Are You Ready for a Bit of Eerie?

I hear the name David Lynch and I think Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet; I even think Gregory Crewdson. I always think colour and I always think just a bit weird. I wasn't really prepared then for what I saw at The Photographers Gallery exhibit.......but I was perhaps prepared for what I experienced.

The black & white photographs in the exhibit David Lynch: The Factory Photographs are simply stunning; so evocative and a masterpiece in how breaking the rules can be the right thing to do.  The feeling you will undoubtedley experience as you wander through the exhibit is one of eerieness; the photographs themselves expertly conjure this up but when combined with the music that accompanies the exhibit...well it's like a double shot of eerrieness. This isn't a frightening feeling that makes you want to run screaming for the door; no, this is David Lynch eerieness; part sublime, part creepy, but definately cool.

What I especially admire about these photographs is the way they have been shot. I can imagine just how other photographers may have approached the subject matter; it's easy to imagine alternate versions of these images which would be far less effective. It's the angle of the shot, the adjusted focus; the movement; in summary it's the choices Lynch has made which make these photographs his and only his.

There are no people in these images but there is always a presence, lurking, maybe in the shadows, maybe over the shoulder of the photographer; or maybe it's just Lynch's presence that fills the atmosphere. If the atmosphere wasn't in these factories to begin with, then Lynch certainly put it there.

The exhibit is on until March 30th at The Photgraphers' Gallery, London; go see it, go experience it. Don't just do a quick walk around and glance at these photographs, go up to them, stare at them, stare into them and feel both the photograph and the music; wait for those little hairs on the back of your neck to stand up. It's cool, David Lynch style.

That Which Has Been Seen, Cannot Be Unseen

I detest war. There is no other way to say it.

With that in mind, it may seem somewhat strange to hear that in 2010 I travelled to the Imperial War Museum in Manchester to see Shaped By War, an exhibition of work by Don McCullin. Visitors to this exhibition were given the opportunity to write their comments on a card and post it in a box. I remember writing “Yours are the only photographs of war I can look at.”

At that time, I couldn’t work out why that was so. His are powerful and often graphic images of war, of devastation and destruction; the kind of images I usually find myself running away from. Yet there I was, up close and looking, spending time with each image. And there I was buying the book Shaped By War; no longer running away but actively taking the images home with me.

I later thought it had been some sort of turning point and that from there on out I’d be able to look at war but that wasn’t so; his are still the only images of war I can look at.

Roll forward to 2013, the Cardiff Diffusion Festival have the McCullin documentary on their programme of events. There was no question of would I go or not, tickets were purchased and I looked forward to it.

McCullin is a great documentary; it is predominantly a portrait of a photographer (which it does very well) but it also succeeds in documenting world events of a period in time and the changes that took place within this period in relation to how news was gathered and told.

I think it hit me about half way through the documentary; that elusive answer to why his photographs and not others’. It’s because of the humanity he brings to the subject – he is the ultimate humanistic photographer. I felt quite overwhelmed, not because I’d finally found my answer but because as I did, I realised just how much his photographic body of work had cost him. That which has been seen cannot be unseen, by the end of the documentary that is all too clear.

I don’t see Don McCullin as a War Photographer, I see him as a photographer compelled to take photographs of war and I think there is a big difference in the two; you can see it in his photographs, you can see it in this documentary.

The memory plays tricks and sometimes I think I wrote one other line on my comments card; if I didn’t write it then I should have and in case I didn’t I write it now “Thank you for taking these photographs so that I may see what would otherwise be unseen”.

Fade To Black Magazine Comes Up Shining

I’ve just finished reading the launch issue of Fade To Black Magazine, a quarterly magazine from the people behind the British Journal of Photography. It’s promoted as a magazine “dedicated to a new generation of image-makers who embrace the convergence of photography, video and multimedia” Olivier Laurent, BJP News.

