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Thursday, 21 April 2011

Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros RIP


Diary (2010) from Tim Hetherington on Vimeo.

Terrible news from Libya where Tim Hetherington and Guy Hondros have been killed. Our deepest condolences to all their friends and family. Guy Martin is recovering after surgery so all our thoughts are with him for a full recovery.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Echolilia



So a few months ago I interviewed Timothy Archibald about his project, Echolilia, a collaboration with his son Elijah that Timothy finally completed and released in book form. I didn't have the book, but I knew and admired the project so much, not just for the images, but for the thought, care and love that had been taken to create a work that functions at multiple levels, says something knew and walks close to the edge at times. It cannot have been an easy work to make.

Then I got the book and that takes the project to a different level. Echolilia is the most intriguing and revealing photography books on children. It goes beyond the lyrical and the physical to examine how his son Elijah, and children as a whole, think, see and behave. It is also a case of work having a life far beyond its early computer-based medium.

Last week I mentioned in a post how great work goes beyond it's technical or historical roots and extends into wider spheres. This is what Archibald does with Echolilia - he reaches into the genus loci of his family, his son, of what it is to be an individual with his own way of thinking and being and the effect this has on his way of seeing and being seen.

On the way, he incorporates notes, stickers, pictures, scans and found objects to add a dimension to the pictures he creates. "I DOTE LIKE you" reads  one note, paired with another that says "I hATE you". Another scrap of paper is divided into 4, with each corner reading GUN, hUG, MOM, WOW - a virtual mirror image. There are pictures of Elijah lying naked in a plastic tub, a picture of birth, the sunlight streaming into the room through the curtains beyond. Another shows him sitting, belly sticking out, with a paper bag on his head, a mix of visual referents that is both disturbing but also right on the money.

The book starts with a picture of Elijah in profile, a wire basket over his head. "Late afternoon is when the noises start," reads the accompanying text. "The electronic noises have been around since he was three," the text continues. Flip the page and there is a handwritten note of condensed parental worries about Elijah and his behaviour - diagnoses of  possibleAspergers or other spectrum disorders, the symptons, the cures, the reactions, how to handle the school, what to tell the school. The opposing page is a scan of a bloodied band-aid, the stop-gap solution to a problem that nobody is sure exists, the start of a process of understanding that is the narrative drive of the book.

In one picture, Elijah sits on a table sniffing flowers. In another, he stands, bare-chested with a pair of pliers hanging from his mouth. The next image shows him leaning against a screen door, his mind miles away, the picture clipped round the sides and then scanned. Numerous pictures show constrictions, others show extensions and focussing points; a funnel over his face concentrating whatever lies beneath, a cardboard tube elongating his arm into some kind of alien appendage. The last picture is of Elijah lying on the floor, eyes closed, speaking into a vacuum tube, the other end against his ear, the circle of understanding and self-awareness fixed, but not perhaps complete.

Echolilia resonates with people outside photography. They see their child in Elijah, they see new ways of communicating and understanding from the pictures. Echolilia will never pay the bills because it is quite unglamorous; it is collaborative, it is about a child who falls within the autistic spectrum, it does not conform to a particular way of seeing, it's not commercial.

Sometimes with art and photography, one gets a big feeling that the artist/photographer doesn't know what he is talking about or showing, that he or she is hiding something and that something is what they don't know. Sometimes you get the same feeling with Timothy Archibald, but it is deliberate, something that he will address in his pictures, a gap that he will try to close, a weakness that becomes a strength within the framework of Echolilia - a lack of knowing that is as central to Archibald's state of being as it is to all of ours - if only we would admit it. I think that is what makes Echolilia so unique. It is an expression of uncertainty and doubt, but through that expression has come a new way of understanding, an understanding that extends beyond the world of Elijah and his family.

Look inside Echololia and Buy the Book here.

It is holidays now, so this blog will be taking a short break for a few weeks. Back in May.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Equality/Inequality and Cuts photography

Image copyright Philip Wolmuth

Picture by Philip Wolmuth

Further to a previous post, here are some photographers working on the current political situation in the UK. Philip Wolburn is working on how community organisations (including photographic organisations) are being hit in North London, Pete Williams on the transformation of a Wandsworth hospital into a free school and Jonathan Warren on the protests and marches that have accompanied the cuts in both the recent governments.

If you know of anyone else working in this are, do let me know.

Pete Williams (sorry no link to his work) also sent me this competetion on equality/inequality.
There are just nine days left in which to submit your entry to our first photo competition, The Spirit Level: images of [in]equality.

As announced a few weeks ago, we are looking for photographic representations of both equality and inequality, photos that can help tell the story of the massive gap between rich and poor in the UK and that can inspire us to take action. Everyone is welcome to take part, from established photographers to complete beginners.



