Own Research – Magnum Photos Now: New Blood Jan 2017 Magnum Talk @Barbican

I have loads of research to write-up as at the beginning of the year there seemed to be a glut of talks and exhibitions to attend. On January 19th 2017 I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Magnum Photos Now: New Blood -A discussion on contemporary photographic practices with new Magnum photographers Bieke Depoorter and Max Pinckers.

The discussion focused on the individual practice of Magnum’s new photographers, from traditional photojournalism to a more art based approach to personal projects; and explored ‘what the world-renowned Magnum Photos agency means to contemporary practitioners today.’

Bieke Depoorter

Belgian photographer Bieke Depoorter captures the privacy of people whom she meets by chance and she gets to invite her into their homes. In 2009, she travelled through Russia and later pursued a similar long-term project in the United States. Ou Menya and I am about to call it a day series were published by Lannoo and Patrick Frey and Hannibal. Depoorter joined Magnum Photos as a nominee in 2012, became an associate member in 2014 and a full member in 2016.

Bieke Depoorter received her master’s degree in photography from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent in 2009.

She works mostly on autonomous projects. Amazingly, I discovered that in 2009, she travelled through Russia, photographing people in whose homes she had spent a single night for her series Ou Menya,

To complete this project, Bieke Depoorter spent three months,divided up into three trips of one month each, following the route of the Trans-Siberian Express’ stopping at the forgotten villages along the way. On reaching a village, she would ask residents if she could stay with them, moving from living room to living room each night. However, she spoke no Russian at all! Instead she had some Russian words scribbled on paper which she would show to strangers who, even more amazingly ‘allowed her to be welcomed and absorbed in the warm chaos of a family.’

The note read:

I’m looking for a place to spend the night. I don’t want to stay at a hotel because I don’t have much money and I’d love to see how people live in Russia. Perhaps I could crash at your place? Thank you very much for your help!

Depoorter states: At first, this note was just a solution to me, but once I started travelling, I realised it was a nice way of entering people’s homes. I decided I would do this every night – and the note eventually became a tool and the centre of my project.

On looking at the rather intimate nature of some of the photographs I found her comments about having difficulties with street photography fairly amusing. Depoorter thought that street photography felt like she was intruding, taking something away from them, stealing in effect, and treating them as objects not people. I guess that the people in her series agreed to the photographs being taken and published in a way the doesn’t happen on the street but I think I’d rather that than my naked butt in a book…

A similar long-term project in the United States led to her second book I am about to call it a day, co-published in 2014 by Edition Patrick Frey and Hannibal.

Bieke Depoorter traveled across the USA asking perfect strangers whether she could spend a single night in their homes. Short but intense encounters are important elements in the work. The openness with which she is welcomed and the intimacy that is shared with her, evoke intriguing moments. These intimate and unexpected situations gave rise to portraits of individuals, couples, and families. Depoorter intersperses them with landscapes. The images are atmospherically charged, some melancholic, some comical, some subtly menacing. They thread a fine line between a real and cinematic world. – Maarten Dings


Depoorter likes to photograph at night, although I don’t think I like the high amount of grain this produces in her images:

I often photograph people at night, just before they go to sleep. I’m interested in the border between the real world and the fantasy world. When people prepare to go to bed, they’re in another mindset. I take photographs during the day as well but at night people aren’t so conscious of me being there.

What I did like about this second set of images was the way she interspersed her portraits with landscape images to tell the whole narrative and link people to place.

Another project she showed us was In Between, where she photographed ‘the intimacy of Egyptian Families.’

Since the beginning of the uprising in 2011 Egypt has been through a period of change. After three years of instability, economic decline, and power shifts, one no longer hears the revolutionary demands of ‘Bread, Freedom, Social Justice!’ in the streets. Most of all it seems the locals long for stability and security.

Away from the politics and news of the day Depoorter searches for the quieter moments that are of course directly influenced by the larger issues. Each day, she searches for places to spend a night, through the people she meets in the side streets in country lanes.

On looking at the images as a whole, you get the overwhelming sensation that as humans we aren’t really that different. The intimate family moments, the pensive looks as people reach the end of the day the home settings aren’t really that far apart. That’s something I think we should all bear in mind in these troubled times.

People are very similar. I wanted to focus on that, rather than the differences. I recently had an exhibition where I mixed all my photographs from the US, Cairo, and Russia: they all fit really well together.

She also shared with us her first short movie ‘Dvalemodus’ shot in 2017, which she directed together with musician Mattias De Craene. The film talks about the everlasting darkness in a small village in the Northern Norway… this was weird and very post-modernist if you ask me…weird angles, music abstract images…possibly a bridge too far for me lol.

What did I take away from Depoorter?

  • take risks – although I don’t think I’ll be jumping on a Trans-Siberian train any day soon…
  • if one genre of photography isn’t working for you, try something else
  • Don’t be afraid of grainy images
  • Don’t be afraid to engage with strangers
  • Language doesn’t have to be a barrier
  • mix portraits and landscapes if it assists the narrative
  • shooting at night lends a different light/atmosphere to the images
  • you don’t have to be old/established to get into Magnum
  • Try to use a more contemporary approach to documentary

Max Pinckers

Not believing in the possibility of sheer objectivity or neutrality, Max Pinckers advocates a manifest subjective approach, which is made visible through the explicit use of theatrical lighting, stage directions or extras. Growing up in Indonesia, India, Australia and Singapore, Pinckers returned to Belgium in 2008, his native country, to study documentary photography at the School of Arts / KASK, where he is currently a doctoral researcher. His last book ‘Lotus’, was published in 2016 by Lyre Press.

Max Pinckers is a photographer based in Brussels, Belgium. He has produced various photo-books such as Lotus (2011), The Fourth Wall, (2012) and Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty (2014). Pinckers has had exhibitions at the MOCAK in Poland (2016), the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the United States (2015) and the Centre for Fine Arts – Bozar in Belgium (2015), among others. Awards include the Edward Steichen Award (2015) and the City of Levallois Photography Award (2013). In 2015 he founded the independent publishing house Lyre Press and became a nominee of Magnum Photos.


Will They Sing Like Raindrops Or Leave Me Thirsty

Magnum photographer Max Pinckers travelled to India for four months, his partner Victoria Gonzalez-Figueras, attempting to grasp, stage and document aspects of love and marriage. This series of photographs focuses on honour-based violence in India; in particular, the violence against women and men who fall in love or have a relationship against their family’s will.

He completed a heck of a lot of background research , combing through newspapers and magazines, watching films and roaming through cities, he looked for subjects that suited his theme, such as couples on their honeymoon at the foot of the Himalayas, men on white horses, photo studios where couples have their portraits taken, strange decors for marriage ceremonies, a stranded photograph of a married couple  a set of discarded photos from a studio next to the Taj Mahal and many other things. Max also includes the slightly more abstract images within the body of work, for example a picture of spilt milk references the Bollywood use of milk to symbolise sexual climax – and he cites Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr frolicking in the waves in From Here To Eternity as a frame of reference.

His subjects include captured photographs of ‘lovebirds’ (young lovers on the run from their disapproving families due to caste or religious differences) and the Love Commandos – an organization that protects and supports these young runaway couples and helps them get married and start afresh.

Pinckers stages the majority of his images stating: Fiction often teaches us more about reality than reality itself.

In staging his images he uses tripods and often an ‘unneeded reflecting flash, as a footnote, a signature, but also as a spatial photographic intervention.’ This ties in with research completed on documentary performance and fictions, photographers such as Tom Hunter, Mohamed Bourouissa, Essop twins and Jeff Wall, and reveals how Magnum is now accepting the non-traditional ways of representing documentary. His work seems to be following on from the work of Hannah Starkey and Charley Murrell in the form of imagined and choreographed realities.

Pinckers has taken a traditional documentary subject, featuring people who are in very real danger of violence or murder, and handled it with a contemporary twist ‘pulling in a fictional direction using a visual language that borrows from Bollywood and its depiction of relationships and love.’ There are an estimated 1,000 honour killings in India every year, but it’s also a problem that extends across much of Asia, Africa, into Europe and the UK.