Before I say anything else, let me first say I’m not someone who generally subscribes to digital magazines. I photograph predominantly using analogue and I’m a lover of print; when it comes to magazines I’ve always preferred holding them in my hand and more importantly, reading articles off paper (yes, I am aware of the irony given I write online). It’s also perhaps no small matter that many digital magazines I have looked at are lacking in some way or generally fail to hold my attention, either because of poor content or more commonly, poor navigation.

Now you know where I’m coming from, you’ll be able to appreciate the weight of the following words more: I love Fade To Black Magazine.

Why? Well what’s not to love? Engaging well written content; a wonderful balance of words, still images and moving images and just as importantly, navigation that is both intuitive and seamless.

I particularly like that the focus of the articles is on the creative and human story behind each of the projects presented. That is something which always appeals to me. I like to know how people come up with their ideas; how their projects took shape; who they engaged and collaborated with and what it means to them when their work makes it out into the world. One of the reasons I like this is because it highlights an important lesson; there is no ‘magic’ secret to success. Behind each project is a story of hard work and dedication, of people doing what they love and what they believe in; people constantly learning, adapting, and going out on a limb.

The launch issue (which is actually from Spring 2013) contains news and features on Tyrone Leborn, Reiner Riedler, Richard Mosse, Victoria Crayhorn, Elaine Constantine, Michael Najjar, Shaul Schwartz, Kelly Richardson, Christina de Middel, Thomas Leach, Ravi Amaratunga, Robbie Cooper and Raphael Lacoste. If that weren’t enough there are also previews and reviews of festivals, documentaries and films.  It took me the whole afternoon to read but once I’d started I couldn’t put it down. I am now eagerly awaiting the July issue notification to pop up so I can devour another helping.

I’m going to bring up the navigation again because, living with a techie, I know just how hard it is to build something which feels simple to use. Navigating your way around this magazine is effortless and seamless. When you click on video content it plays full screen and when it finishes it simply shrinks back to the original holding position on the page. And should you find you don’t want to watch all the video, you simply click Done and away it goes back into its position. Links to websites are clickable and you can opt to open them in the app or in Safari. You always know which way to scroll (because it tells you) and in the unlikely event you get lost or if want to move around the magazine, you simply tap the screen and you have a full navigation option at the bottom of your screen. At no point is there any jumpiness, any crazy zooming in and out or any chance to get lost. It’s all, well, rather beautiful and I never thought I’d say that about a technological application.

There’s one bit of bad news: Fade To Black is only available on the ipad so if you’re an Android user you might start throwing your toys out of your pram right about now. I have seen a couple of unhappy comments from Android users online and all I can say to them is “Give the Fade to Black team a break” – launching a new product (especially one as high class as this) is no small feat and it has to start somewhere. Be patient and in the meantime, you’ll just have to borrow an ipad ;)

 

The launch issue of Fade To Black is available free from the App Store https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fade-black/id605352564?ls=1&mt=8  Subsequent issues are released quarterly, the App subscription is £9.99 which is for 6 months at a time (2 issues) For more information go to http://www.fade-black.com/ or visit their Facebook.

Paris Photo Los Angeles – Days 2 and 3

I wasn’t sure I could follow the excitement of Day 1 but Days 2 and 3 at Paris Photo Los Angeles provided just as much to look at, think about and ponder over.

I arrived on Day 2 just in time for the conversation between Photographer Gregory Crewdson and Matthew Weiner, best known as the creator of the TV show Mad Men. The conversation was part of the Sound and Vision programme curated by Douglas Fogle and this particular conversation was introduced by Marc-Olivier Wahler, founder and current director of Chalet Society in Paris.  Every seat in the Sherry Lansing Theater was taken such is the popularity of Crewdson and Weiner. The two talked about their similarities and differences and touched on themes such as naturalism, manipulation, reality and fiction, style and obsession to detail. It was a lively conversation which flowed easily and seemed over all too quickly. Fortunately Paris Photo will soon be releasing video footage of the weekends’ conversations and I will keep you informed on this so you can access them yourself.

