Garry Winogrand is such a go-to reference for what I'll call classic - and others may call old fashioned - street photography that it's curious I honestly was not aware of his work when I started practising. Apologies if that's disingenuous. I can see my work reads like a Winogrand-lite tribute act. 
Oxford Street photograph
But my inspiration I recall was through the documentary work of Don McCullin's Homecoming and W. Eugene Smith's Minamata. Back in the day what became known as street wasn't publicly available, in the UK at least. Yes it feels a little sepia toned even writing this. Let me fetch more ink for my quill...
At that time I actually made this type of work, in style and in conscience. Now, in retrospect, it's one of those what-if questions about life (in)decisions. I know I struggled with the anthropological/us & them approach to documentary work which I why I admired for example Jim Goldberg's Rich and Poor project that found a way to break down the viewer/photographer/subject relationship into something fresh. 
I have to accept my own style can easily be seen as making no challenge to those relationships. There's no collaboration between myself and what I photograph. They are still subjects. I seek no deeper insight into their condition. My only only nod to objectivity is not to caption the picture. And yet it's that very ambiguity that I find fascinating and enduring. Geoff Dyer comments in his book on a particular Winogrand photograph from the late 50s/early 60s
In colour, people seem necessarily to be walking into the future (when the overwhelming bulk of photography will be colour); in black-and-white, they are emerging from the past (when black-and-white was considered the only medium for serious photography).
It's a question I've thought with regard to my own work. Is it simply a nostalgia trip, a re-tread of old tropes that were new and radical back in the day but now really saying nothing new? I've fallen back on on jazz, one of my favourite comparisons, and the way that standard compositions can be endlessly re-interpreted. I guess the challenge for me is to stay Miles Davis and not Kenny G...
New York City 1987 photograph
Tokyo 2017 photograph
I'm now looking back at my work from thirty years ago and, yes, those people are still emerging from the past...as they are from last year too. Does that continuity, that plus ça change, say anything worthwhile? I hesitate to use the phrase human condition as for me it's rooted in that black and white world of Life and Picture Post photography that in a contrary way reinforced social stereotypes while ostensibly celebrating them. But hey are we any more sophisticated now? 
Perhaps I just need to appreciate these pictures for what they are. Tiny breadcrumbs of my life. Watch out. Sounds like a book title...