Full information is available here .

You can take a look at the entries we've received so far on our flickr page . Photos submitted so far have covered issues from homelessness to poor-quality housing, and have drawn attention to the juxtaposition of opulent hotels and adjacent immigration deportation centres, loneliness, and the negative role of advertising.


Finally, please bear in mind:

- as we campaign on income inequality, we are looking for images of income [in]equality, rather than for example racial, gender or sexual [in]equality, although of course these inequalities often overlap and can influence each other


- the evidence presented in the The Spirit Level is based on richer countries and inequality within society in these countries, rather than international inequalities or international poverty

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The New Ruins of Great Britain, John Davies, Jem Southam and Bristol's collapsing luxury flats





Owen Hatherley's book, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, is a strangely entertaining read. So often I don't know the places he is talking about, or the buildings he is referring to, but he somehow makes his visions clear - partly because it's a vision that is apparent to all who live in Britain today - the destruction of the urban landscape through the deliberately mediocre (see also this piece by Jay Merrick). It's a British version of The Geography of Nowhere, a laying of a baseline of comparison not in the 90s or the 80s but in those isolated pockets of time where planning took account of public space and public needs - indeed where the very idea of "public" had some kind of meaning that had not been eroded by the ideas of the market or the commercially competetive.

Amongst others, Hatherley looks at Southampton, Manchester (the worst offender in Hatherley's view), Milton Keynes, London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Sheffield and Liverpool. Sadly he does not look at Bristol where the balconies have almost been falling off residents' leaky harbourside prize-winning luxury flats
 I rode past the flats today on the harbour ferry - a ride through the bad and ugly of contemporary urban development in Britain.  However, Hatherley does  look a little  at the corruption that has been accompanying this redevelopment/destruction - corruption of both the institutionalised kind and the good old-fashioned backhander kind, but one gets the feeling that he is just scratching the surface with this and that more revelations will start appearing across the country, in every city, in the not-too-distant future - a kind of saved-up scandal-in-waiting because the only thing that can possibly justify some of the abysmal development in Blair's Britain is wodgeful of £50 notes stuffed into very hefty envelopes. Oh, and a level of incompetence that borders on the criminally insane. Or both. 
 
Hatherley also looks at Britain's great landscape photographers, John Davies, and describes
his British Landscapes as a book containing "...astounding photographs of usually derided, master-panned postwar landscapes - the chaos of intersections in Herbert Manzoni's Birmingham, the meticulously planned hillscape of J.L.Womersley's Sheffiedl - taken from the planner's vantage point. That is, from above, seemingly either from the top of a tower blolck (where the perspective is supposedly bleak and isolating) or an office block (where it is the perspective of the lord of all he surveys). These images combine a certain stillness with a barely suppressed charge of excitement."

And I suppose that is the mark of any great photography - it escapes the photography ghetto and becomes relevant to the wider world. In British landscape photography, John Davies and Jem Southam do this with a degree of finesse, Davies through his reading of the urban landscapes and the layers of architecture, planning and usage of the sites he photographs. Southam meanwhile does a similar thing with the semi-rural landscape, looking at how human and animal interaction creates architectural layers to the landscape.

Gerry Badger writes about Southam in Some Stories in Search of an Ending: 'Southam's is a deeply rooted art. "I need to attach myself to a place and return again and again to make work there," he says. It is necessary for him to have "knowledge" of a site before he can begin to impart that knowledge to his audience.





His repeated workings of a site result in a specialist knowledge of that ground, a feeling of kinship with it, a sensing of its spirit its past. It may be an overused phrase, but Jem Southam's work is essentially about the genus loci, the history of a place and its ghosts - those who once occupied the same territiories he now metaphorically occupies through his photographs.'

Which brings us right back to Owen Hatherley. Reading his book, one is infused with some kind of spirit of a place, of what it was and is as well as what it might have been or still could be. I think he writes of the genus loci of the places he visits, as Southam photographs them - and so even though I do not have the faintest clue of where or what he is talking about, I am still drawn into his writing, I am hypnotised into reading it.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Beyond Caring: It's the women that's to blame!





We know that BBC's Newsnight is dying a slow death. Now Today is following suit if this item on Social Mobility is anything to go by.

Listen to this. 

So the only non-mobile person that is interviewed is a mother who left school at 13 after being in a children's home and has never worked. She has a child who wants to either be a policeman because he can arrest people (to make the world better) or work in a shop. All very good, but it is a bit lazy and pointless.