The purely staged shots are mixed with photographs of moments restaged from real life. We see an image of a man and woman standing on corrugated iron rooftops on a Mumbai beach. She is throwing a paper plane to the man, a message of her forbidden love. The lighting is garish, the location opportunistic and anonymous. It seems as though we are in the 1970s again. But the picture is a recreation of the courtship of Sanjay and Aarti, the most celebrated of the couples rescued by the Love Commandos. After Aarti’s parents found out about her relationship with Sanjay, they beat her and tried to sell her three times. Once she was sold to a couple for £140 as ‘a slave for extramarital relations’. Aarti complained so much that she was returned to her parents from whom, with help from the Love Commandos, she eventually escaped. Reaching out into a fictional world, Pinckers shows us Sanjay and Aarti in their new home. Aarti is holding a baby, Sanjay is switching the television on and the walls are covered in peeling blue paint and irregular brickwork. The struggle for love is over; now the struggle of life begins.

The Fourth Wall

Weaving reality and fiction, Max Pinckers examines the Indian film industry and its ingrained influence on Indian culture.

Nowhere else is there such devotion to cinema as in India.This fictional world seeps into reality and influences everyday life, dictating the perception and imagination of its audience

Rather than focusing on the more obvious, such as advertising billboards or Bollywood bling, Pinckers turned the streets of Bombay into his own set, inviting passers-by to participate. He says: ‘The people in these images become actors by choosing their own roles, which they perform for the camera and its western operator…Conscious of the power of images, they give it their all, reflecting on their silver screen dreams by embracing their collective visual world and creating their own brief moments of suspension of disbelief.’

A bit like Murrell who mixes reality and fiction, Pinckers does the same, confusing fact, fiction, and documentary capturing scenes in which it is a combination of both staged and spontaneous moments. Max explains:

A photograph of two men in uniform climbing over a fence, escaping …a re- enactment of a moment that just passed. They do it over again with great pride and pleasure.

[For another tableau] I read an article in the newspaper: two men use sleep-inducing gas to rob a struggling actress in her home, the same gas used in a 1972 hit film in which a cook robs his landlord. An image that I’ve been planning to make for some time comes to mind – a thick cloud of smoke in a bedroom film set.

Traditionally, Western photographers have approached Mumbai, where most of these images were taken, ‘from a humanitarian perspective, using people – their expressions, gestures, moments of clarity – that might  symbolise the social realities of the city.’ In this body of work Pinckers has a different approach. The fourth wall, in dramatic terms, forms the imaginary screen through which the audience sees the scene unfold. The actors, conscious of this barrier, tend to break through it now and then by hinting at their own fiction, acknowledging the camera and the act. In this body of work Pinckers has ‘applied this concept to documentary photography by way of commenting on the paradoxes of his chosen medium.’

I have consistently been exploring the boundaries of documentary photography and its narrative power. Naturally this suggests a blurred boundary between genre’s and definitions, although I would place my work primarily within a documentary context.



Max Pinckers, in collaboration with Quinten De Bruyn, documented the lives of transsexuals in Thailand, whilst exploring the boundaries and the role of contemporary documentary photography. In Lotus, the gender crisis that the

so-called ladyboys face is transformed into a visual metaphor about the identity crisis that contemporary documentary photography currently encounters, when it dares to reflect upon itself critically, and confront its paradoxes.

The documentary photographer that captures reality as ‘a fly on the wall’ can’t deny his or her directive and manipulative role any longer. The anonymity, the seeming absence, is merely a pose. The tableaux that the photographer captures are not lies, but enfold themselves within the studio that he or she creates from reality.



Other pertinent facts are he self publishes and The Fourth Wall was completed due to a crowd funding exercise. His current project is based around the Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950’s where he is tracking down people who were involved at the time and re-enacting some of the scenes. Max also wants to include some of the ephemera that he is discovering left behind in archives. At the time of the talk this was a work in progress.

Neither Depoorter nor Pinckers want to caption their work.

What did I take away from his work?

  • That even more so I can see the benefits of staged documentary images
  • Lots of research assists in getting the right shot
  • it is important to choose a subject with a powerful narrative
  • collaborating can be good
  • you can mix portrait and abstract shots within the same body of work
  • be experimental/contemporary with your approach
  • Crowd funding can work if you want to control your publication or if you are rejected by large publishing houses

Again a very informative talk which has opened my mind to many opportunities for capturing documentary work.












Own Research – David Bailey NW1 December 2017

Considered one of the pioneers of contemporary photography, David Bailey is credited with photographing some of the most compelling images of the last five decades. He first rose to fame making stars of a new generation of models including Jean Shrimpton and Penelope Tree. Since then his work has never failed to impress and inspire critics and admirers alike, capturing iconic images of legends such as: The Rolling Stones, the Kray twins, Damien Hirst and Kate Moss, these simple yet powerful black and white images have become a genre in their own right.

Mostly, David Bailey is known for his stark black and white portraits, however he also shot some stunning landscapes, capturing a vanishing part of London. Published in 1982, Bailey took photographs of his local area: NW1, Primrose Hill and Camden, which had been his home for nearly 30 years and was gradually altering, so he decided to:

…photograph the shuttered cinemas, boarded railway arches, crumbling Victorian facades, dormant car park and advertising hoardings. 34 years ago it was a statement of the suburban decay, and looking back on the images now it becomes even more poignant.

Gone is the history to be replaced with glass and steel, family businesses replaced by chain fashion stores and coffee shops.

Bailey owned a house in Gloucester Terrace – one of the few houses not split into flats – and from here he would wander through his neighbourhood selecting his subject matter. At the time is was grubby and cheap, not at all like the ‘swanky’ area it is now.

When I saw that these works were going to be on display at Heni London (a small upstairs gallery which I nearly walked passed!) I made a note that I should definitely go and have a look.


I was a little disappointed that they did not have any handouts, but you were allowed to photograph the exhibition which I found a pleasant but surprising change from most venues. The lovely assistant did tell me I could buy the book of:

…David’s thoughtful perspective on the area [which]is translated in these iconic, black and white archival photographs.

Displayed in a very light, airy, white, high ceiling-ed room, I was also surprised that the photographs were framed with highly reflective glass. Taking advantage of this I explored creating surreal images using the reflections of the beautiful large windows.

A brilliant study of how to shoot within your local area; the compositions and the smaller details evoke memories of the 70’s for me ( The design of the wall, framed within the car window, is a blast from the past! ) and capture the atmosphere of the place, linking to the coursework and my research into how photographers used authorship and reflexivity to create a sense of local identity. The body of work took four years to complete, Bailey using plate cameras and tripods and his trade mark black and white imagery.

“I’d look at something that took my fancy, I’d note the time of day and when the light was going to be right and then go back three or four times. I did it as a continuous work.”

Looking back he says the change he saw then was not a surprise – and our city is constantly on the move, making it more important to capture moments and preserve them.

London changes all the time, and that isn’t unique – everywhere changes, every day…I like continuous change – it is more interesting

When looking at the buildings he recounts how:

They seemed to tell the story of the people that lived there, like an invasion into their personal life…These buildings were the first building that I knew and they had a Gothic effect on me. I prefer buildings that have a certain history about them, and the people that lived in them, made love in them, gave birth or died in them. The facade of a building is like a person’s face, it tells a story.

Which fits in neatly if not slightly obscurely with the ideas expressed by David Campbell when he quoted: ‘Is it the case, as Robert Hariman has argued, that sometimes “things speak louder than faces.”’

As well as a personal account these images provide a historical documentation of the area, especially as the majority of independent businesses have been replaced by high street chains.

This interview is brilliant!

What did I take away from this?

  • Don’t use highly reflective glass in frames
  • Handouts are always useful
  • What might seem mundane everyday images at the time, become poignant historical documents, even within a relatively short space of time
  • you don’t always have to include people
  • Urban landscapes can work well in B&W – possibly something to explore
  • Check the lighting/time of day assists with the narrative, go back several times if necessary

All in all, a very useful and pleasant trip out.








Suggested Research – Martin Parr

Martin Parr, where do you begin with a Magnum photographer like Martin Parr? He has had around 40 solo photobooks published, and has featured in around 80 exhibitions worldwide – including the international touring exhibition ParrWorld, and a retrospective at the Barbican Arts Centre, London, in 2002. He has also curated work the exhibition Strange and Familiar at the Barbican in 2016.

It isn’t simple enough to call him a documentary photographer he is more ‘a chronicler of our age.’ So much so that he has just been commissioned by the BBC to make their new idents.

Renowned for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, I hope that the series of images Parr captures across the year will document everyday Britain in all its glory and serve as a fascinating and lasting record of 2017.

He is said to transcend ‘the traditional separation of the different types of photography’ using a strategy which presents and publishes the same photos in the ‘context of art photography, in exhibitions and in art books, as well as in the related fields of advertising and journalism.’

