OCA Study Day – Photographer’s Gallery January 2017 Part 2 – Simon Fujiwara: Joanne

After having my mind blown by the artists on the floors below I took a quick wander upstairs to the 5th floor to peruse the work of Simon Fujiwara.

Simon Fujiwara’s installation and short film Joanne depicts the many faces of the artist’s former secondary school art teacher Joanne Salley, addressing issues around the representation of women in social media, the tabloid press and consumer culture. Joanne tells us:

I am a model, I am a teacher, I am a lover, I am an artist, I am a chameleon, I am a fighter, I am a person, I am a female

Forgive me, but if you want to make people respect you, forget the negative things that were said, and be thought of as more than ‘a body’ why open with ‘I am a model’? Something that is there to be stared at solely for aesthetic pleasure or as a commodity? Followed quite quickly by ‘I am a lover’ when all you wanted to do was reduce the commentary about a perceived ‘sex scandal’?

Opinions in the press seem to be divided, although most agree that it is ‘transparently manipulative’ and doesn’t pretend to portray Joanne the real woman. Instead what is does is underline the misplaced trust that we have in the power of the image to project ‘us,’ but the harder and deeper we look the more we realise that the images we see are often mere illusions.

In my opinion, what Fujiwara and Joanne aspired to achieve back fired slightly. I think in the film they tried too hard, I found Joanne to be irritating and just wanted to shout ‘oh get over yourself woman!’ Maybe a tad unfair, I don’t know, at the time not really knowing all the back story, I only gleaned information from the gallery wall, that basically Simon Fujiwara teamed up with a former teacher at his old school, Joanne Salley, who was once the subject of a tabloid newspaper scandal.

On digging about a bit, apparently she hit the headlines in 2011 when pupils found and distributed private topless photographs of her, taken by a female photography teacher, on a memory stick forgotten in a school studio. Seriously? I know we are all human and mistakes happen, but Ms Salley – you were an adult, working at Harrow school for Boys, you knowingly posed topless and were careless with the results…Rightly or wrongly, and despite the feminist movement, women today are still more harshly judged for ‘moral wrong-doings’ than men, so if you are going to get your tits out be prepared for them to go further afield!


As a former Ms Ireland, and former girlfriend of Matt Dawson, no doubt Ms Salley was quite used to being in the limelight, slightly bawdy behaviour, parading her body about in skimpy costumes, and being judged on her appearance – you can’t have it both ways. Judge me on how I look, but please don’t judge me on how I look. There is more to me than just my body?  And THEN have huge photographs put up on display in a gallery that serve only to portray you as a fit attractive young woman. On wanting to avoid the stereotyping she fell neatly back into them, a modern day parody of the artists on display a few floors down.  Although I get the use of visual and narrative tropes to explore the underlying hypocrisy of the press and a traumatic and emotional story it came across as ‘Bland, banal and weirdly repulsive’….thanks to journalist Adrian Searle for that gem.

On looking at the newspaper reports at the time none of them said anything really cruel, Harrow supported her, she admits after returning to school the boys were also supportive and respectful. In 2012 she got to tell her side of the story, which was also polite and respectful. I think any labels in her head were of her own making. I reckon 99% of the people going to the exhibition thought ‘who?’ rather than OMG it’s HER!



Fujiwara and Joanne made this film exploring the issues she faced in the wake of the scandal, aiming to present a more complex picture of her, and I ask why? Five years on and most people will have forgotten it, forgotten her. As they say yesterday’s news is today’s fish n chip wrapping. The cynical part of me thinks maybe that’s why, maybe she wants to relaunch her TV career? It didn’t come across as a ‘the press don’t respect women’ it came across as woe is me…all me, me, me….

I go back to my back fired comment as every review I found made a reference to her ‘shame’ which she was trying to get past:

Simon Fujiwara to Make a Film About His Former Art Teacher Shamed by Tabloids
Joanne Salley resigned after pupils and the tabloids discovered her nude photos.

Simon Fujiwara: Joanne review – a weird journey out of sex scandal, via avocado

No longer able to choose which face she wished to present to the world, she would instead become branded as the ‘topless teacher’ – a label she worries she will be unable to shake off no matter what else she does.

Every interview he gave sounds like this was a serious attempt to show a real person; in the film Joanne states: ‘The point is for people to get a sense of the real me.’ But the perfectly made up laughing, posing person on the screen seemed totally fake? Or was that the intention?

Adrian Searle of the Guardian summed it up perfectly for me:

This installation points to complexities that can’t or won’t be unravelled. Joanne is a hollowed-out being, the nuances of her personality and her authenticity as coiffed as her hair. She is a flesh-and-blood armature, on which a self has being remodelled and rebuilt, a “real me” replicant of Joanne Salley. Someone lurks inside Fujiwara’s disturbing portrait, but what we are given hardly amounts to a person at all.

Fujiwara also wanted to raise questions about ‘how empathy works.’ Well…my empathy works along the lines of, if you stick your hand in the fire and get third degree burns I will empathise with the pain you feel, but also shake my head and say its a bloody fire what did you expect?

What did I take away from this exhibition

  • the idea that manipulation is a two way street
  • multi-media installations are on the increase
  • big isn’t always better
  • may be I am not as empathetic as I thought, or maybe I don’t suffer fools gladly…







OCA Study Day – FEMINIST AVANT-GARDE OF THE 1970’s – Photographers’ Gallery January 2017

I really don’t quite know how to write this study day up! As per usual a large crowd met, mixed genders which was great given the topic, we mingled, chatted, looked, had some opinions, scratched our heads, felt a bit overwhelmed by it all and eventually went home…

And no wonder I couldn’t really take it all in…Feminist Avant–Garde of the 1970s,  was comprised of over 200 major works from forty-eight international female artists. All are on loan from the Verbund Collection in Vienna, which specialises in avant-garde and conceptual art.  It was such a large exhibition that it took up over two floors in the Gallery with themes that tackled the representation of the female form, ownership, domesticity and sexuality, violence and female identity. The exhibition was divided into four sections under the headings The Seductive Body, Domestic Agenda, In My Skin and Alter Ego with a distinctly different feel to each floor; one more ‘fun’ the other more edgy and dangerous.

Focusing on photography, collage, performance, film and video work produced throughout the 1970’s, the exhibition reflects a moment when protests related to emancipation, gender equality and civil rights became part of public discourse.

…questioning feminine identities, gender roles and sexual politics through new modes of expression.

The exhibition was supported by an excellent free booklet which had a page on every artist, a photograph of some of their work and plenty of space for notes.


Title : Installation Image of Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970’s Works from the Verbund collection on display at The Photographers Gallery at 16-18 (7 October 2016 – 29 January 2017)  Copyright Hydar Dewachi and The Photographers’ Gallery. Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery, London



What do you think about when asked about feminism? Usually it’s the stereotypical ideas about burning the bra, unshaven armpits and dungaree sporting man-haters. However, contrary to popular belief that isn’t true. Especially when you look back to the time in the 70’s, when the ideas were new and radical, and this group of female artists decided to create ‘their own visual documentation of what it meant to be a woman, and a feminist.’

On wandering round the exhibition some of the ideas were bizarre and some were definitely more extreme than others, as they attempted to:

overhaul the prevailing iconography of women as passive or as muses to men — often by powerfully, and sometimes quite disturbingly, utilizing their own bodies to highlight sexism. In doing so, they created an assertive, appropriately complex alternative female identity.

The list of artists/photographers is quite extensive:  Helena Almeida, Eleanor Antin, Anneke Barger, Lynda Benglis, Judith Bernstein, Renate Bertlmann, Teresa Burga, Marcella Campagnano, Judy Chicago, Linda Christanell, Lili Dujourie, Mary Beth Edelson, Renate Eisenegger, Valie Export, Esther Ferrer, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Alexis Hunter, Sanja Ivekovic, Birgit Jurgenssen, Kirsten Justesen, Ketty La Rocca, Katalin Ladik, Brigitte Lang, Suzanne Lacy & Leslie Labowitz, Suzy Lake, Karin Mack, Ana Mendieta, Rita Myers, Lorraine O’Grady, Orlan, Gina Pane, Leticia Parente, Ewa Partum, Friederike Pezold, Margot Pilz, Ulrike Rosenbach, Martha Rosler, Suzanne Santoro, Carolee Schneemann, Lydia Schouten, Cindy Sherman, Penny Slinger, Annegret Soltau, Hannah Wilke, Martha Wilson, Francesca Woodman and Nil Yalter….and breathe!