There was quite a different atmosphere on Day 2 with more families and more people in general. The New York backlot was a hive of activity as too was the VIP valet area. I didn’t get round Stage 5 on Day 1 so after the Crewdson/Weiner conversation I headed there. Once again the big names and new names came flooding in: Evans, Arbus, Stoller, Newton, Mann, Maier, Webb. Also in this stage was a dedicated space where Giorgio Armani presented “ACQUA #3,” a new body of work by photographer Jim Goldberg. The images here were taken in Haiti and reflected the continued struggle to access clean water following the earthquake in 2010.

Day 3 began with the conversation between Photographers Alec Soth and Roe Etheridge with an introduction by Dr Simon Baker, Curator of Photography and International Art at the Tate in London. This was another thought-provoking, although less dynamic, conversation covering themes such as influences, editing, assignments, narrative, and e-books vs printed books. I asked the pair whether they had seen anything over the weekend that had inspired them; it turned out that they had both only just got there and hadn’t really seen anything, although they did comment on how well the venue worked.

Following the conversation I went and revisited the 3 stages, all the galleries and stores on the backlot and generally just wandered, soaking up the atmosphere and taking my own photographs.

As the sun began to cast longer and longer shadows I knew the event was drawing to a close, but before I left there was one photograph I wanted to spend a little more time with. Ever since being transfixed by the Man Ray portrait of Pablo Picasso at the National Portrait Gallery, Pablo keeps finding me. There have been numerous coincidences/serendipitous meetings between he and I and I’ve been started to think of him as some kind of Talisman or guiding light. Within ten minutes of arriving on Day 1 I had discovered a Pablo portrait by Lucien Clergue, in the Louis Stern gallery, and it was to this photograph I returned for my finale. As I stood there transfixed for what must have been a good five minutes I heard a voice next to me saying “here, have a gift”. The lovely Marie from Louis Stern gave me a publication titled Lucien Clergue: The Intimate Picasso. I was extremely touched by this gesture and she seemed equally pleased by my reaction. We had a quick conversation about Picasso and Clergue and Cocteau and I think it was the perfect ending to my weekend.

From my perspective Paris Photo Los Angeles was a success and the visitor numbers appeared high. Whether it was a success for the exhibitors and for Paris Photo only time will tell. One exhibitor I spoke to said he felt the visitors had come more like they would to a museum, to view; whereas in Paris it is much more of a business affair. I hope there is another Paris Photo LA and if there is, I will definitely return.

Paris Photo Los Angeles – Day 1

I died and went to photography heaven today and I hope I never lose the sense of wonderment and pleasure that can be gained from being at an event such as this.

Today was a feast for the eyes and the soul. How often do we get to stand before the work of Klein, Frank, Winogrand, Meyerowitz, Friedlander, Koudelka, Man Ray…and how often do we get to stand before the photographer in person – in this case William Eggleston?  Maybe for some this is an everyday occurrence, normality; but for me this is special, this touches at the very essence of what drives me to take photographs and to talk about photography.

It’s not just the big names, the ones I grew up with; it’s also the new names (at least new to me) giving me new avenues to explore like an excited tourist in a new town: Kenna, Mata Rosas, Pompery, Martínez, Søndergaard, Clergue, Bedoya, Franco, Jiminez, Herzog, Mekas. And this is from only half the fair, tomorrow I get to do it all over again and see what I missed today; more images, more names, more emotions.

The team at Paris Photo have done a fantastic job and I think they will feel satisfied with their choice of Los Angeles as a second home. The venue of Paramount Studios provides the perfect backdrop; from the constructed galleries in the stages, to the smaller spaces in the ‘New York’ shops; everything seemed at home. The diverse mix of people from collectors to gallery owners to photographers and everyday appreciators provided for an ambience that almost hummed.

Particular highlights for me – William Eggleston book signing; Sebastião Salgado’s VERY large format Genesis books at the Taschen Gallery and finding a Pablo Picasso portrait by Lucien Clergue (Stage 31).