At first glance, his photographs seem exaggerated or even grotesque in fact he could be a modern day, colour Diane Arbus; strange motifs, garish colours and unusual perspectives. Revealing in a ‘penetrating way how we live, how we present ourselves to others, and what we value.’

But that isn’t what all of his work is about. Much of it is but some isn’t. In particular I love his recent work on The Rhubarb Triangle which focuses on one small industry and tells its story from beginning to end. I also liked his earlier work The Non Conformists which focused on one small community. What I am not so keen on is the garish images that to me are not a gentle mocking of the English at play but a more critical and condescending social commentary, for example ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85, but that’s just my take on some of his stuff. The rest I find quite stunning. And even the images that make me inwardly cringe I have to admire because they are or were summing up our society. His images are not only interesting as in visually appealing but they are also meaningful, as in they inform us about society and ourselves.

His observation on the British way of life is uncanny and his work ethic second to none. A friend of mine is in awe of his contacts and how he manages to get into places and situations to obtain his images.

I was lucky enough to attend a talk and on going to the joint exhibition with Tony Ray Jones Only in England, I remember the advice he gave to a fellow student about taking more interesting images he said ‘get out of London!’ As time has moved on I think his style has mellowed slightly and I prefer a lot more of his work now than I did previously.

He is another photographer who thinks you should take a lot of images but be ruthless when you edit. Due to his diversity he is again a photographer that you can keep returning to for inspiration with black and white, embedding yourself in a community as with assignment one, single shots that stand alone yet sum up an emotion or atmosphere, looking towards assignment two, and those which work as a narrative looking further on into the coursework.







Own Research 8 – Masters of Photography Dec 2016 Beetles & Huxley

This exhibition is on until 23rd December so if you are doing nothing and have the time I would strongly recommend you go. Out of the 3 exhibitions visited I think this was my favourite 🙂 I’m going to include all 29 images on display within this review but will only talk about some of them or I’ll never move on!

So many classic photographers and such well known images, most I knew and it felt like coming home… yeah I know ‘what a load of rubbish’ but it was soooo great to stand there and say OMG THAT is a Paul Strand…THAT is an Alfred Stieglitz…THAT is an Edward Weston THAT is a Dorothea Lange… it was a veritable treasure chest of the Masters of Photography indeed. My only regret is that no-one offered to buy me the Ansel Adams Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico an absolute steal at £75,000.00…

The images were displayed in more or less chronological order rather than all the images from one artist grouped together, although most photographers only had one image on display. Once again I’m going to borrow some chunks of text…so shoot me for being lazy…I got a pile of things to get through :oP

This video is brilliant at showing that manipulation in post processing is not restricted to computer software!

29 November – 23 December

Masters of Photography 2016 is a survey of 29 masterpieces by leading photographers of the twentieth century.

The exhibition will contain important prints by some of the world’s most influential photographers. Each photograph has been chosen for its significant role in the history of the medium. The exhibition will display a range of iconic imagery, including some of the most influential photographs ever taken. The exhibition spans the entirety of the twentieth century, from early Modernist masterpieces, such as Alfred Stieglitz’s “The Steerage” of 1907, to the colourist works of Joel Sternfeld and Stephen Shore.

Photographers on display



To begin… the first image that you see on walking into the gallery is Alfred Stiegliz The Steerage, 1907. I was amazed at how small it was. The video below explains it better than I can.


Edward Steichen had two images on display, Triumph of the Egg, France 1921 and Fred Astaire in ‘Funny Face’ 1927.

As I have said with the other exhibitions you so lose the detail and subtle tones when studying the images online. I’m not that convinced over Mr Egg, its a brilliant study of texture, shape, form and tone but apart from that doesn’t do that much for me, but it could be yours for £165,000… However the image of Fred Astaire is superb. The excellent use of lighting to create figure to ground contrast in an abstract manner, the tones and details captured within this portrait, which captured the importance of the man himself and the musical era he represented, I thought was wonderful and at £25,000 you can keep the egg, I’ll take Fred! I must stop looking at the price tags…

Edward Steichen became the official photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1923, and soon began to take accomplished early fashion photographs and celebrity portraits. His work from this period is characterised by graphic compositions with dramatic contrast and strong lighting. It was a sharp, modern aesthetic that was ideal for the time and at odds with his earlier Pictorialist style.

Steichen took this portrait of Fred Astaire for Vanity Fair in 1927, when Astaire was starring in the musical Funny Face (Gershwin and Gershwin), during its original run on Broadway. He starred alongside his sister, Adele Astaire, who worked as his dance partner until her marriage in 1932. Funny Face opened on 22 November 1927, as the very first show at the newly built Alvin Theatre, and marked Astaire’s first performance in evening dress with top hat, a striking look that would come to define his career.

Paul Strand, Rebecca, New York, 1923


This intimate portrait is of Rebecca Strand, one of more than a hundred that Paul Strand made of his wife between 1920 and 1932. Many of the shots were taken of her in bed as the long exposures required meant that she could relax and maintain her pose. Once again the fine details in the actual print are sublime, and the subtle lighting which emphasize her features so well rather than turning her into a troll (like mine sometimes do) is beautiful.

The series was so strongly influenced by Alfred Stieglitz’s celebrated extended portrait of his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, that Strand’s parallel project, pursued in close contact with his friend and mentor, may be considered an implicit act of homage.

Edward Weston, Cabbage leaf, 1931


I know…it’s a cabbage leaf…I know I’m gushing a bit but so many images and photographers that I so like…wow…just wow…may be not here online..in this blog..but to see the real image up close and personal was ….well it was one that made my day, the variation in tones, the texture and contrasts were..oh someone get me a thesaurus I’m running out of superlatives and it’s just a cabbage leaf …so thank you to this person…9 years… ok I’ll stop now, may be I should put down my Christmas Pimms…..

Cabbage Leaf (1931)
Artwork description & Analysis: As one of Weston’s monumental close-ups, Cabbage Leaf heightens ones visual understanding of this vegetable with its solitary display of a flayed leaf. The raised spinal structure and linear striations of the wilted form emerge from a dark, flat background as though a piece of relief sculpture. This creates a subtle undertone of grace and movement within the work. Indeed, the cabbage leaf becomes a sculptural work of art in its own right, elevating the common edible to an object of fine art, and thereby supporting Weston’s efforts to expand his audience’s visual consciousness of the world.

Weston photographed arrangements of cabbage over a nine-year period, from 1927 to 1936. In keeping with the method of straight photography practiced by the f/64 group to which he belonged, Weston created a high-resolution photo that relies on the object itself for visual interest, rather than manipulating the surface quality of the image as pictorial photographers did. Cabbage Leaf in particular is imbued with a Surrealist quality in that it depicts an everyday object with great precision and yet makes the viewer aware of an otherness or strangeness that we do not typically associate with it. Author Susan Sontag, for example, notes the subject’s resemblance to “a fall of gathered cloth,” adding that its title heightens our appreciation of its beauty by declaring that the gentle folds of drapery we so admire are in fact the veined, wilted leaf of a garden vegetable.

I love Edward Weston…I bought  secondhand book Edward Weston 125 Photographs published by AMMO Books a while back, it has this image in it and Weston said:

Since the first of the year I have done several negatives for myself:of a cabbage, of an orchid! The cabbage excited me the most, with finer results. This time it was a single leaf I used, achieving the strongest, most abstract results.

Imogen Cunningham, Agave Design I, 1920


Looking at her work I am left wondering if she inspired Robert Maplethorpe? Ok, so if you don’t want to buy me the Ansel Adams how about this book…a snip in comparison! I had never heard of her before but can see how she fits into the time line and where she got her inspiration from and who she may have inspired. The strong geometric patterns, definite lines and deep contrasting tones  make this a lovely composition.

Herbert Ponting, The Midnight Sun, Summer 1911


Herbert Ponting was renowned for his meticulous and adventurous approach to photography. His most famous work was taken during The British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, when he became the first professional photographer to capture the Antarctic.

In 1910, Ponting set sail with the rest of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition as the official photographer, personally chosen by Scott. ‘The Geographical Journal’ wrote at the time, The British Antarctic Expedition should be very well served by the camera in Mr Ponting’s hands.’ He remained in Antarctica for just over a year, during which time the other members of the expedition witnessed his great enthusiasm for representing nature. He insisted on using the traditional glass-plate technique for developing his photos, his cumbersome cinematograph and large amount of developing equipment added to the difficulty of his task. Ponting was well liked by his colleagues; however, at times, he preferred to maintain a distance, focusing on his photographs with painstaking detail.