Most of the photographers I hadn’t heard of, so there was a lot to absorb. Not only the artists to think about, but how they approached their work, why, and what was happening in society in general to spark these ground breaking practices.

Even though many of the arguments are still valid, and the imagery at the time was very shocking now many, but not all, seemed very dated. There was a lot of nudity, which I have no issue with and grasp that most of the women were revealing themselves to express their right to do what they wanted with their bodies rather than being on show just for male titillation. However, did VALIE EXPORT think that the man having a good grope in her ‘box’ gave a damn about the message she was sending or just gained pleasure from feeling her soft mounds of flesh? Got to love a bit of Mills and Boon which obviously did so much for feminism …cough. Is a breast seductively revealed by a woman making a point, no more or less a breast seductively revealed, due to the person who decided they wanted it that way? With multimedia abounding, sex still selling everything, naked flesh nearly everywhere you look what is the value of Hannah Wilke’s performance piece Super-T-Art now? Maybe a topic for an essay? I think its been done before…

Continue reading “OCA Study Day – FEMINIST AVANT-GARDE OF THE 1970’s – Photographers’ Gallery January 2017”

OCA Study Day – Edmund Clark: War of Terror – IWM January 2017

This thought-provoking exhibition brings together several series of work by artist-photographer Edmund Clark to explore the hidden experiences of state control during the ‘Global War on Terror’.

Looking at issues of security, secrecy, representation and legality, the show focuses on the measures taken by states to protect their citizens from the threat of terrorism, and the far-reaching effects of such methods of control…including images and documents of CIA operated secret prisons or ‘black sites’, photographs from the detention camps at Guantanamo Bay, correspondence from around the world sent to a British detainee in Guantanamo that was transformed by the censorship and intervention of the US military, and the experience of a ‘controlled person’ who was placed in a house in suburban England under the restrictive conditions of a control order – a form of house arrest or detention without trial – introduced in 2005.

An immersive experience, the exhibition uses sound, moving images and large multi-media installations as well as photographs and documents to invoke a sensory engagement with the experiences of observation, detention and disorientation induced by the systems of control Clark explores.

…says the blurb from the IWM website, but it is so much more when you visit it, and so much more when you get to meet the photographer for a pre-exhibition talk and then he actually walks around with you talking about each stage as you go.


Many thanks must go to the OCA for arranging this study day, Saturday 21 January, and for Edmund Clark for agreeing to meet with us and to dedicate so much of his time to us. I was surprised at the small turn out for such a wonderful opportunity, but it did mean a very intimate meeting and a chance to catch up with a few students I had not seen in a while. Nod to Armano :o) I apologise in advance for what is probably going to be a very long post, but it was a very interesting day!

Instead of resting on its laurels and living in the past the IWM is remaining relevant by working with contemporary artists to:

present challenging and critical work on Britain’s role in contemporary conflict. Following on from the Iraq War photography of Sean Smith, a retrospective of the artwork of Peter Kennard and an installation addressing the plight of Gaza by Rosalind Nashashibi.

The exhibition by Edmund Clark continues in this vein as it presents the photography, film, redacted official documents, censored letters from detainees and more, collected through his documentation of the War on Terror.


Although terrorism is a scary prospect, the way that countries react or handle the situation can be just as scary. I fully understand that action must be taken, but wow, what goes on…makes ya hair curl!

Innocent people being snatched off the street, taken to far flung places and dumped on the streets when found it’s to be a case of mistaken identity…others locked up for years at Guantanamo Bay…Apparently only eight detainees have ever been convicted by military commission, and one was convicted in US federal court. At least five of the military commission convictions were made as a result of a pre-trial agreement whereby the accused agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the possibility of release. Three of the convictions have since been overturned and another three partially invalidated. Nine detainees are known to have died in the detention centre; six are alleged to have committed suicide…

Edmund Clark is one of the few non-military personnel to have been granted access to the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He has walked its bland corridors, seen its inmates, photographed its handcuffs and portable force-feeding chairs, and been stopped in his tracks as the call to prayer has echoed through its walls.

Clark talked about his work and his approach. He does not consider himself to be a straight photographer because he also uses other media. He likes to produce photo-books believing they are part of the process, publishing books with both Aperture and Dewi Lewis and a small independent publisher. He works very closely with designers of books as he likes a lot of control.

We questioned him on gaining access, it seems most exceptional bodies of work start off with excellent research and great access! He admitted that there is a huge negotiation process required to get access for this kind of work: visiting Guantanamo took six months. He had backing from a British magazine, help from a lawyer, had to agree to certain restrictions on how he completed the work – it had to be on digital so they could look at every frame taken – he only had to delete one image, and he could only photograph within certain parameters, no sky or horizons or even the sea in case the exact locations of buildings could be traced…

To gain access to the Control Order House took two years, with lots of help from a solicitor. He also worked closely with Crofton Black, a journalist then working for Reprieve. Clark didn’t know why the Home Office allowed him to continue, but with legal assistance they couldn’t actually prevent him.

We asked if he had got into any trouble with the authorities over his publications..he replies to the negative, he thinks his audience is too small, or was too small, to worry about him. After this exhibition I wonder if that will alter?

Asked if he felt he was helping terrorists he replied that none of the people he has worked with have been convicted of terrorism offences, but he felt he has played a part in exposing illegal activities by Western governments.

Much of the war on terror is communicated through imagery, the internet, tv, papers et al. Terrorism is going on in our midst, it has become part of our everyday lives and Clark is documenting this not to shape events, but to ‘serve as point of reflection for the future.’

I think my work may have more influence in years to come when people look back and reflect on these events and the questions my work raises. Contemporaneously, I think all I can possibly hope is to make work which engages people enough for them to reflect, revisit, and reconfigure how and what they think about these events and the processes behind them.It’s not my role to tell people what they should think about it. It’s not my place to provide people with answers. What my work does, I hope, is engage them enough to see again, to want to see differently, to feel the need to find out more.

Asked about the absence of human figures his response was interesting. At first he wanted to show the people, but then realised the audience might have preconceived ideas, stereotypes even, over what or who a terrorist is, these superficial ideas would override the main subject of terror and the points he was trying to highlight. Due to the secrecy of his work much was also denied him, so he had to think of other strategies. and ways in which to present his work.

Its a while ago since I visited this exhibition and the post will probably jump about from the talk to the images, as comments made and questions asked are relevant to each section, but hopefully it will still all flow and make sense…

Edmund began by explaining how he had ‘re-contextualised’ the images, that the exhibition is made up from 3 subjects, but four bodies of work (Guantanamo, Negative Publicity, Control Order House. Letters to Omar) that were taken apart and put together as one single installation. These were taken over a period of 10 years and he probably used about 3-4 different cameras within that time frame.

Clark had three main motivations:

  • The first being the contrast between the imagery of ‘the worst of the worst’ in orange jumpsuits, and the first British detainees who came back to the UK, were never tried and went back to live in their houses as innocent people.
  • The second, the propaganda, the combination of 24/7 global media, the Internet, digital technology, and social media. His interest in the war of terror and war of images-as-spectacle, and how that has been used by all sides.
  • Thirdly, trying to explore visual strategies and forms for seeing unseen or unaccountable experiences and the processes of conflict.

We enter the exhibition after losing our way in the back corridors of the museum, which was rather amusing…Within the exhibition the different motivations and subsequent bodies of work are cleverly displayed for maximum impact.

In Negative Publicity:

Clark has visualized the research of counterterrorism investigator Crofton Black. Locations related to rendition flights, which involve the secret abductions of ‘dangerous individuals,’ are revealed, ranging from hotels used by the rendition teams to the now-abandoned interrogation rooms used for the abductees. The images are almost always devoid of people and at times have been heavily censored, an eerie combination of ghostly suppression.

Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out:

illustrates the experience of Guantanamo detainees in three distinct chapters: Guantanamo itself, the camps in which the prisoners are detained, and the homes of released detainees attempting to reintegrate themselves into society after their traumatic experiences.

Letters to Omar:

…hones in on Omar Deghayes, a UK resident who was detained for five years before his release in 2007. Letters sent to him while at Guantanamo are on view, but these are in fact scans of copies of the originals; results of the heavily bureaucratic censorship applied onto the correspondence to disallow Deghayes from viewing the original copies.