Tomorrow I am particularly looking forward to listening to the conversation between Gregory Crewdson and Matthew Weiner and I’m looking forward to discovering what the galleries in stage 5 have to offer.

Maybe Sunday I’ll actually find some time to take my own photographs, but at present I’m more than happy to linger over the work of others.

If you’re visiting Paris Photo this weekend, then remember to take your childlike awe and wonder with you.

Paris with an American Accent

The countdown is on; Paris is coming to Los Angeles.

Over the last 16 years Paris Photo has firmly established itself as a key event in the art calendar, providing a place where photographers, collectors, and associated professionals can gather. Held in Paris in November each year the 2012 event attracted over 50000 visitors. This April sees the inaugural Paris Photo Los Angeles, which promises to be just as popular.

The decision by the Paris Photo committee to choose Los Angeles as a second home will bring further prestige to an area which has long been considered an art capital; rich as it is in galleries, museums, archives and collections as well as being home to the moving picture industry. 

The event takes place at Paramount Studios over three days and features photographers, galleries and publishers from countries across the globe. As well as discovering new photographers and rediscovering old ones, I am particularly looking forward to attending the William Eggleston book signing and to hearing Gregory Crewdson in conversation with Matthew Weiner. Walking around Paramount’s New York street backlot (where many of the galleries will be set up) is also going to be pretty special.

Je suis très excite!!

The Paris Photo website has comprehensive details about what is happening where and provides you with information on all the artists and exhibitors. To make it extra easy for you I’ve done the hard work and put together this Handy Guide which you can print off and scribble on as you formulate a plan for your visit.  Please don’t use it as a substitute for visiting the website though; you’ll be missing out if you do!

PDF Guide to Paris Photo Los Angeles 2013.pdf (546.50 kb)

If you’re not lucky enough to be in Los Angeles this weekend then make sure you follow me on twitter @PhotoTAW as I keep you informed about the event.


Paris Photo Los Angeles runs from April 26th until April 28th at Paramount Pictures Studios in Los Angeles. For more information and to purchase tickets visit http://www.parisphoto.com/losangeles

Never Judge a Photographer by a Single Image

So many times photographers are depicted by a single photograph. They are either asked to provide a single image which best represents their work or their direction, or in the case of those no longer with us, publishers, editors and writers select an image which they believe best sums up the artist and their body of work.

Many years ago when I first started discovering all the big names in photography, I was overwhelmed by the task and would rely on this single image to draw me in and lead me on a journey to explore further images. I recall the first time I encountered Man Ray; he was described as a surrealist, a painter, a photographer and a sculptor. The first image I saw was one of his solarised portraits and if I recall correctly, the second image I saw was also a solarised portrait. Whilst I could appreciate the contribution of the surrealists in the world of art and I could recognise solarised images importance within the history of photography, the aesthetics of these first images were not enough to draw me in further and I gently moved Man Ray aside in order to spend time with other photographers.

Why I never went back to him I’m not sure, but thankfully I found myself in London this March. As I sat in the café of the Photographer’s Gallery flicking through Time Out: London, I was reminded that the exhibition Man Ray Portraits was being shown at the National Portrait Gallery and so I thought it was time to revisit him.

The Man Ray I found there exceeded my expectations. Once the crowds of viewers moved out of my eye line, a new world revealed itself. Portrait after portrait pulled me in and I found it hard to move my gaze from one portrait to the next. Whilst my mind was hungry for the knowledge in the accompanying text, my eyes refused to spend their time on words, they just wanted to feast on the visual splendour of each photograph. I must have stood in front of Pablo Picasso (Plate 18) for the longest time, the sense of ‘greatness’ was almost palpable; a sense repeated again and again as you meet Matisse (Pl.57), Huxley (Pl. 109) and Chanel (Pl. 107) to name but a few.