On his return to England in February 1912, Ponting was disappointed by the lack of response to his photographs and films. Hearing of the subsequent deaths of Scott and the four other men who reached the pole, he set out to promote the legacy of the expedition, rather than focusing on new projects. He held several lectures, and produced the film, ‘Great White Silence’, which received great acclaim.

Despite the colour of the image online the overall tone of this photograph is a soft subtle blue. On completing further research it is actually a ‘blue toned carbon print’ (I have to admit I have no idea what that is…but it is blue) and the soft light, and detail within the photograph are gorgeous. The clouds of the mackerel sky, the ridges of the ice and ripples on the sea are stunning. It made me sad as well to think of how this expedition ended.

Walker Evans Bucket Seat, Model T, Alabama, 1936


I’m not going to rattle on about Walker Evans, if you don’t know who he is go Google him! What I took from this image was the change from one era to another, in the foreground was the Model T which represented so much at the time, and in the background a single horse and cart.

Dorothea Lange, White Angel Bread Line 1933 and Migrant Mother, Nipoma, California, 1936

These two videos say it all really.

Berenice Abbott, Nightview, New York, 1932


With a fixed artistic vision, the location scouted and exposure calculated for 15 minutes, the independently minded photographer captured that fleeting moment when the city was slightly darkened, but the office lights remained on.

For some, this photograph, though some 76 years old, may seem somewhat familiar with its dramatic angles, hovering perspective and workers still in their offices after dark. But for Abbott, it represented the emerging of the modern New York and new lifestyles that came with it.

She was versed in sculpture, drawing and writing, but it was during her employment in Man Ray’s photography studio that she learned to make photographs. Ray (1890-1976) ran a famous portrait studio but in his spare time was at the vanguard of surrealist photography. He challenged the conventional approaches to photography, which provided Abbott with opportunities to become a successful portrait photographer in her own right. He also introduced her to Eugene Atget (1857-1927), a photographer noted for tirelessly documenting the architecture, urban views and landscapes of Paris.

It might be difficult for our contemporary eyes and city experiences to allow us to imagine Abbott’s New York City at Night as a new view of the world. In 1932, the Great Depression was still plaguing many Americans.

Abbott’s cityscape offers a perspective of excitement about American technological achievements — through her ability to blend cubist visual constructions with the reality of urban modern architecture.

This image, perhaps her most well-known, remains a visually exciting image with complex rhythms that might offer our jaded eyes a way to see the city with refreshed excitement.

Abbott’s enthusiasm for documenting New York City resulted in an extraordinary documentary project that can be explored in her book Changing New York. Many of those photographs can be seen at the Museum of the City of New York, where Abbott left her archive.

The Smithsonian’s Archive of Art also holds many documents related to the Federal Art Project that funded the massive photography project and Abbott’s assistant Elizabeth McCausland’s papers. Abbott’s legacy also continues through a photography award in her name that is given to emerging photographers with a body of work waiting to be published.

Shannon Thomas Perich is an associate curator of the Photographic History Collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

These things are always so incestuous Stieglitz was married to Georgia O’Keefe, Imogen Cunningham knew Edward Weston, Elizabeth McCausland was Abbott’s assistant…!

Harry Callahan, Chicago, 1950


I will probably sound like a stuck record but this image is so much better in real life. On the screen the tree trunks look a solid black but in print you can make out the texture of the bark and the snow catching it in places. Online the trees look as if they are ‘stuck on’ but the print is more subtle and you appreciate the perception of depth more. The exact same image was on display in Pace’s American Classics which is just as well as someone had bought this one :o/

Constantly testing the limits of his medium, Callahan created photographs that surpassed factual representation, revealing the graphic beauty in the everyday. He taught alongside László Moholy-Nagy and earned the deep admiration of Edward Steichen, who included his work in several exhibitions.

LOL it’s almost as good as a rock n roll who’s who…

Erwin Blumenfeld, Nude in Broken Mirror, New York, 1944 and Wet Veil, circa 1937

Edwin Blumenfeld shot in both B&W and colour, a selection of his work can be seen here.

The sensual nature of his work comes across very strongly and I love the idea of the layers and surreal nature of his images, the subjects not fulling revealing their identities. I never realised that he effectively killed himself :o/ Loved this small clip…I wonder if the whole documentary is out there somewhere?

Horst. P. Horst, Mainbocher Corset, Paris, 1939


Yet again a crossover photographer with the Atlas exhibition. More information can be found about Horst at the V&A.  Another classic image showing the beauty and eroticism of the female form, although I am convinced there was some manipulation in the darkroom around the waistline as in the actual image there is some kind of distortion to the image. I’d love it if someone could confirm this for me. Most often known as just Horst he was a German American photographer renowned for his photographs of women and fashion, which frequently ‘reflects his interest in surrealism and his regard of the ancient Greek ideal of physical beauty.’

Seen from behind, a model sits on a wooden bench, looking down through her arms. She wears a back-lacing corset by Detolle for Mainbocher and resembles a classic Greek statue in her pose. The highlights in her hair and the subtle skin tones work to make this a beautiful image to see.

In August 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, Horst P. Horst took his famous photograph of the Mainbocher Corset in the Paris Vogue studios on the Champs-Elysees.

Many consider the photograph to be Horst P. Horst’s best work an opinion that the photographer himself would probably agree with, for otherwise, how is one to explain that he chose the motif almost as a matter of course for the cover of his autobiography Horst – His Work and His World? Timeless beauty, balance, an interplay of modesty and charm, eros and humility, provocation and subtle elegance are simultaneously at play in the photograph, not to mention the flattering light and dramatic shadows. After all, wasn’t the photographer called a master of dramatic lighting?

Horst …favored the large camera mounted on a stand and a focusing screen that allowed him to calculate his photograph down to the last detail.  Roland Barthes, the great French philosopher, structuralist, and prognosticator of photography, might well have discovered his ‘punctum’ precisely here, that is, the apparently insignificant detail of a photograph that gives the picture its fascination and charm, and ultimately what awakens our interest. Horst P. Horst would probably have described the effect differently. Occasionally he spoke of “a little mess” that he carefully incorporated into his pictures.

“It was the last photograph I took in Paris before the war”, he later recalled, “I left the studio at 4:00 a.m., went back to the house, picked up my bags and caught the 7.00 a.m. train to Le Havre to board the Normandie. We all felt that war was coming. Too much armament, too much talk. And you knew that whatever happened, life would be completely different after. I had found a family in Paris, and a way of life. The clothes, the books, the apartment, everything left behind. I had left Germany, Heune had left Russia, and now we experienced the same kind of loss all over again. This photograph is peculiar – for me, it is the essence of that moment. While I was taking it, I was thinking of all that I was leaving behind.”


Josef Sudek, Rose in Glass, circa 1950


The things you learn when you research photographers…I never knew Sudek was injured during the war, by his own side, and lost his arm!

This image has a really soft focus to it, in fact I’m not positive that anything is actually sharp but that does not detract from its gentle beauty. Sudek’s photographs are often lacking in strong contrast, using the lower tones of the photographic scale, offering mystery and a hint of romance no matter the subject. Many of his prints have a very limited tonal scale.

Bill Brandt, East Sussex Coast, 1978


This was printed on quite a heavy textured paper, the details of which showed through the print. I found this quite surprising. The image seen here and at the other exhibition were all from the same series which show his about-turn from photo-journalism to art photography. He took quite a few images of naked women some I feel were more successful than others, all of which were surreal in one way or another. Some I like some I don’t…I was hoping to like these more than I did but I found them to be grainy and not as interesting or as subtle with tonality as some of the other photographers on display. Sorry Bill.

Joel Sternfeld, McClean, Virginia, December 1978


One of two colour photographers featured in this exhibition, the other being Stephen Shore, I just love Joel Sternfeld.

He is well-known for large-format color photographs that explore ‘the possibility of a collective American identity by documenting ordinary people and places.’ By using an eight-by-ten-inch camera he can obtain the sharp and crisp details his work is known for.

Although he shoots in colour he ensures that this works for him not against, a fantastic example is the above image, which is also full of the irony for which his images are famed; the pumpkins’ vibrant oranges matching the autumnal colours of the countryside, and the fire’s flames as a fireman goes about purchasing his supper! However, as always there is another story behind the image which goes to reveal our own take on what we see is very important…Sternfeld told the Guardian in a 2004 interview:

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.