Control Order House:

relates to an anonymous terror suspect is the subject of a control order. The hundreds of images included in this section are of the house where the suspect was forced to live in during the investigation, as part of the British government’s “Home Office enforced control order.” While he is absent from the images and his identity is hidden, it is revealed that the individual was detained without trial, solely on the basis of unrevealed ‘secret evidence.’

Having been to Guantanamo Bay, Clark found that a man being held in a form of detention, with no formal legal process in his own country, based on secret evidence was ‘very disorientating and slightly absurd.’

Clark was given exclusive access in December 2011 and January 2012 to examine and take photographs of the house and shed some light on the policy of control orders first introduced in 2005. He explained some of the restrictions placed upon himself and the detainee, known only as CE.

Be sure he stays inside and that you go straight in. He’ll be in breach of his conditions if he steps outside the front door. And be careful what you ask him. Remember, the house is almost certainly bugged.

A great introduction into the life of someone living under a control order under the Prevention of Terrorism Act! ‘The outcome of the meeting is a series of photos, drawings and videos giving a sense of some of the constraints that the individual, known only as CE, was living under.’ For example he wasn’t supposed to have a pet, but he did, he kept a cat. Clark wanted to photograph the cat but then worried that he might reveal an infringement which would cause CE to be arrested! His conversations were highly restricted, monitored and he was prevented from revealing the identity of the individual or the location of the house in any way, curtains were closed etc. But Edmund photographed every detail he could inside the house to give viewers the deepest possible understanding of what was going on.

CE had been held for eight months when Clark was given permission by the Home Office to visit him for the project. Control ordered suspects were subject to a 16 hour curfew, tagged, obliged to report to a police station daily and to contact a security switchboard every time they left and returned home and restricted geographically.

CE had been relocated under the order, unable to have internet access, restricted from meeting certain persons and had to seek permission before many actions, including social gatherings. Clark stayed with CE for a number of days, experiencing his daily schedule.

These restrictions were all imposed on the basis of suspicion and secret evidence. In his book, Control Order House, accompanying the exhibit, Clark sets out the High Court judgment that imposed the order on CE.

The importance of this judgment is that it clearly sets out how much the decision relied on secret evidence that CE’s lawyers were not allowed to know and challenge. The government’s reliance on this trial secrecy enabled them to use evidence that would not normally be admissible in an open court because, for example, it came from a paid informant, bugging, hearsay or a foreign intelligence source they did not want to compromise.

A security-cleared barrister, known as a Special Advocate, representing CE was allowed to view the restricted evidence but then barred from any contact with CE or his lawyers, despite still representing CE.

The result is that CE’s order was legally imposed on the basis of suspicion and secret evidence, rather than proof of guilt. In 2012, control orders were replaced by Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs). It has been suggested that the restrictions they impose are less harsh and the evidential test of “reasonable belief” rather than “reasonable suspicion” is more rigorous.

Nonetheless, secret evidence can still be used and the orders are still not based on proof of guilt. CE subsequently lived under TPIM conditions in a new home. In March 2013, Clark wrote: “CE is now living under TPIM conditions in a house closer to his family. His future is uncertain. If, after two years, the home secretary has reasonable belief of new terrorist-related activity, a further TPIM could be served. If not, he will be released.”

The first thing you observe on entering the exhibition, beyond a huge pixelated image on the wall, is a video installation: ‘Orange Screen, War of Images’- orange to reflect the jumpsuits of Guantanamo – ‘paragraphs of text appear on a blank orange background, describing iconic images from the War on Terror in plain, forensic language devoid of context – 2003 A giant black statue right arm raised to the sky face obscured by fabric of white stars in blue background and red and white stripes as two men in helmets wearing brown and green climbing a metal ramp wrap chains and a rope around its neck…’

Clark explains the large photograph next, it is of a house in a large wood digitised to obscure the dwelling of one of those people apparently responsible for being a pilot during the rendition process. Part of the photograph is censored to afford the owner privacy.



The set of images from Guantanamo reveal a strange almost disorientating narrative, we all knew of the inmates still there, but obviously they couldn’t be photographed, which made the empty canteen area and vacant cells feel even more disturbing. Small details, like a ring in the floor under a bed that prisoners could be shackled to, brought home the conditions in which detainees were kept, an arrow on the floor indicated the direction of Mecca.


Also on view were images of a force feeding chair, interrogation spaces, leather handcuffs and a pile of riot helmets and gear left standing in a corridor. Clark explains that this image was a very long exposure due to the dark corridor but he made the guards wait so he could capture the brooding menace of them.

Much of this work is to do more with semiotics, signifiers and signified rather than directly photographing people and places. Much is inferred due to necessity or because information was blacked out. Even with actual documentation you have to read between the lines as much was redacted, especially with the Control Order House and Letters to Omar.

The discussion we had gave more insight to his work and more insight to his interaction with people. The background story to Letters to Omar, again makes for a scary, almost unbelievable account:

Libyan-born Omar Deghayes spent his childhood holidays learning English near Brighton with his family. Persistent harassment and the death of his father, a prominent trade unionist, lawyer and critic of the ruling regime, at the hands of the Libyan authorities forced them to seek asylum in the UK. Omar studied law at Wolverhampton University where he became a practising Muslim. After university he travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to experience Islamic cultures. In Afghanistan he worked with NGOs and local businesses, married an Afghan woman and started planning his own law practice. After the US-led invasion in 2002, he fled to Lahore, Pakistan, with his wife and son. It was from here that he was captured by armed men in Pakistani police uniforms and handed over to the US authorities who were offering large rewards for Arabs who had spent time in Afghanistan. Deghayes was taken first to the Bagram military base in Afghanistan and then to Guantánamo where he was incarcerated for six years. The British government requested his release in August 2007 and he returned, released without charge, in December that year. Deghayes now lives in England and has remarried. He works with the Guantánamo Justice Centre and Reprieve.

Apparently governments from certain countries pay Pakistani mercenaries to grab suspects…they get paid…they don’t care who they grab, innocent or otherwise.

Deghayes had been incarcerated for nearly six years when Clark met him whilst working on  Guantánamo: If The Light Goes Out and he was still quite disorientated.

It was over three years before Omar received any mail, not even anything from his family. However, in 2005 lawyers took up his case and he received it by the bucket load! Omar spoke of sitting in his Camp 5 isolation cell, looking at the possibly thousands of letters and cards he received from people from around the globe, concerned for his situation once it had been made public.

He was never given the original documents. Everything was screened for dangerous substances, redacted, copied or scanned – including the backs of envelopes and blank sheets of paper – officially stamped and given a unique reference number.

It is these redacted and scanned documents that Clark photographed and had displayed in a glass vitrine. Clark tells us that one chap recognised one of his letters and contacted him but he didn’t get into a correspondence. Some of the images were in colour and some were in B&W. Clark explained:

Omar refused to follow the rules of his captors and was designated a non-compliant prisoner. His mail became part of the control process his interrogators exercised over him. When and if he received anything, whether in colour or black-and-white copies, was controlled by his interrogators.

According to Omar: ‘It was all part of the system of rewards for good behaviour that could earn you another blanket, or trousers, or a cup. The guards did not let us have cups as they were afraid that we would throw something in their faces. Behaviour even determined whether we were allowed to have toilet paper in our cells or had to ask for it from the guards, sheet by sheet, when we needed it.’

These letters came to have a double-edged effect for him. He received so many that it afforded a degree of protection from his guards who realised how much attention there was about his case. Yet the scale and the strangeness of some of the material contributed to his paranoia to the point where he believed his interrogators were planting material to further disorientate him.



Within the exhibition Clark reveals an account of sexual abuse on Omar Deghayes, whilst others claim that they were raped by security officers and hung from beams. This is just the tip of the iceberg, Clark assures us that the full story of abuse at Guantanamo is yet to be told and he has only given voice to a few.

In one section a film by Clark is on a loop, the images blend into each other and an expressionless female American voice talks over the top, giving details of how to handle new detainees arriving at Guantanamo and how to keep them disorientated. There is a voice, a man talking about how he was tortured for information. The images, in contrast show none of this, a juxtaposition which only enhances the horror of the audio.

Then we move into the area relating to Control Order House, which details Clark’s interest in control in relationship to personal space. On the walls you can find the relevant documentation about the control order. The floor plan of the house was marked on the floor of the gallery; a light box is used to illustrate a photograph of a curtained window, a brilliant way to suggest light coming in from the window and to give the impression of a small claustrophobic space. On another wall two screens show very short videos, one showing a cropped section of CE – his hands, lower torso and thighs as he sits – the manner of his movements, the twiddling of his fingers displaying his anxiety.

