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 Suxuki'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 month's 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 great examples of arguably more imaginative work by women.
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 Tatsuko 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.

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.