So there you have it. I got there eventually and I daresay I could have gone on about some of the images more than I did, or reviewed some of the images I have ignored…I may return to this post, I may not depending on time etc, but as I mentioned at the beginning, if you have the opportunity to attend this exhibition, do.

It emphasised: that B&W images are far from just B&W: the range of tones that can be acheived is amazing; any subject matter can lend itself to B&W – it does not have to be solely ‘serious, depressing’ documentary; that size does not matter, some of the photographs on display were really quite small but still had a powerful impact and I’m not rich enough to own any of these pieces!


Beetles and 2015, H. (2015) MASTERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY 2016. Available at: http://www.beetlesandhuxley.com/exhibitions/masters-photography-2016.html (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Blumenfeld, Erwin: Photography, history (1948) Available at: http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-16-601-793-view-fashion-1-profile-blumenfeld-erwin.html (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Edward Weston 125 Photographs by Steve Crist, Published by AMMO Books LLC (2012)

Foundation, T.A.S. (2016) Edward Weston biography, art, and analysis of works. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-weston-edward-artworks.htm (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Harry Callahan | chicago, trees in snow (1950) | available for sale (2016) Available at: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/harry-callahan-chicago-trees-in-snow-1 (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Jobey, L. (2008) Photographer Joel Sternfeld: Close encounters. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2008/oct/17/photography-joel-sternfeld (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Joel Sternfeld (American, born 1944) (Getty museum) (1944) Available at: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/3731/joel-sternfeld-american-born-1944/ (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Keats, J. (2012) Do not trust this Joel Sternfeld photograph. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2012/09/06/do-not-trust-this-joel-sternfeld-photograph/#22b83520b22f (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Perich, S. (2010) New York city at night, 76 years ago. Available at: http://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2010/12/20/132143636/nyc (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Photo liaison, Imogen Cunningham (no date) Available at: http://www.photoliaison.com/imogen_cunningham/Imogen_Cunningham.htm (Accessed: 22 December 2016).













Own Research 7 – American Classics December 2016 Pace Gallery

This was the second of three galleries visited in one day…I do like to get my monies worth out of a train ticket and a day out! Another exhibition well worth taking in for the astounding variety of work on display and the nature of the photographers being exhibited. Some of the photographers were also on display within the other exhibitions… there must be something in the air with regards to classic B&W images at the moment is all I can say.

As I have so much to write up about with regards to visits, exercises and coursework I am going to do a huge unashamed amount of copy paste here, at least as far as information on the artists and the gallery so here goes…

American Classics
Nov 25, 2016 – Dec 17, 2016

Pace London is pleased to announce American Classics, an exhibition of key works by photographers who emerged in postwar America. On a continuum between artistic vision and documentary investigation, these artists photographed North American people, culture and landscape. Works by Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Irving Penn, Henry Wessel and Garry Winogrand will be on view from 25 November to 17 December 2016 at 6 Burlington Gardens.

A gallery I have never been to before it was a vast open space with white walls and a huge high ceiling, it was a lovely space and all the better for having no-one else there as I wandered around with two other photography friends. Was pleasant to be able to take our time, stand back and really look at the work on display. Images from the Pace Gallery website.

The works in American Classics reveal insights into American culture and history that continue to resonate today. While Callahan, Frank, Friedlander, Wessel and Winogrand captured the natural and social American landscape, photographs from Frank’s famous series, The Americans (1955–56), reveal the diversity of life and culture in the United States with a disarmingly candid vision. Winogrand’s poignant, occasionally humorous images depict American lifestyle mostly in urban parks and zoos.

Portraits of individuals and groups by Arbus, Avedon, and Penn are incisive studies of both famous and marginalized Americans. Avedon’s portraits range from the artist June Leaf to actor Charlie Chaplin at the end of his time in the United States. Photographs such as Patriotic young man with a flag, N.Y.C. (1967) by Arbus and Peace Demonstration, Central Park, New York (1970) by Winogrand contrast modes of American political engagement during the Vietnam War. Arbus represents a man waving a small American flag at a pro-war rally, whereas Winogrand captures the release of balloons in protest of the war. Penn’s iconic portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and 1960s counterculture members exemplify his uncanny ability to chronicle contemporary culture through the faces of our time.

With an eye for eclectic subjects and abstract composition, Callahan found unique perspectives on the natural world, cities, and suburbs. Detroit (1943) uses multiple exposures to convey both the dynamism and congestion of his hometown, a city built around the cars it produced. His work Chicago (c. 1949) presents the brick façade of a building, its windows creating graphic variety in an abstract, gridded composition. Friedlander likewise focuses on the built landscape, revealing eccentric views of the environments along American roadsides. He also brought a self-reflective and sometimes slyly disconcerting sensibility to his street photography, as in New York City (1966), where the photographer’s presence is revealed by his shadow falling onto an unaware subject.

So that’s the blurb about the exhibition sorted, now to the artists…

Diane Arbus (1923–1971)
Considered a wholly original force in the medium’s history, Diane Arbus studied photography with Berenice Abbott in the 1940s and Alexey Brodovitch in the mid-1950s. It was during a photographic workshop with Lisette Model in the late 1950s, however, that she found her greatest inspiration and began seriously pursuing the work and idiosyncratic style for which she is so widely recognized today. Arbus’s first published photographs appeared in Esquire magazine in 1960, and she was one of just three photographers featured in New Documents, John Szarkowski’s landmark exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, in 1967.
In 1962, Arbus began to turn away from the 35mm camera favoured by most documentary photographers of her era and employed a square-format 2 ¼ inch twin lens reflex camera to make poignant portraits of individuals on the margins of society, including street people, nudists, and carnival performers. The boldness of both her subject matter and frank photographic approach to portraiture challenged established conventions concerning the relationship between photographer and subject and yielded images of raw psychological intensity. Arbus’s gift for rendering the familiar as strange, and uncovering the familiar within the exotic, produced a revolutionary body of work that is often shocking in its purity and steadfast commitment to celebrate things as they are.

Back in 2011 I was lucky enough to see the Diane Arbus exhibition at the Tate Modern in London and agree she certainly captured the ungainly, obscure and the unusual. I love the fact that she looked at the world from a different perspective and presented the non-conventional face of humanity. Only three of her images were on display, two of which I hadn’t seen before, or if I had had glossed over them for the more well-known.

Richard Avedon (1923–2004)
A revolutionary in the genre of photographic portraiture, Richard Avedon was born to parents of Russian Jewish heritage in New York City and joined the Young Men’s Hebrew Association Camera Club to learn the medium at the age of twelve. Following two years of service as Photographer’s Mate Second Class in the Merchant Marine, he returned to New York to study at the Design Laboratory of the New School for Social Research. Avedon set up his own studio in 1945 and quickly became the preeminent staff photographer at Harper’s Bazaar. There, under the tutelage of legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch, his rise to the top of the profession was meteoric and he developed an original approach to making fashion photographs.
As Avedon’s reputation grew and his signature aesthetic evolved, he remained dedicated to extended portraiture projects as a means for exploring cultural, political, and personal concerns. He examined the civil rights movement in the American South in 1963-64 and photographed students, countercultural artists and activists, and victims during the Vietnam War.In 1976, on a commission for Rolling Stone magazine, he produced The Family, a composite portrait of the American power elite at the time of the country’s Bicentennial election.In 1985, Avedon created his magnum opus, In the American West, in which he portrayed members of the working class – butchers, coal miners, convicts, and waitresses – with precisionist detail, using the large format camera and plain white backdrop characteristic of his mature style.

Avedon only had two images on display, again both I had never seen before, making this a great exhibition to take in for this reason alone, Unlike some of hid other work in which the subjects appear cool, classy with not a hair out of place it was interesting to see a different approach to the two portraits I saw; Jean Leaf looking totally natural – loved the detail and the vulnerability of this one,  and Charlie Chaplin mugging for the camera – I was surprised at the grainy softness of this image with what appeared to be a slight blur but I guess if you feel the image tells the story you want and you are Richard  Avedon what is a little blur between friends?