Another small ‘room’ is effectively wallpapered with the contact sheets from the control house. Interesting to see images taken and rejected, the small JPEG images in such a vast number, repeated over and over, bringing home the normality of this suburban house being used for such a weird purpose.  Clark photographs a section of the wall, I asked why…nothing interesting lol someone, presumably a child, had drawn lines across some of the images and he was going to feed back to the museum.


And with that the talk was over! There was so much information to record and take in I am bound to have missed something. I am really glad that I saw the exhibition and that Edmund Clark spoke to as at such a length and in such depth that I really could understand the narrative of the photographs, books and documentation. Without that information, or the research I completed once returning home, I don’t think it would have had such an impact. This is something I am finding more and more these days, that whilst exhibitions are great to go to and actually see the work, to have a greater understanding you need more context.

I fully understand the reluctance of some documentary photographers to provide captions, not wanting to impose their own ideas upon the audience but sometimes that added information makes the differences between ‘yeah ok I think I get it’ and the ‘OMG the penny drops’ moment.

Finally, displaying yet more kindness, Edmund Clark agreed to follow us down to the book shop and sign a copy of the books some of us decided to purchase.

How does Clarke protect himself mentally and emotionally? Therapy.

What did I take away from this exhibition?

  • Edmund Clark is a highly articulate and stimulating artist
  • Research is very important
  • Collaboration works wonders
  • Knowing the right people in the right places doesn’t hurt either
  • People don’t always have to be portrayed to tell their narrative
  • Governments do some shady things!
  • Worthwhile bodies of work take time
  • One project can evolve into another
  • Having a small audience should not dissuade you from following an ideal








Own Research – The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize The Photographers Gallery April 2017

The Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize is an annual exhibition and award of £30,000 presented at The Photographers’ Gallery, London (and subsequently to select venues). Originally established by the Gallery in 1996 as the UK’s first dedicated photography award, it continues to identify, debate and celebrate innovative and original photographic practice from across the world.

Quick introduction for those not in the know, the prize goes to a photographer of any nationality for their ‘significant contribution to the medium of photography,’ either through an exhibition or publication in Europe and reflects the multitudinous ways that photographers and photography engages with the world today. Previous winners include Paul Graham, Juergen Teller and Rineke Dijkstra.

This year’s judges are:

Susan Bright (Curator), Pieter Hugo (Artist), Karolina Lewandowka (Curator of Photography, Centre Pompidou), Anne-Marie Beckmann (Director, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation) and Clare Grafik (Head of Exhibitions, The Photographers’ Gallery) as the non-voting chair.

This year the shortlisted are: Sophie Calle, Dana Lixenberg, Awoiska van der Molen, and Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. Their work is said to ‘tackle a wide range of emotional, personal, and cultural histories in this inspiring showcase of contemporary photography.’

In someways these photographers relate to the section of the course just undertaken, as according to the foundation’s website they all  ‘investigate questions of truth and fiction, doubt and certainty, what constitutes the real and ideal and the relationship between the observer and the observed.’ The nominees underline the different approaches there can be to documentary: the long established photographic narratives, experimental and conceptual approaches, landscape and portraiture.

Sophie Calle

Sophie Calle  has been nominated for her publication My All (Actes Sud, 2016) which finds the artist experimenting with yet another medium – the postcard set. Taking stock of her entire œuvre, this set of postcards functions as a beautiful portfolio of Calle’s work, as well as a new investigation of it, in an appropriately nomadic format. Over the past thirty years, Sophie Calle has invited strangers to sleep in her bed, followed a man through the streets of Paris to Venice, hired a detective to spy on herself before providing a report of her day, and asked blind people to tell her about the final image they remember. In doing so, she has orchestrated small moments of life, establishing a game, then setting its rules for herself and for others.

Calle is known more as a conceptual artist, so for some it came as a surprise that is was for a more traditional approach, that she was nominated for the 2017 Deutsche Börse photography prize. Sophie Calle: My All is described as ‘a retrospective photo-book comprising postcard-style photographs documenting all 54 of her artworks thus far.’ I only discovered that after reading up some information about her after attending the exhibition…irritatingly too many people had been stood in front of the ‘blurb’ on the wall and spent ages flicking through the postcard book on display.

The other work on display, curated especially of the prize, I could get closer to, and I loved it. It was a personal response to the deaths of ‘ My mother, My cat and My father – in that order.’ I found the images and accompanying text amusing as well as insightful and moving. It was relate-able (I don’t care if that’s not accepted as a real word by wordpress!) on a very personal level, as I experienced the painful lingering death of a parent not long ago, and wondered what their last words would be. I never thought to write them down though!

By incorporating diary entries and poems alongside images of poignant and meaningful, if obscure, objects, Calle presents a record of these last memories. A stuffed giraffe’s head named after her mother, a ram’s head represents her father, a stop sign and a cat in a coffin are just a few of the photographs to be found.

As one reviewer, Ellen Pearlman from Hyperallergic  wrote: ‘She blurs public and private so thoroughly you feel like a voyeur who can’t stop rubbernecking some particularly gruesome splattered roadkill.’  I completely agree, as she unerringly reveals her inner thoughts and various outbursts from her parents. Beneath a photograph of her mother in a large white frame reads an excerpt from her diary:

No use investing in the tenderness of my children, between Antoine’s placid indifference and Sophie’s selfish arrogance! My only consolation is, she is so morbid that she will come visit me in my grave more often than on Rue Boulard.

An image of a statue with its finger on its lips gives the impression of a church or graveyard, has underneath what appears to be a serious conversation between mother and daughter, then you read the engraved anecdote…

Every time my mother passed by the Bristol Hotel she stopped, crossed herself, and told us to shut up. “Silence,” she said, “This is where I lost my virginity.”


Her irreverent poker-faced humour was so on my level…she gets my vote!


Dana Lixenberg

Dana Lixenberg  has been nominated for her publication Imperial Courts (Roma, 2015). In 1992 Dana Lixenberg travelled to South Central Los Angeles for a magazine story on the riots that erupted following the verdict in the Rodney King trial. What she encountered inspired her to revisit the area and led her to the community of the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts. Returning countless times over the following twenty-two years Lixenberg gradually created a collaborative portrait of the changing face of this community.

On first glance I think it would be very easy to dismiss the work of Dana Lixenberg, but  Imperial Courts was very long in the making -1993–2015 – it is said to feature:

some of her finest, and most eloquent photographs, suffused with compassion, austere visual beauty, and a tender attention toward the wide scope of individuals who comprise the Imperial Courts community in Los Angeles… [the] copious tome is the culmination of years of diligent work.

…[it] is an intensely multi-layered insight into the constantly shifting history of a community from the inside out.



Originally, Lixenberg travelled to LA on assignment for the Dutch weekly magazine Vrij Nederland to document a story on the ‘destruction and rebuilding’ in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict. This developed into a 22-year project in which she captured portraits of the members of the community at the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts, Los Angeles: one of the city’s oldest. A photo essay of her earliest portraits, accompanied by a poem by playwright Ntozake Shange, was first published in the November 1993 edition of Vibe magazine and grew to span a book, exhibition and web documentary.

Imperial Courts became:

…the epicentre of rioting against racial discrimination by the project’s African American residents in 1965 and 1992.

Continue reading “Own Research – The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize The Photographers Gallery April 2017”

Own Research – The Ceremony of Life: Early Works by Martin Parr The Photographers Gallery April 2017

As mentioned before I am a bit Martin Parr-ed out, but when the opportunity comes available to view his work that’s what you do!

Whilst visiting the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2017 and Roger Mayne exhibition I popped downstairs to the Print Sales Gallery which had on show The Ceremony of Life, an exhibition of rarely seen black and white prints by Martin Parr and presented in collaboration with Rocket Gallery, London.

These early works – taken in the 1970s and early 1980s – reveal a gentler, less critical lens, unearthing a young photographer with superlative observational skills, passionate about capturing the unsung rituals of everyday life.

The exhibition features images from Parr’s first major series’ and photo books, including, Bad Weather (1975-1982), Fair Day (1980-1983) and Non-Conformist (published in 2013). the vernacular of people and landscapes across Yorkshire, Sussex, Dublin and the west coast of Ireland.

Parr once said that ‘black-and-white is certainly more nostalgic, by nature,’ and that his early ‘black-and-white work is more of a celebration and the colour work [is] more of a critique of society.’