I also found myself halted in front of a portrait of Lee Miller, taken in man Ray’s Rue Campagne-Premiere Studio (Pl. 77). The composition, the softness, the beauty, all absorb into a level of intimacy in spite of Miller’s distant gaze. It’s as if Man Ray has been able to draw a line around the scene in front of him, disconnect it from the world and pull it into his camera.

Some of Man Ray’s colour work is also part of this exhibition and one portrait particularly stood out for me, that of Juliette Greco (Pl. 143). On the gallery wall it is a tiny photograph but its size is disproportionate to its power. Hung in a corner, it can be difficult to view on a busy day, but once a glimpse of it is caught you cannot leave until you have seen it; it won’t let you leave until you have looked.  

I end where I began, once again gazing on Pablo, an older man now, with white hair (Pl. 149).

However it doesn’t really end there, for I am compelled to start again from the beginning and so I spend time with each one in turn. On my third circuit I let myself drift around, let my gaze wander and it was then I started to notice how comfortable they all look. With the exception of one or two, the subjects all look so at ease and this must be testament to Man Ray; what was it he did or said as they modelled before him? In some photographs it’s as if Man Ray wasn’t even in the same room, as if he has been able to see that which would not ordinarily have been seen; moments of private thought which only occur when no one is watching.

It is fair to say I reluctantly left the exhibition; it was an experience I did not want to end and I congratulate the team at NPG for a successful user experience. I also wish to congratulate the spirit of collaboration that went into making this exhibition possible. To go from an idea, to a vision and to have so many people, organisations and institutions willing to support that vision through to the end, is commendable. Great things are possible when we collaborate.

Man Ray is quoted as saying “A creator needs only one enthusiast to justify him”; on that basis Man Ray, consider yourself justified, for I am an enthusiast.

The Man Ray Portraits exhibition is on until 27th May 2013 at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Curated by Terrence Pepper, it is part of the NPG’s continuing series on the Masters of Portrait Photography. The 224 page exhibition catalogue is available at the Gallery shop and online in both soft and hardback editions (priced £25/£35).

Crewdson in Milwaukee - To My Desk - Thanks to the Haggerty

For those of you thinking I have written the title of this article in another language, I will explain all.

Let me start with the name Crewdson, Gregory Crewdson to be precise. I first encountered the work of this American photographer through his book Twilight; a publication I felt compelled to buy, as that is what his images are: compelling, intriguing, mysterious, familiar, yet other worldly. His beautifully and cinematically lit staged scenes tell a story of a brief moment, yet it feels as if time is still passing within them.

On February 14th 2013, The Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University (in Milwaukee) presented "In a Lonely Place", a lecture by Gregory Crewdson.  As so often happens, these interesting events take place far from our doorsteps and we lament how we cannot be there and are left to wonder what the lecture was like.  What doesn’t happen so often is that a recording of such an event is made available for all to watch, for free; but that’s exactly what the Haggerty have done.  The full lecture, including a Q&A session, is now available to watch via YouTube.

In this informative and interesting lecture Crewdson gives us an insight into his influences and inspirations; films such as Close encounters of the Third Kind and Blue Velvet; photographers such as Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld. He also talks about his method of working, and we get a behind the scenes look at how he stages and takes his photographs; showing scenes more akin to a movie set than a traditional photo shoot.

You’ll hear Crewdson says his ultimate aim is to "make the most beautiful picture I can" but to add a psychological complication or even "bring my own particular sadness to it".  Whether you like his work or not, you have to admit he has a unique style and that is ultimately because he has brought himself into his image making; and there is only one Gregory Crewdson.

Enjoy the lecture in full here:

Thank you Gregory Crewdson for your lecture and THANK YOU Haggerty Art for sharing this with all of us scattered around the globe. 