Harry Callahan (1912–1999)
One of the foremost American photographers of the 20th century, Harry Callahan began his photographic career as an untrained amateur while working for the Chrysler Motor Parts Corporation in 1938. Following a workshop by Ansel Adams at the Detroit Photo Guild in 1941 and a meeting with Alfred Stieglitz in 1942, Callahan decided to completely devote his energies to the medium. His talent in the field was recognized in 1946 by László Moholy-Nagy, who invited Callahan to teach photography at Chicago’s Institute of Design (formerly the New Bauhaus). The school’s experimental philosophy was formative for Callahan, who would become instrumental in introducing a vocabulary of formal abstraction into American photography at a time when descriptive realism was the dominant aesthetic. After a 15-year tenure in Chicago, Callahan moved to Providence in 1961 to chair the Photography Department at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he taught until his retirement in 1977.
Throughout his six-decade career, Callahan repeatedly returned to the same subjects – his wife Eleanor and daughter Barbara, nature, and the city – but continually developed new methods to embrace and depict them. Utilizing different cameras, innovative materials, and pioneering techniques such as extreme tonal contrast and multiple exposures, Callahan’s black-and-white and colour photographs encompass portraiture, architecture, landscape, and street photography in the United States, Europe, and South America.

I came across Harry Callahan for the first time in about 2013, purely by accident. I had been to the Tate for another reason and in wandering through the Artist Rooms came across an exhibition of his work. Even then the Tate was ‘selling’ his work in their blurb as ‘little known in the UK’ and my friend Mark, who was with me at Pace, had not heard of him until this exhibition where 15 of his images were on display. I love the way he captured a variety of subjects, in different ways and altered his techniques to produce images over the years – including black and white works he printed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, colour dye transfers from the 1980’s and large black-and white prints on aluminium made under his supervision in the 1990’s. According to the Tate he:

disregarded the limits of conventional landscapes to give equal focus to both broad perspectives and individual details. His work is grouped into three themes which he described in 1975 as ‘Nature, Buildings and People’. Linking all three is his wife, Eleanor, whom he met in 1933 and who became his most photographed subject. 

I loved the simplicity of his surreal/abstract images, his use of natural light whilst shooting street photography and his use of multiple exposure and layering of his images.

Robert Frank (b. 1924)
Celebrated as one of the most important and influential photographers of the 20th century, Robert Frank has consistently embraced the narrative potential of carefully composed photographic sequences. His search for “a more sustained form of expression” than the single, static image has resulted in compelling visual stories that actively engage viewers with their deliberately designed progression, compression of time, and layered meanings.Undoubtedly, Frank’s best known sequence is The Americans, a seminal suite of 83 photographs from 1955-56 cross-country road trips that presents a penetrating portrait of post-war American life. Revolutionary in both subject matter and style, The Americans was also formally innovative, as Frank discerningly selected and arranged just 83 images from some 27,000 frames to illustrate his distinct vision of America.Moreover, he allowed the pictures to speak for themselves, employing their titles as the only form of didactic text.
Although Frank’s unorthodox cropping, lighting, and focus attracted criticism, his work was not without supporters, as Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg felt a kinship with him and his interest in documenting the fabric of contemporary society. Ultimately, The Americans jettisoned Frank into a position of cultural prominence and he became the spokesperson for a generation of visual artists, musicians, and literary figures both in the United States and abroad. Frank also redefined the aesthetic of the moving image through filmmaking, which he began in 1959. Characterized by an improvisational quality that belies their careful planning, Frank’s best-known films include Pull My Daisy (1959) and his 1972 documentary of the Rolling Stones on tour.

There isn’t really much I can say about Robert Frank and as there is a later exercise dedicated to him I am not going to try…I’ll just nick some more gallery blurb…

One of the most acclaimed photographers of the 20th century, Robert Frank is best known for his seminal book The Americans, featuring photographs taken by the artist in the mid-1950s as he traveled across the U.S. on a Guggenheim fellowship. These photographs feature glimpses of highways, cars, parades, jukeboxes, and diners as iconic symbols of America while simultaneously suggesting an underlying sense of alienation and hardship. Frank’s loose, casual approach often generated blurred imagery and tilted horizons, causing his photographic style to be as controversial as his subject matter. In the 1950s, Frank was a regular contributor to Harper’s Bazaar…

Only five of his photographs were on display and I was hoping to see more due to the exercise, but I guess you can’t be too greedy.

Lee Friedlander (b. 1934)
A seminal figure in the history of photography, Lee Friedlander has captured the American social landscape through his camera lens for more than five decades. His work first came to the public’s attention in the 1967 landmark exhibition curated by John Szarkowski, New Documents, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, alongside that of Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand.The many exhibitions devoted to his photographs since that time include a major traveling retrospective organized by The Museum of Modern Art in 2005.
With a unique ability to organize vast amounts of visual information, Friedlander is known for his dynamic formal compositions and poignant juxtapositions of subjects drawn from American vernacular culture. His light-hearted and ironic portrayals of the modern world explore the medium’s most central motifs, ranging from street scenes, landscapes and interiors to nudes, portraits, self-portraits, and still lifes. In his series America by Car, produced between 1992 and 2009 while driving cross-country in an ordinary rental car, Friedlander sets steering wheels, dashboards, odometers, and side view mirrors against roadside billboards, gas stations, and stretches of highway to condense America’s open roads into the square format of his Hasselblad camera.

Another photographer whose work I was lucky enough to see a while ago at the Timothy Taylor Gallery and the work on display here was more of the same really, so not much more to add beyond my ramblings back in 2011. However, I love his eye for detail and composition. The New York City image with the shadow on the persons back reminds me of a later Joel Meyerowitz shot, and I love the way the clouds sit over the triangular road sign the organic shapes emulating that of the trees either side.

Irving Penn (1917–2009)
Arguably the most prolific and respected photographer of the 20th century, Irving Penn is celebrated for his innovative commercial imagery and ground-breaking editorial contributions to Condé Nast publications. He began his photographic career in 1943 at the suggestion and encouragement of Vogue’s then Art Director, Alexander Liberman, and developed his artistic vision over the next sixty years, shooting more than 150 covers for Vogue between 1943 and 2004, creating celebrated portraits of leading cultural figures, and producing pioneering fashion editorials noted for their natural lighting and formal simplicity.
In addition to his professional assignments, however, Penn pursued a variety of personal projects – such as nudes, self-portraits, signage, moving light portraits, and still-lifes of seemingly inconsequential objects – to maintain an artistic balance throughout his career. Spanning a variety of subjects and genres, Penn’s extensive oeuvre explores the boundaries of personal and public expression, and subsequently art and commerce, through compelling images that expanded the creative limits of the medium.Moreover, his technical mastery of black-and-white and colour photography, as well as the platinum printing process, earned him accolades in the realms of both commercial and fine art, as his photographs transcended the printed page and made their way from magazines to museum walls in New York and beyond.
Irving Penn’s work is presented in collaboration with Hamiltons Gallery, London.

Again what can I say about Penn that hasn’t been said a 1000 times already by those far more qualified than me…seven  of his portraits were on display ranging from rock stars, family groups and celebrities.

I love his use of levels and props when shooting groups, and how he compacts them into small overlapping huddles. His individual images where he enclosed people into a confined corner was inspired…if you have time to research more do so, he didn’t care who you were ;o) Even the Duchess of Windsor got stood in the corner. Some or his subjects just stood, others posed and yet more had props…His individual classic portraits were subtly lit and beautifully posed. What you fail to see online or even in books is the fine details that emerge from the prints. The range of tones are exquisite and what at first appears to be a jet black item of clothing on closer inspection has all the fine detail of the thread count held within.

Henry Wessel (b. 1942)
Since the 1960s, Henry Wessel has photographed vernacular scenes of the American West, particularly in California. Immediately drawn to the quality of light he encountered during a visit from New York to Los Angeles, Wessel moved cross-country to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1971. From stretches of dusty highway to modest California bungalows framed by telephone poles and palm trees, Wessel’s often spare and solitary images capture the idiosyncrasies and irony of American life with a wry objectivity. His photographs of parking lots, beach-goers, and shrubbery – all illuminated by the brilliance of Western light – find beauty and intrigue in the commonplace and document the social landscape in a manner that is casual yet formally compelling.
Taking interest in the medium during the rise of documentary photography, Wessel was influenced by such noted practitioners of the genre as Walker Evans and Robert Frank. Following in their tradition, he set out on several road trips across the country to document his findings. Unlike the well-known Western landscape photographers Ansel Adams or Edward Weston, however, Wessel was uninterested in capturing idealized, uninhabited views of nature. Instead, he recorded man’s mark on the American West through images frequently imbued with an element of wit.