The images on display are definitely a gentler reflection of British values exploring quieter moments:  shots of businessmen waiting at train stations in the fog, men fixing door-frames, at the Steep Lane Baptist Chapel buffet lunch, Sowerby, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, a refined middle-aged woman carefully sugars under the watchful eye of Jesus at the last supper. Here we can see the beginnings of Parr’s commentary on what it means to be British. Offbeat and eccentric for their time, these works display the quirkiness that would later hallmark his distinctive style.


What did I take away from this exhibition?

  • that you can change style and still be successful!



Own Research – Roger Mayne The Photographers Gallery April 2017

Photography involves two main distortions – the simplification into black and white and the seizing of an instant in time. It is this particular mixture of reality and unreality, and the photographer’s power to select, that makes it possible for photography to be an art. Whether it is good art depends on the power and truth of the artist’s statement.

                                                                                              Roger Mayne, Peace News, 1960

Roger Mayne was known for capturing the street markets and slums of inner London including Brick Lane and Bermondsey, and the artists that lived and worked in St Ives, Cornwall. But it was in the slums of North Kensington that Mayne:

…found the perfect setting to produce what he called a ‘cinema of stills’: expressive, narrative, realist shots that helped to drag British documentary photography out of straight photojournalism.

He spent five years repeatedly photographing a single street in west London, visiting it 27 times and taking 1,400 photos.

According to the blurb on the Beetles+Huxley website: ‘1956 was a breakthrough year for Mayne as his portraits were exhibited in solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and at George Eastman House, New York. That, same year, he began his seminal study of Southam Street…and established his reputation as an influential photojournalist.’

He enjoyed documenting the details of daily life, focusing in particular on children and their outdoor activities, and ‘contrasted the young people’s exuberance with the urban dereliction they inhabited.’ Health and safety definitely didn’t exist then looking at the groups of kids playing on the bomb sites!

Henri Cartier-Bresson inspired Mayne’s work on Southam Street – the original series is now owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum – which has subsequently become a valuable record of London’s urban environment in the 1950’s; large parts of Southam Street were demolished in 1969 as part of a slum clearance programme, with only a small section of the street still remaining.

Self-taught, Mayne counted among his influences Cartier Bresson, Paul Strand (whom he met in Paris) W. Eugene Smith and most notably photographer Hugo van Wadenoyen, who would prove to be an influential mentor throughout his formative years. Moving to London in 1954, Mayne began working for clients including the Observer, Sunday Times, Vogue, Pelican Books and BBC TV. He mixed with diverse artistic circles, corresponding and conversing with a wide range of painters, sculptors, architects, and playwrights. His approach to photography and engagement with the critical discourses of the day were greatly enlivened by these relationships.

It can be argued that Mayne belongs to the style of ‘concerned’ social documentary photography, taking street pictures with ‘human subjects and applying a classical black-and-white composition to them.’ The exhibition at The Photographers Gallery, the first since 1999 to show his work, includes many of these ‘pioneering photographs.’

Mayne’s humanistic approach has influenced subsequent generations of photographers, and made a significant contribution to post war British photography.

Also on display are examples of Mayne’s more obscure work, including early work in Leeds. These pictures of street life around the city portray the beginnings of his interest in photography and ‘chart his development from pictorialism to his characteristic realist style.’ He was actually commissioned to photograph the housing development of Park Hill in Sheffield. ‘His photographs captured both the nuance of daily social interactions and the sharp angles, shades and abstract forms of the urban environment.’

Wandering around the gallery you can also see his body of work from the Raleigh Cycles factory in Nottingham in 1964, where he ’embraced the dynamic setting and low lighting of the factory to produce a series of dignified portraits of the workers in his distinctive black and white tonality.’

Although restaged for the first time since 1964 (which was the year after I was born) Mayne’s installation, The British at Leisure, had many images which resonated with my childhood. It was commissioned by architect Theo Crosby for the Milan Triennale and features 310 colour images projected on five screens accompanied by a commissioned jazz score by Johnny Scott. The original music wasn’t available but Scott, 86, was said to be ‘delighted to offer an alternative.’ The ever-changing scenes show: girls playing hockey, people on bumper cars, a hunt at Tonbridge, hippies at a jazz festival…


His daughter, Katkin Tremayne, holds much of his archive and she collaborated with The Photographers Gallery to produce the exhibition, which is co-curated by Anna Douglas and Karen McQuaid.

She explains how a stroll changed his life: ‘One day, he went for a walk, turned a corner and there was Southam Street. It was a very poor area, with no cars, but a play street: there was hopscotch, swings made out of lamp-posts, boys playing football – exuberance.’


In an interview she revealed two pencilled quotations written by her father:

‘If you know before you look, then you cannot see for knowing.’ TF remains unknown to this day, however the other belonged to Picasso: ‘I do not seek, I find.’

Looking at these pictures you see a vanished world and feel the nostalgia: children playing with marbles – innocent and communal, a girl swinging dangerously high on a swing and young boys playing football, while others clamber amongst the detritus on the streets.

Included in the exhibition in glass vitrines were examples of Mayne’s interest in photographic and graphic layouts including magazine spreads, book covers, photography and poetry books and draft letters and correspondence with The Arts Council, which made for very interesting reading as they seemed to offer Mayne ‘every assistance short of help.’ The selection of correspondence on display:

…testify to his early critically engagement with arguments concerning the contemporary appreciation of photography as an art form and further cement Mayne’s significance in the history of British Photography.





What did I take away from this exhibition?

  • the nostalgia and how times have changed
  • everyday events eventually become history
  • to look for opportunities in the simplest and most accessible of places





Own Research – Great Britons of Photography – Curated by Peter Dench Project Space Bermondsey February 2017

Acclaimed photojournalist Peter Dench in a unique collaboration with the imaging journal Hungry Eye, brings us the collection of intimate, acute and heroically revealing insights into the lives and work of some of British photography’s most colourful characters. An instant classic, it is often hilarious, sometimes crazy, always engaging.

The content within this brand new book [Great Britons of Photography Vol. 1: The Dench Dozen]  is the result of years of personal encounters between Peter Dench and twelve photographers who have shaped him professionally or personally. In conversation pieces that serve as a celebration of British photography and give a unique insight into the lives and professional practices of this impressive list of subjects.

The book itself is a collection of interviews with leading documentary and fine-art photographers mainly from Britain but also includes a few who have become ‘British by association, such as Canadian Homer Sykes.’

I chose to go along to the exhibition as it featured many contemporary documentary photographers who use B&W or colour to complete their work. For example Martin Parr, Brian Griffin, Marcus Bleasdale and Harry Borden.

One reviewer for Amateur Photographer wrote of the book:

… the images throughout the book are well curated and nicely printed, but it’s a shame there are no captions to provide context..

To conclude, The Dench Dozen is something of a Marmite project. Dench’s fans will lap it up, and it’s refreshing to see some big names being interviewed in a different way to the usual predictable Q & A. More agnostic readers, who’ve coughed up a hefty 50 quid to learn more about top British photographers, might end up wishing for a more conventional interview approach.


A video of their interview with him can be found here.

So back to the actual exhibition curated by Peter Dench, that I saw back in February, Great Britons of Photography, which brought together the work of some of the greatest living British photographers including: Jocelyn Bain Hogg, Marcus Bleasdale, Harry Borden, John Bulmer, Chris Floyd, Brian Griffin, Laura Pannack, Tom Stoddart, Homer Sykes, Anastasia Taylor-Lind and Peter Dench himself.

All of the photographers featured in this intimate and revealing exhibition have shaped Dench in some way; sometimes professionally, more often, personally. They are glimpses into the lives and practice of some of British photography’s most extraordinary characters.

‘I understand that I live my life among extraordinary characters…I wanted to acknowledge these people, and write down my friendships with them, so that when I’m an old man sitting in the corner of a pub, I can revisit the time we had together.’

A brief synopsis of the photographers on display:

Anastasia Taylor-Lind
Anastasia Taylor-Lind is an English/Swedish artist with a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University. She has a background in photojournalism and has worked for leading publications all over the world on issues relating to women, population and war. Her first book MAIDAN – Portraits from the Black Square, which documents the 2014 Ukrainian uprising in Kiev, was published by GOST in the same year. Her first book, Maiden: Portraits from the Black Square, documents the 2014 Ukrainian uprising in Kiev.Taylor-Lind holds degrees in Documentary Photography from the University of Wales Newport and the London College of Communication. She is engaged with education, regularly lecturing at universities and teaching workshops internationally.