Meanwhile Evan Davies gives University and Science minister, David "Half-a-brain" Willets, a ridiculously comfy ride. Willets imagines that Social Mobility has decreased because of more women going to university and that the answer to making the UK more mobile is getting more students to do traditional A-levels, so increasing their ability to get to 'competitive' universities - the very phrase is an oxymoron and revealing of an attitude that is antithetical to all that is good, clean and honest in life.

Willets also believes in increased access to Further Education courses and old qualifications - but this is coming from a government where any in-work or post-compulsory education is being cut to the bare bone, where every FE department is living in fear of its very existence, where the confluence of cuts in education spending, housing benefits and jobseekers allowance are making a perfect storm of lost opportunities for a generation of the most disadvantaged and poor.  Besides whichThe very phrase competetive universities is so revealing of a mentality that is antithetical to all that is good in life.

The problem is the 'competetive' universities themselves and the people who go there, the problem is the 'competetive' schools and the people who go there. The problem is with the people who think of their children's futures and send them to private schools - schools where one of the underlying attractions is one of exclusion - where children of certain backgrounds, certain colours and, in particular, certain economic backgrounds, are not included. It is the ghettoisation of childhood along class and economic lines. The interesting thing is these schools do not exclude particular difficulties. Go to any private school and the range of behavioural difficulties is astounding. Depression, lack of self esteem, eating disorders are prevalent, more so even than at state schools. Go to any girls' school in Britain and you can spot the eating disorders a mile off. Depression? Of course, because whilst half the children are there because their parents want them to 'do well', the other half are there because their parents don't really like them that much.But that's alright because, these are Upper-Middle Class ailments so don't really count do they.

God help us all with the kind of half-baked ideas that David Willets is coming up with. This is a government that believes that their is not enough ethnic/religious integration in the country - and thinks a solution to this problem is to have more religiously divided schools. God help us all.

Oh and the question to tie all this in with photography is, where is the photography related to the cuts in spending in the UK, the slow murder of the voluntary sector, the impending ending of EMA, the closing of university access to poorer students (please don't say that you don't have to pay off the loans etc. That's not the way it works in reality.), the increased quotas to force people off higher-paying benefits. Who is doing work on this kind of thing? Who is planning to do work on this? Let me know, send a link and I'll put it up..

In the meantime, a blast from the past with Paul Graham's Beyond Caring.

Deborah Parkin: September is the Cruellest Month






More on handmade books  with Deborah Parkin, whose wonderful black book of tipped in prints and hand-written text is sitting next to me now. It's called September is the Cruellest Month and it's a wonderful exploration of childhood with the words tying in with the pictures beautifully. It's fascinating to see other people's pictures of childhoods, the influences and ideas, the crossover with one's own, the verge towards the lyrical and the tender, the way words bring out elements that go beyond the visual and reach out into a wider world. September is the Cruellest Month is a great title, one that refers to the end of the school holidays, the sense of dread that the coming school year represents, the end of the imagination, wildness and immersion in beauty and nature that comes with renewed immersion in schooling and work.

Deborah also has a blog where she talks about her work, her experiments with printing and her studio - read the Deborah Parkin Blog here.


I am intrigued by people, particularly children, their thoughts and behaviour.
I am fascinated b
I am intrigued by people, particularly children, their thoughts and behaviour.
I am fascinated by memory.
I am obsessed with the photographic image.
This is what my work is about.
y memory.
I am obsessed with the photographic image.
This is what my work is about.

Monday, 4 April 2011

On the Cheap




I don't really like reading about the technicalities of photography and printing. So often it appears to be anobfuscatory exercise in how complex, expensive and unattainable photography is, using equipment that is above and beyond anybody but the most practised professional.

This kind of writing closes doors. It can make us feel inadequate in the face of larger pockets than our own. It stops us doing things. It is elitist and, in a strange way, intimidatory with its high-budget and technical bravado.

So it was nice to see a couple of projects that appeal to the low budget end of our community - the ideas are still intimidating, if only because the people who are doing them do them so well. First up is this make-your-own cheap large format camera
, courtesy of Mrs Deane. The idea here is that you can make large format prints for a few quid - and the making becomes part of the art. I love it. I want to do it. See the results here.

Next up is Little Brown Mushroom's handtipped album, Conductors of the Moving World. Low tech is the order of the day and the book looks fascinating - it comes in an edition of 500, which is a lot of handtipping. 

Friday, 1 April 2011

Sabelo Mlangeni



Figures and Fictions exhibition at the V&A looks great despite the shocking title! Check out how Sabelo Mlangeni got started in photography and how people unwilling to be photographed with 35mm cameras opened up when he brought medium format cameras along. See his Country Girls pictures here.


Watch an interview with Mlangeni here - and see more of his work here, including Invisible Women which reminds me of Stephen Gill, not least in the title..