Ok, I’ve read the above, and sat here literally saying to myself…ok,ok,ok…ok…I hear what you are saying..I’ve looked at the images…yep they are of the every day, man’s mark on the landscape…the light obviously is why they seem so ‘bright’ but that should have produced strong contrasts, no doubt there was some playing about in post processing to avoid this but to me it has resulted in the images being a bit flat… my sparse notes for him read ‘was grey.’ May be it was the choice of image on display but I didn’t find that much wit or humour in them, the one with the cat gave me a wry smile and I liked the overall compositions in the frame…maybe Wessel will be an eventual grower…I mean I don’t know if it was intentional but I love the fact the hedges are the same shape as the woman’s hair and the detail captured in the subtle tones is lovely, but again you miss that seeing the image online.

Garry Winogrand (1928–1984)
Deemed “the central photographer of his generation” by John Szarkowski in the exhibition catalogue accompanying his 1988 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Garry Winogrand documented post-war American life with unprecedented zeal. The quintessential street photographer, he voraciously recorded the drama of public spaces with innovative and unorthodox images that pushed the possibilities of photographic description. Taken with a small-format 35mm camera and a wide-angle lens, Winogrand’s deceptively casual and seemingly spontaneous pictures defied formal conventions with their oblique perspectives and densely packed compositions, while vividly capturing the distinctive look and mood of the place and era.
While Winogrand seldom worked in series, he repeatedly returned to certain subjects throughout his career. The visual cacophony of New York City’s streets was of particular interest to him, as was Central Park, which served as the backdrop for perhaps his best-known image of a couple carrying a pair of well-dressed chimpanzees. Intrigued by “the effect of the media on events,” Winogrand also photographed a variety of public gatherings – museum openings, press conferences, peace demonstrations, and sports games, among others – a topic which he further explored at the rodeos, stock shows, and state fairs in Texas. His pictures of zoo animals and their visitors present sly meditations on the human condition, while his images of women not only reveal Winogrand’s attraction to his subjects, but also speak to broader notions of gender in the 1960s and 70s.

As a photographer my tutor has recommended I take a look at I was pleased to see some of his work on display including probably a few of his most famous being the Central Park Zoo and the Peace Demonstration, Central Park. I won’t do a huge write up here as I intend to do a separate post…when I eventually get to that point in my to do list which seems to be growing not shrinking! There were only six images on display and not many of his street photography in the city which I had hoped to view but hey ho…in the mean time have a look at some of his images that were there…

All in all an exhibition that I thoroughly enjoyed walking around. What did I take away from it? That I quite like the idea of experimenting with double exposure and overlapping imagery; that abstract images can convey a message as well as a ‘straight’ photograph; there are many different approaches to capturing a portrait; that single images can tell a story or pose a question and that the range of tones you can achieve in a B&W image is quite stunning…and to think about how I can apply any of that to my own work….


‘American classics’ – American classics (no date) Available at: http://www.pacegallery.com/exhibitions/12839/american-classics (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Own Research 6 – The Psychic Lens – December 2016 The Atlas Gallery

Last weekend I wandered along to a new exhibition at Atlas Gallery exploring how photographers responded to Surrealism over the course of over 50 years: The Psychic Lens: Surrealism and the camera. It included vintage photographs by Man Ray, Andre Kertesz, Florence Henri and Bill Brandt alongside works by artists I had never even heard of, such as Vaclav Zykmund, Franz Roh, Raoul Hausmann and Japanese artist, Toshiko Okanoue.

Apparently there are two broad types of surrealism – ‘the oneiric, dream-like imagery, as shown in the work of Florence Henri, Roger Parry, Cesar Domela and later Bill Brandt and automatism,a process of making which unleashed the unconscious by creating without conscious thought, as shown in some of the works by Man Ray.’

This was the third exhibition of the day so by the time I got there I was a bit ‘imaged out’ but it was rather impressive to be surrounded by works of all these photographers that I had heard of and enjoyed looking at. The gallery itself split the exhibition over 2 floors with some images on the walls around the ‘shop’ and the rest downstairs. The walls were plain white with natural lighting and spots upstairs and spots down. Images below courtesy of  Artsy

I loved the tones and textures in Man Ray’s Woman with long hair…wasn’t so convinced about the rare copy of Ostrich Egg with Stamp and Sandpaper…Some images don’t seem to have dated at all such as Herbert List’s Sunglasses Lake Lucerne Switzerland, whilst others that must have been quite eye-opening and challenging at the time, such as some of Franz Roh’s collages that now look very dated. Having researched Andre Kertesz Distortion series it was great to see one of the images up close and personal and I loved the strong contrasts in Horst P Horst’s Hands,Hands, which I could own for the mere sum of £18.500!

The set of images by Pablo Picasso and Andre Villers helped to develop a kernal of an idea for assignment 2, as did Toshiko Okanoue…which may or may not develop into something… cogs turning in the mind and lots of ideas floating about.

Although not strictly speaking ‘documentary’ it does fulfill the criteria of the B&W image and it does document the surrealist movement within photography..and heck look at the list of people you can go and see the REAL work of…I would recommend going to see this exhibition.


Gallery, A. (2017) The psychic lens – surrealism and the camera | Atlas gallery. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/show/atlas-gallery-the-psychic-lens-surrealism-and-the-camera (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

The psychic lens: Surrealism and the camera – Atlas gallery | fine Art Photography (no date) Available at: http://www.atlasgallery.com/exhibition/the-psychic-lens (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

A postmodern documentary- Martha Rosler

For a moment let’s put Rosler on the back burner and concentrate on some background research… (I’m also waiting for a book to arrive with the Martha Rosler essay in) Dr. Mary Klages is an Associate Professor, English Department, University of Colorado, Boulder and her areas of speciality are:

American Literature
Cultural Studies
Gender and Sexuality Studies
Literary Theory

She has written an article on Postmodernism

The Tate Gallery, as per usual, has some information in its glossary for when I need to research certain topics.

Mary Klages was, and I do believe still is, an Associate Professor within the English Dept. at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She has written several books including Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed. Within this she has written an essay exploring Postmodernism. The next exercise is to read an article by Martha Rosler and makes notes on it in my blog.

Before doing that, I felt I really needed to get to grips with what Mary Klages had to say about Postmodernism. I have to admit to not knowing much about literary or art theory, so this is quite a steep learning curve, and although it can be tedious looking up new terminology and theorists, I have found the information enlightening and relevant to the photographers work I have been researching, as well as linking to some of the exercises and assignments that are within the coursework.

It didn’t start well when Klages acknowledged that Postmodernism was a complicated term and hard to define due to it being a relatively new concept, only emerging as an area of academic study within the 1980’s. I wondered – if ‘experts’ couldn’t define it what chance would I have? That taken as read, we are asked to note that each new era only develops as a direct link, be it causal or reactionary, to what has come before. This I agree with as we consciously or unconsciously, mimic the world around us – a prime example would be our up-bringing; we either choose to emulate our parents ideals or declare there is no-way we will follow in their footsteps or behaviours. The same could be said of art/photography; we study other artists, which has either a negative or positive impact on the exploratory direct of our own work.

It is also hard to define as it is multi-disciplined crossing into other areas of study/disciplines – as did Surrealism before it. The first thing I could relate to was when Klages spoke about the traits which Postmodernism favours. Having just seen Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s 20 min film at the Tate I can state, quite categorically, that this falls 100% within the Postmodern genre…as she outlines that it follows certain ideas: “rejecting boundaries, rejecting rigid genre distinctions, emphasizing pastiche, parody, bricolage, irony and playfulness. “It also favours “reflexivity, fragmentation, discontinuity, ambiguity, simultaneity” and further on comments that Postmodernism doesn’t “lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality or incoherence but celebrates that…” It has the attitude that “the world is meaningless..” so “Let’s not pretend that art can make meaning and let’s just play with nonsense.”

In Hermistos Children: Pilot Episode, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd does all of the above and more….I loved 2 reviews that I found on the film when first released…”The filmed performance was summarised by Adrian Searle as, “The young woman who rode to her own death on the dildo see-saw at the Sugar-Tits Doom Club,” and described by Richard Dorment as, “Silly beyond words and teetered at times on the edge of porn – but once you start looking at it I defy you to tear yourself away.” I sat there thinking WHAT am I watching (polite version for blog)…sadly a lot of the art references were lost on me…or am I that sad? I think I would be scared if I had understood it! Drugs, that’s what I blame it on, drugs, lots of drugs. (we should be getting some more information with regards to the film from the study day tutor. Once received I may have a more enlightened view which will be reflected in the write up when completed.)