Siberian Supermodels


Marcus Bleasdale
Marcus Bleasdale has spent over 15 years documenting some of the world’s most brutal wars and focused on campaigning against human rights abuses. He has been documenting these issues for Human Rights Watch and is a contributing photographer for National Geographic Magazine.

Using his background in business and economics, Bleasdale researches the sources of financing driving the conflicts, which usually leads to the mines, and the armed networks linked to them. Bleasdale has covered wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia, Chad and Darfur, Kashmir and Georgia.

He has published three books to date: One Hundred Years of Darkness (2002), documenting life along the Congo River, The Rape of a Nation (2009), documenting the exploitation of natural resources in Eastern Congo and The Unravelling (2015), documenting the brutal conflict in the Central African Republic.

The Rape of a Nation


Jocelyn Bain Hogg
Jocelyn Bain Hogg began his career as a unit photographer on movie sets after studying Documentary Photography at Newport Art College. He shot publicity for the BBC, photographed fashion and now works on documentary projects, commercial and editorial assignments.

He is the author of five photographic books to date, including The Firm (2003), an astonishingly intimate view of London’s organised crime world, Idols + Believers (2006), an intensive journey into the nature of fame and today’s celebrity culture and The Family (2011), which looks again at Britain’s organised crime world in a new decade.

Teddy Bambam and his henchman Rocky outside The Beauchamp pub.


Brian Griffin
Brian Griffin is one of Britain’s most influential and creative photographers. Griffin’s influences are diverse, from Renaissance masters to Symbolism, Surrealism and Film Noir.

Griffin has worked with a variety of music industry clients including Depeche Mode, REM, Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, Ringo Starr, Peter Gabriel and Queen’s Brian May. He has produced album covers, TV commercials, music videos and award-winning films.

In 1987, Griffin was awarded the Freedom of the City of Arles, France, and in 1989, The Guardian newspaper proclaimed him to be ‘Photographer of the Decade’.



Harry Borden
Harry Borden is one of the UK’s finest portrait photographers and his work has been widely published. He won prizes at the World Press Photo Awards (1997 and 1999) and was a judge in the contest in 2010 and 2011. In June 2005 he was awarded a solo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London. The gallery has more than 100 examples of Borden’s work in their permanent collection. His personal projects include a series on Single Parent Dads and Holocaust Survivors, which was shortlisted for the European Publishers Award for Photography and will be released in 2017 by Octopus. In 2014 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal Photographic Society.



Chris Floyd
Chris Floyd’s work has appeared in some of the world’s most highly respected publications including The New Yorker, Harpers Bazaar, GQ, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine and Wallpaper*. He has shot advertising campaigns for British Airways, Apple, Sony and Philips and has been selected several times for the National Portrait Gallery’s annual portrait prize.

In 2011, Chris published a project entitled One Hundred And Forty Characters. Over a period of a year he made contact with 140 people that he followed on Twitter and photographed each of them in his London studio. The project received worldwide recognition and acclaim, with features about it on the BBC, Newsweek, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Elle, Esquire and many other publications and websites.



John Bulmer
John Bulmer was a pioneer of colour photography working for the Sunday Times Magazine from the very first issue until the 1970’s. Many of Bulmer’s most important assignments were abroad, but he is also acknowledged as an adroit recorder of provincial Britain.

His work has been singled out for awards by the Design and Art Directors Club and he has had pictures exhibited at the Gallery of Modern Art in New York, the Photographers’ Gallery in London, and the National Museum of Photography in Bradford

Bulmer has directed many films on travel and untouched tribes in the most inaccessible parts of the world broadcast on the BBC, Nat Geo and Discovery Channels.

Books include The North (2012) and Wind of Change (2014).



Laura Pannack
Laura Pannack’s work has been extensively exhibited and published both in the UK and internationally, including at The National Portrait Gallery, The Houses of Parliament, Somerset House, and the Royal Festival Hall in London.

In 2010 Pannack received first prize in the Portrait Singles category of the World Press Photo Awards. She has also won and been shortlisted for several other awards including The Sony World Photography Awards, The Magenta Foundation and Lucies IPA. She was awarded the Vic Odden by The Royal Photographic Society Award for a notable achievement in the art of photography by a British photographer aged 35 or under. In 2015 she judged the World Photo Press Awards Portraits Category.

Pannack often lectures, critiques and teaches at universities, festivals and workshops worldwide.



Homer Sykes
Homer Sykes is a professional magazine and portrait photographer with many years experience. He has travelled widely on photographic assignments across the world covering conflicts in Israel, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland, as well as general news in the UK.

His books include, Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs (1977), re-published in 2016 with over 50 ‘new’ images, Shanghai Odyssey (2002), and On the Road Again (2002).

Sykes work is owned by many private collectors and national collections.



Tom Stoddart
Tom Stoddart began his photographic career on a local newspaper in his native North-East of England before moving to London to work for publications such as the Sunday Times and Time Magazine.

During a long and varied career, he has witnessed such international events as the war in Lebanon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of President Nelson Mandela, the bloody siege of Sarajevo and the wars against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

His acclaimed in-depth work on the HIV/AIDS pandemic blighting sub-Saharan Africa won the POY World Understanding Award in 2003. In the same year his pictures of British Royal Marines in combat, during hostilities in Iraq, was awarded the Larry Burrows Award for Exceptional War Photography. A year later his book iWITNESS was honoured as the best photography book published in the USA.

In the summer of 2012, Perspectives, an outdoor retrospective exhibition in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross, was viewed by 225,000 visitors at London’s South Bank.



Continue reading “Own Research – Great Britons of Photography – Curated by Peter Dench Project Space Bermondsey February 2017”

Own Research – Minnie Weisz Time Present Time Future Project Space Bermondsey February 2017

I recently, well if February is ‘recently’, visited Project Space in Bermondsey to view the Peter Dench curated exhibition, Great Britons of Photography. Separate to this exhibition I saw a body of work by Minnie Weisz, Time Present Time Future, on display in the upstairs gallery. It has been described as ‘a very personal exhibition featuring photographs that reflect the artists life.’ Whilst completing her German degree in Berlin, three years after the wall fell, she saw many derelict buildings. ‘At the same time, there were strange private art events, upstairs in people’s lofts, or in cellars.’ And her fascination with space began from there-on-in.

Minnie Weisz is said to be ‘a Photographic Artist interested in the identity of spaces’, which I thought tied in quite nicely with the idea of authorship, reflexivity and how to represent the feeling/ relationship of people to place. Since 2006 Weisz set about recording and documenting buildings ‘in areas of transience in London’ and ‘forgotten interiors in Europe.’

Using both a documentary approach and a pin hole camera, Weisz turned these spaces into a camera obscura.

Exterior and interior worlds collide and merge, projections of light open up a conversation between the present and the past; traces of memory and time bordering a threshold between the real and the imagined, dream and reality? These rooms are witness to history and the passage of time, to memories past and present; family and home, space and connection.

Her work was very reminiscent of Abelardo Morell, who made his first picture using camera obscura techniques in a darkened living room in 1991. However, whereas Morell captures stunning panoramic views of cityscapes, Minnie Weisz has been concentrating on the more rundown and forgotten.

On comparing the two I love Morell’s vibrant colours and sweeping vistas, although they have more of the ‘Tourist’s Gaze’ about them. Most were shot in hotel rooms with scenes of traditional tourist hotspots. Weisz’s had more narrative, and a sense of melancholy history.

Travelling to Croatia Weisz explored and recorded spaces in remote locations. She also photographed rooms in the now empty 1854 Great Northern Hotel – the first great railway hotel in England –  the images show, not only the rooms, but also the imprint of the outside, the disappearing present-day King’s Cross and its redevelopment. ‘And all of them are in a process of flux.’ Quite surreal, the colours are faded and not bold, which makes them feel rather dreamlike.

What you get is like transience within transience. It’s like a Russian doll, with one layer inside another.The hotel is marooned in King’s Cross, surrounded by construction and regeneration. It’s a nowheresville. But for me it’s about humanising these buildings. I show them and they show me things, about themselves.

It’s a romantic subject. All these huge, looming buildings, and now they’re empty, where once it was about so many people arriving and leaving… “Room 418”, is particularly disconcerting: you don’t immediately notice that it is upside-down because, in this state, the projected image appears the right way up. The flat roofs of what look like railway sheds hover over the floor like a daylight hologram, and a wire coat-hanger rises, from a hook, like a cheap aerial.