You can find out more about the Haggerty Museum of Art by visiting http://www.marquette.edu/haggerty/about.shtml  Gregory Crewdson’s book “In a Lonely Place” (2011) is published by Abrams ISBN-10: 141970110X. To find out more about the documentary by Ben Shapiro titled “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters” (as mentioned in this lecture) visit http://www.gregorycrewdsonmovie.com/about/ 

Book Review: “Light Matters: Writings on Photography” by Vicki Goldberg

If you haven’t yet encountered the writings of Vicki Goldberg, then I suggest you get yourself acquainted. The perfect way to start is to read “Light Matters: Writings on Photography,” published by Aperture. The book consists of 27 essays which were published between 1979-2003 and which appeared in publications such as Vanity Fair, New York Times and American Photographer, as well as in exhibition catalogues and book publications. The book is part of the series “Aperture Ideas: Writers and Artists on Photography” which explores photography through ‘the finest critical and creative minds’.

And what a fine mind Vicki Goldberg has. Not only is she knowledgeable about photographers and the history of photography, she also displays a wealth of knowledge on history, society, art and literature; and perhaps more importantly, is able to skilfully blend all these elements into what I can only describe as an effortless style.

The book opens with an essay titled “A Quarter Century of Photography” which discusses the entry of photography into the world of art and the consequences (both positive and negative) of this for photography. In this thought provoking essay we learn of the journey photography has taken within the context of how the art world and society were changing:

                “By the late 1970’s, photography’s place at art’s table was promoted by artists who didn’t make conventional kinds of photographs and didn’t like to be called photographers. Post modernism was hitting its stride, the media were the messages” (p9-10).

We also learn about topics such as the role of the amateur in photojournalism; privacy; celebrity; digitisation; standards and quality. The essay concludes with a look to the future:

                “It’s not clear, in a world where nothing is constant but change, whether photography, a dominant medium in the twentieth century both in news and, in the end, in art, will retain that position in this century” (p19).

The main body of the book then focuses on individuals and not just any individuals, but some of the great photographers: Ansel Adams, Eleanor Antin, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Brassai, Walker Evans, Chauncey Hare, Peter Hujar, Josef Koudelka, Jacques Henri Lartique, Reiner Leist, Daido Moriyama, Suzanne Opton, Martin Parr, Herb Ritts, Bastienne Schmidt, Joel Sternfeld and Weegee. Once more, these essays are a skilful blend of facts about the photographer and context in relation to art, literature, society, general history and the history of photography. Goldberg’s main skill in these individual essays is the ability to relay an enormous amount of information in a succinct manner. Each individual essay covers on average 8 pages, yet at the end of each essay, you feel as though you have acquired the knowledge of a whole book.

The final section is given over to essays on photography and society discussing a vast array of themes and topics such as tragedy; ethics; photography as commodity; documentary photography; black photographers; dogs; sex, desire and nudity, and finally death. By the end of the book I was left wondering if there was anything Goldberg didn’t know and if so, was it worth knowing?

I have only one very minor criticism of the book and it is more to do with format rather than content. For me it would have been more helpful to put the essay publication year at the beginning of each piece rather than at the end. As it was, I would read a line such as “this year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will put on view 180 of his portraits…’(P50) and immediately I would need to find the end of the essay to ascertain the year. As I say, a minor criticism but it was a little annoying.

Confucius said “You cannot open a book without learning something” and Light Matters is a book you can read once and then learn from again and again. Goldberg is a major source of knowledge and as a researcher myself, I can appreciate just how much information she will have amassed, digested and reconstructed in order to write these essays; knowing this provides further testament in my eyes to her skill as a writer.

This book is a must read and once added to your photography bookshelf it will nestle comfortably in amongst any of the names it contains.

“Light Matters: Writings on Photography” by Vicki Goldberg, published by Aperture 2005, ISBN 9781597111652.  For more information on the series “Aperture Ideas: Writers and Artists on Photography” visit http://www.artbook.com/aperture-ideas-writings-on-photography.html

Remember to support your local bookshops and gallery bookshops. My copy was bought at The Photographer’s Gallery bookshop in London priced £12.95.

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