The merging of the two spaces are interrupted by the objects she includes in the shots: a pair of shoes and a dead pot plant, another blurry corner of another dingy room houses a pair of suitcases and a cushion-less chair, another: pictures and posters, some of which were arranged on the wall above a cheap bed-stead: ‘A little shrine!’

This “little shrine”, was one of the images not to include projection, but the elements contained within, such as the shoes and travelling cases, were ‘about self and others, [and a] connection between things.’

…in a damp corner, on a tea chest, sits Minnie Weisz, planning her next move. She says she wants to go to Istanbul and, maybe, even Shanghai, to do something similar. “My goal is world domination by camera obscura,” she guffaws. “I want buildings watching each other across continents!”

What did I take away from this exhibition?

  • that older photographic techniques can still be used to great effect
  • even if other photographers have used the same technique, a different spin can be put on it to achieve different results
  • by including certain objects/elements within the scene provides a greater narrative; the semiotics linking the different images within a body of work







Own Research – Destined to be Happy – a site installation Jan 2017 GRAD

Whilst out and about in London with friends we decided to be cultural and take in a few exhibitions and galleries that were new to us. A quick Google and we came across GRAD.

GRAD is a cultural platform for initiatives and communication, bringing new insights into Eastern European art, design and culture through exhibitions, publications, live events, collaborations and digital engagement.

We act as an engaging social and visual platform to encourage creative dialogues, create cultural links, and question long established preconceptions of Russian and post-Soviet culture.

The exhibition they had on at the time was Destined to be Happy  by Irina Korina, a surreal art installation that I thought was amazing! But that could be due to my warped mind and sense of fun.

Irina Korina is known for her installations of large-scale sculptures that weave narratives through the interplay of textures, material and scale. Her work often recalls the décor of ordinary Russian homes and Korina favours every-day, disposable and often industrially-produced materials for her works, ranging from textiles and plastic to plasticine. Within her installations the artist often contrasts allusions to local and global concerns, presenting epic ideas in tandem with colloquial and local references. Through these pseudo-monumental sculptures the artist addresses issues such as collective memory and social history.

You entered via the rear of the gallery to access the installation, walking through a darkened tunnel of black plastic, into a weird disorientating world: a monochrome world consisting of a forest of dead and burnt trees, corrugated iron ‘walls’ and tons of industrial plastic sheeting. In amongst the tangled confusion were large life-sized characters, legs protruding from mascot-like costumes, lying on the floor. Artist Irina Korina explains:

The title initially draws the viewer to the characters that are lying on the floor. There are 6 characters who can be associated with so-called “people-sandwiches”, those ones who are walking on the streets with the advertisement banners on them. They are usually poor people who could only manage to get a job like that. There is also the topic which interests me a lot- the relationships between appearance and the internal things. The fact that you don’t see the characters faces inside their funny costumes creates the dramatic effect and provokes a sick feeling of horror. So “Destined to be Happy” means that there is an attractive and fake appearance which doesn’t show the reality or truth. The title of course pertains first to the characters, yet thinking globally it signifies the mismatch between the expectations and the reality.

Some of the audience  said it reminded them of a ‘dystopian Christmas’, and I totally get their point as you wander through it, getting glimpses of the blackened pine trees. There is an assault on every sense as the smell of burnt wood pervaded the nostrils and weird sounds echoed intermittently throughout the room. There was a notice ‘there is nothing more permanent in the world than the temporary thing’.

As well as giving a different perspective on the surreal, this exhibition also gave a totally different take on a sense of time and place. In an interview with Elena Markocheva, Irina was asked:

G.Many of your exhibitions that took place in Russia and around the world were about your attitude to the 1990’s. Does “Destined to be Happy” have a connection with this period of time too?

…the reference to 90s probably happens subconsciously. The exhibition is all about the ambiguity and confusion which I feel in nowadays Russia. This project shows the confusion about where everything is moving. For me it somehow resembles to the mythological feeling of a time when you move somewhere with an aim, but then you lose your way and become uncertain about your destination…it was important to create the area of uncertainty and suspense where the viewer doesn’t have the orientating points and support; nothing to rely on to feel stability.

On looking at the contrast between B&W and colour documentary it was interesting to note that this exhibition was constructed using a black and white colour palette.

Again, Irina explained her choices:

It is connected with the filters which people use on social media like Instagram and Facebook. They make their beautiful photos even more beautiful and the reality even more real. This exhibition is as if it went through black and white filter; it is achieved beforehand, having already passed as history.

Korina also wanted to show explore communication through social media and the extent that we employ Emojis.  Children and adults use them as hieroglyphs nowadays, a new language, a fixed amount of pictures which can explain many things. By juxtaposing concepts of ‘global and local, epic and colloquial, physical and virtual, Korina continues her anthropological research into the paradoxes of human behavior’.  Addressing issues memory, cultural and social history to challenge our traditional perceptions of everyday routine.

Emoji language seems to be incredible for me. Look attentively to the characters on the floor- their costumes look exactly like emojis.

The Christmas trees were one of her favourite elements of ‘the visual dictionary.’ The spruce trees signify many different emotions for her: these trees are grown for one evening only and then they are thrown away.

I would like to recall this idea to people at Christmas time and to make them feel sad that the party is going to be over.

The exhibition venue has silver confetti strewn across the floor, which creates the feeling that you are at the middle stage of a party where suddenly ‘you don’t understand what are you doing there. The party becomes somehow frozen, without culmination and development.’

I’m not sure I understood her reasoning behind the soundtrack which seemed to include grunting pigs and pulsating brainwashing type music, and if I remember a chattering sound.

With the music myself and the composer Sergey Kasich wanted to let the visitor know that the exhibition venue is somehow a cinematic adventure and the space you are in has some kind of plot. I am very happy to work with Sergey as it was him who created this atmosphere too. The sounds which might be thought to be unimportant in fact play a huge role. I like it very much.

Continue reading “Own Research – Destined to be Happy – a site installation Jan 2017 GRAD”

Own Research – Joel Sternfeld Talk: Photographers Gallery January 2017 and Beetles+Huxley Exhibition

Joel Sternfeld began making colour photographs in the 1970’s and is known for documenting people and places in the USA, with projects such as American Prospects (1987), On This Site: Landscapes in Memoriam (1996) and Stranger Passing (2001). His photographs of New York’s High Line, an abandoned goods train line running through Manhattan’s Lower West Side, played an important role in enabling its transformation into a public open space.

Way back in January when I was really, really ill I had a ticket to see Joel Sternfeld talk at the Photographers Gallery. Even though I felt like death warmed up, had spent 3 days off sick in bed, the trains were screwed due to derailments and signal failures, I managed to drag my carcass up to London and got there by the skin of my teeth, to meet the man himself, before the talk began.

Prior to the talk Joel did a book signing, and I was the penultimate person before they closed the line. The staff were most adamant, ‘move along quickly, please don’t talk, we don’t have the time.’ Customers in front of me had brought libraries with them to be signed, they wanted anecdotes, this book to that person, this book to that one, can this book have such ‘n’ such written in it, Joel had the grace to fulfill every demand…I was flagging, the layers I had worn due to the cold weather outside and being ill were now grossly oppressive…as I visibly wilted and stripped off in the diminishing line I gradually got to the front. I smiled a weak smile, ‘Please, I’d love it if you’d just sign my book…I don’t need a dedication, thank you so much.’

Joel looked at me, despite my deathly appearance, he had a roguish twinkle in his eye, smiled and said, ‘and there I was going to declare my undying adoration for you…’ what a delightfully, charming man. His talk that evening was brilliant, but what I shall also remember is his kindness to a dishevelled, wilting person who was running a temperature, resembled Rudolf and looked like they were going to fall over at any moment. Bless you. I declare my undying adoration for you ;oD

On to the talk… Sean O’Hagan has described him as ‘affable and eccentric’, I would probably agree with that to a certain extent, but more so, self-aware, self-depreciating, humorous, intelligent, curious and very charismatic.

Joel took to the stage by himself, there was no interviewer to act as a buffer between the man himself and the audience. He stood in front of a large screen and operated the PowerPoint presentation taking us step by step through his various bodies of work, how and why he took them. Interspersed are several images of Joel as a young man. He apologised to those to whom he had refused selfies during the book signing…he didn’t want to be looked at as older than he was when he started out, he felt that his audience might question the relevance of his images, and not relate to them if they thought ‘he,’ the ‘him now,’ had taken them. Valid point I guess.

He opened with describing how he felt back in 1980, the time of Ronald Reagan being voted in a POTUS,  and feels today, the same, if not  a greater sense of apocalypse. Prophetic words given the events of this week between America and Russia/Syria and North Korea…Trump is treading some seriously dangerous ground.

Influenced greatly by The Young Trailers series by Joseph Altsheler, Thoreau diaries and a description of Spring, The Outermost House : A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod, Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, and Autumn Across America by Edwin Way Teale, when Sternfeld set off in his Volkswagen camper van (with a large format 8×10 inch camera) he decided to follow the seasons across America. Some people were shocked to discover many of his images were posed but he laughed, and explained how could they not be when he was shooting on a large format camera on a tripod?

The book I asked Joel to sign was the culmination of that adventure, published in 1987, American Prospects, is now regarded as a classic. Although it contains much humour  Joel states: ‘it was for me a deeply serious and political enterprise.’

He admits, somewhat sadly, that he now uses a more compact, smaller, digital camera. This change was forced upon him due to airport security and an incident in Gezi Park in Istanbul, when he was spotted with his large format camera and intimidated by the riot police.

I look up and there’s a guy screaming at me and he’s got a long baton raised… however it was also partly an aesthetic decision as I feel like digital has a kind of look of now.

Giles Huxley-Parlour, director of Beetles+Huxley, has stated:

Sternfeld’s work has become an influential part of art history and has shaped the way that the world looks at American life and culture. His pioneering early colour photographs present a country of immense beauty and opportunity, but one seemingly stuck at a turning point: proud of its past as a noble experiment in democracy, but fraught with various new and disturbing forces. His work resonates strongly today at a time of such upheaval in American politics and society.

A few weeks after the talk, and when I was feeling much healthier, I went along to Beetles+Huxley to view exhibition, which included some previously unseen images as well as some of the more iconic photographs; a circus elephant stranded on a rural road and a fireman apparently shopping for a pumpkin at a roadside stall while a house blazes in the background.


The scene reveals a farmers’ market in McLean, Virginia, with the helmeted fireman shopping for pumpkins, leaving his companions to fight the flames engulfing a two-story home down the road. Whilst the event actually occurred all is not as it seems; the fire was a training exercise from which the fireman was taking a break. The only information supplied is the location and date. There is no explanation, no accusation, we are allowed to tell our own narrative. If this picture deceives it only does so due to our own prejudices. Sternfeld recognizes the ‘passive-aggressive coerciveness of pictures,’ and embraces their ability to manipulate.

You take 35 degrees out of 360 degrees and call it a photo. No individual photo explains anything. That’s what makes photography such a wonderful and problematic medium. A photograph is only a fragment of a shattered pot.

Photography has always been capable of manipulation. Even more subtle and more invidious is the fact that any time you put a frame to the world, it’s an interpretation. I could get my camera and point it at two people and not point it at the homeless third person to the right of the frame, or not include the murder that’s going on to the left of the frame… There’s an infinite number of ways you can do this: photographs have always been authored.

Having seen the colour work of other photographers, including William Eggleston’s Guide, and having spoken to John Szarkowski, (who called him ‘the worried photographer’) ‘I didn’t quite fit into the old tradition or the new one,’  Sternfeld had to make the decision of what he was going to do with colour. At the time he believed that you couldn’t do contemporary landscapes in B&W, but on reflection and looking at Robert Adams concedes maybe he was wrong stating:

There are exceptions, of course. I’ve never seen a Robert Adams photograph that hasn’t amazed me.

I was enthralled by Eggleston, as everybody was… but I knew if I was ever to make a mark, I’d have to go to places he hadn’t headed.

The tonality he uses in his images are influenced by Josef Albers and Bauhaus colour theory, with using three colours of equal density and looking at gradations of saturation, he mentions Paul Klee, but Sternfeld doesn’t use vibrant primary tones; they are similar to the pastel tonality used in Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places, published in 1982.

Sternfeld set off to capture climate change, as even then he sensed that something was going wrong. He revisited this idea later in the Oxbow Archive, citing artist Thomas Cole as inspiration. We skip through his work capturing the migrant workers of the Kickapoo tribes and how their story of travelling from Mexico to the US to work is as relevant today as it was then, how he went to Rome and was heavily influenced by the history of the place.

We pause for longer on his exploration of the darker side of US society in On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam, where ordinary places are ‘rendered ominous by the terrible things that happened there’. In this book he included text to be as equally important as the images. We take in photographs of Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America -Joel Sternfeld selected sixty representative historic or present American utopias. Again each photograph is accompanied by a text that summarizes the most relevant aspects of the history/organization of the community. Interestingly, he comments that this text is all his own, but the validity of the facts have never been disputed. One of very few photographers who include a lot of writing in their photo-books he bemoans: ‘You can’t convince some museums that the text is part of the art.’

It is sad to see that the new Magnum photographers, although embracing new ways of capturing documentary images, also fail to realise that text can be just as important as the images. However, on the flip side I do think that by giving too much information, context or a background in a caption, you can close down the meaning of an image. If nothing is left to the imagination or to interpretation, it becomes less intriguing or puzzling to the audience.

You can tell he still teaches, as he gives all the standard academic references: Eggleston, Stephen Shore, John Szarkowski, August Sander, Edward Steichen, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lucas Blalock ,Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas and Jeff Wall. An interesting point he made was that he thought Steichen’s work The Family of Man was a highly agendendered body of work, produced as a way of winning the Cold War…

Other projects include Stranger Passing –  Sternfeld made full-length portraits of the random people he encountered on his journeys, and Walking the High Line which ‘chronicled the grass, weed and wildflower-strewn tracks of the disused elevated railway that ran through the west of Manhattan.’ This has since become a landscaped nature walkway.

Lastly, Joel tells us of an ambitious project to chronicle the history of mankind:

Bricks, Outskirts of Kolkuta, India, March, 2014


A Stack of Bricks outside of Kolkata, India
Bricks dating back to 7500 BC have been found at Tell Aswad in the upper Tigris region of what is now modern Syria.
In Exodus 1:14; 5:4-19 we are told that the Egyptians “came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in bricks and mortar.”
Union Solidarity International has been campaigning against “blood bricks” in India since 2012. In the words of Andrew Brody, “its modern day slavery. Entire families of men, women, and children are working for a pittance, up to 16 hours a day in terrible conditions. There are horrific abuses of minimum wage rates and health and safety regulations, and it’s often bonded labor, so they can’t escape.” Image and text ©Joel Sternfeld. Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine and Beetles+Huxley


London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Arizona
At a narrow point in the Thames River, Romans, who had recently invaded what is now modern-day England, built a bridge. The year was 50 AD—the city of London grew up around that bridge.
Over ensuing centuries, many replacement bridges have been built, each bearing the appellation ‘London Bridge.’
In the early 19th century, a stone bridge was built. By the 1960s it was sinking into the muddy bottom of the Thames at a rate of 1 inch every 8 years. Not quite falling down, but sufficiently alarming to induce the city of London to sell the bridge.
Piece by piece it was dismantled, brought to Lake Havasu, Arizona, and reassembled.
Riding his bicycle over the bridge one day, David Jensen concluded that an Italian Gondola concession would go well with London Bridge. He built his gondola and proceeded to ply romantic tourists with arias in Italian, French, German, and Japanese. Image and text © Joel Sternfeld. Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine and Beetles+Huxley

All too soon the evening was over, I had a notebook full of scribbles, which I eventually have managed to decipher and make sense of. Despite the size of this post I still don’t think I have managed to do justice to a photographer who:

…consciously reacted against the influence of some of his contemporaries—particularly Egglestone and his “poetic snapshots”—in order to create his own voice in color photography through narrative photographs that, individual and in sequence, speak not words or even phrases, but sentences, paragraphs and stories.

– Phil Bicker Oct 12, 2011

What did I take away from this talk/exhibition?

  • That I like his colour palette
  • That I like the man as much as I like the photographs
  • It is possible to move with the times as far as projects and technologies are concerned
  • That even well established photographers have doubts about their newest projects
  • The point about ‘deceptive’ or ‘truthful’ images is made very clear in many of his projects
  • Authorship is key to understanding motive and resulting images
  • Take influences from everywhere, books, poetry, history and existing photographers
  • Don’t be afraid to go against the established rules of photography