However,  from the Tate blurb a more favourable review…”The art critic Tom Morton has also picked up on the multiple sources and connotations of Chetwynd’s work, writing that ‘the artist and her mummers’ band tell tall tales in a manner that recalls at once the theatre of Alfred Jarry and Bertolt Brecht, a disco at a science-fiction convention, and a primary school nativity play’ ” If you want your mind blown go watch it…

Klages goes on to  describe to us how ‘Modernity’ enjoys order and the rational, and society relies heavily on the binary concept of “order” and  “disorder.” In order for there to be ‘order’ (no pun intended) there has to be the opposite; if missing, something trundles along to ‘create/construct’ this ‘disorder.’ In Western society we are advised, “Thus anything non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-hygienic, non-rational, (etc) becomes part of ‘disorder’ and has to be eliminated…”

Which all links quite nicely to the exhibition I saw at the weekend at The Photographers Gallery, The Feminist Avant-Garde, women were supposed to be quiet, remain hidden, go stand in the kitchen… they decided to rebel against that.

New name to play with – Francois Lyotard – argued that “Totality, and stability, and order” are maintained by a “grand narrative” in which cultures tell  themselves about their “practices and beliefs,” the example given is that the USA tells the story that democracy is the most enlightened (rational) form of government” (not if Trump gets in!) I guess in photography, we use the medium to reveal the narratives that we know, reinforcing these ideals, or alternatively reject them and parody them in the Post-modernistic fashion, which Klages assures us is the “critique of grand narratives” as it is aware “that such narratives serve to mask the contradictions and instabilities that are inherent in any social organisation or practice.”

Alec Soth, Danny Lyon, those working for the FSA, Diane Arbus…et al looked at social outsiders, those outside the norm, contradictions to these grand narratives; Postmodernism apparently rejects the grand narrative in favour of “mini-narrative” which are “situational, provisional, contingent” – if I am reading this right I guess these photographers also fall in the Postmodern genre. Especially as postmodernism’s “mini-narratives” are “stories that explain small practices, local events, rather than large-scale universal or global concepts.” Cue assignment 1.

After a section relating to semiotics, ‘signifiers’ and the ‘signified’; a signifier being a sound/image and the signified the concept… I’ll look deeper into that one later…Mary Klage continues with the fact that Postmodernism is “concerned with questions  of the organisation of knowledge.” This knowledge is “equated to science”: Science:Good, Narrative:Bad (reminded me of Orwell’s Animal Farm, Four Legs: Good. Two Legs: Bad…unless you were a bird of course…) Bad being “primitive, irrational” and so linked to “women, children and lunatics”! – go the Feminists!

In our Postmodern society this acquisition of knowledge has become “functional”, learning things not just to know them but to employ that knowledge, that there is more “emphasis on skills and training” as opposed to learning for learning sake. This has become scarily relevant as more and more Arts Education courses are scrapped. The article comments on English graduates being asked “What will you DO with your degree?” which was echoed in a recent online blog post on PoisonandIce.com.

Working within the field of education it is very frustrating that there is STILL a huge problem of one size fits all, square peg round hole syndrome and not enough recognition of individual needs and differentiation…cue what I maybe looking into for my assignment 1…

After getting my head around all of that information, the next exercise is to read “In, Around and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography)” by Martha Rosler in Bolton,R. (ed.) (1992) The Contest of Meaning. Cambridge, MA:MIT Press (p303). As mentioned above I have ordered a secondhand copy of the book and am waiting for it to arrive. Sometimes I try to source PDF files but I do prefer a printed page to highlight, they are also portable, but this essay comes from a book marked as essential reading, so thought it best to get hold of it.

Martha Rosler

Also I thought it a good idea to find out a little more about the person whose essay I was about to read. From her website.

Martha Rosler works in video, photography, text, installation, and performance. Her work focuses on the public sphere, exploring issues from everyday life and the media to architecture and the built environment, especially as they affect women.

Quite strange that having never heard of her before I saw her video, Semiotics of the Kitchen yesterday at The Photographers Gallery as part of the Feminist Avant-Garde exhibition study day which I will do a write up about, once I have caught up with a few more exercises and cracked on a bit more with taking some reference photos for my first assignment.

Will update this post once the book arrives…


As this post was fairly long I have created another to respond to the Rosler essay which can be found here


Martha rosler: About the artist (no date) Available at: http://www.martharosler.net/index.html (Accessed: 2 November 2016).

(No Date) Available at: http://www.poisonandice.com/tuesday-talks/lets-face-it-your-art-degree-is-going-to-get-you-nowhere (Accessed: 2 November 2016).

(No Date) Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/chetwynd-hermitos-children-the-pilot-episode-t13044/text-summary (Accessed: 2 November 2016).

Untitled document (no date) Available at: http://www.bdavetian.com/Postmodernism.html (Accessed: 2 November 2016).


Own Research 5 – Alec Soth Gathered Leaves @ Science Museum 2015

Much earlier in the year, well December 2015, I went to this exhibition and also popped into the one next door of works by Julia Margaret Cameron. I won’t have time to write up about her now but if interested here is a quick link to a review.

Gathered Leaves Alec Soth

Alec Soth is a member of Magnum photo agency and focuses on project- based documentary, capturing both people and place…he produces books, has exhibited in many galleries and his work is often described as ‘fine art,’ reminding me of the article I just read from Witold Krassowski and his question: Is photography an art, or do artists use photography? I don’t want to get into that debate just now (there will be a lot of comments like this as I research various photographers as it is always so easy to go off on a tangent and I have to rein myself in…)

It would seem that the photo-book  Gathered Leaves is a more rounded vehicle to present this work with containing:

abstracts of emails and quotes that are more or less pertinent to the work presented. The text contributions bring together a diverse array of email snippets, interview transcriptions, recounts of meetings and quotes from various literary references to create a stimulating and provoking publication.

So a little while back I took myself off to his exhibition, Gathered Leaves, at the Science Museum.

The exhibition blurb read:

Through haunting, intimate portraits, desolate landscapes and wide open wildernesses, his work captures a profound sense of what it is to be human. Tenderness, joy, disappointment, fear or pride – his striking portraits capture the rawness of human emotion and the tension between our conflicting desires for individualism and community.

The first main room, with images from Sleeping on the Mississippi,  was brightly lit, large-ish images displayed on white walls, in uniform white frames and with vitrines containing artefacts for further interest and information. The print size: 40×50 or 50 x40 cms. The exhibition was set out chronologically with Sleeping on the Mississippi, first followed by Niagara etc.

Installation view, ‘Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth’ (© Kate Elliott, courtesy Science Museum)

Gathered Leaves was the title for this retrospective (though Soth doesn’t want to call it that as he feels it is pretentious and he isn’t that old) ) The Guardian speculated that this hinted at “his ability to chronicle the many – often conflicting – notions of American life that coexist in such a politically riven country, but also his prowess as a maker of photo-books.” The show itself is curated around his four major bodies of work/books: Sleeping By the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2015).

It left me wondering a tad -does Soth also fall under the same criticism that Krassowski levels at students – that he uses exhibitions as “mere tools for a personal career” and that he is aiming for a “social status,” using as he does the media and self-promotion whenever possible? He is described as “a photojournalist, blogger, self-publisher, (he publishes photo-art books through his Little Brown Mushroom press) Instagrammer and educator – someone who understands that today the sharing of the image often seems as crucial as the image itself ” or, because he is already established anything he produces ‘must be worthy?’ and is praised for “his experimentation across exhibition, book, magazine and digital forms.” The exhibition’s introductory text also encourages us to think about how “gathered leaves” refers to photography as a medium made up of sheets of paper – apt for a self-publisher… It is also a reference to a poem by Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 1855.

Alone far in the wilds and mountains I hunt,
Wandering amazed at my own lightness and glee,
In the late afternoon choosing a safe spot to pass the night,
Kindling a fire and broiling the fresh killed game,
Soundly falling asleep on the gathered leaves, my dog and gun by my side.

Although found online, it was far too long to read whilst writing this entry ,the gist of this epic poem sought to reflect upon the fractured state of the nation as it headed towards civil war, with each side struggling to maintain their set of ideals and identities. Soth attempts to do the same as he journeyed down the river, capturing both the residents and their environment.

When written about, he is often mentioned alongside names such as Joel Sternfeld – who taught him for a short while – and the likes of Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Stephen Shore. However, some of the odd characters he captures reminds me of Diane Arbus.

Charles, Vasa, Minnesota, 2002, from Sleeping By the Mississippi Alec Soth

In Niagara (2006), -these images were much larger than in the previous room with frames of natural wood – I found myself thinking about William Eggleston as he sought out the banal and mundane:”drab motels and soul-sapping pawn shops.” Does this bedspread remind you of a certain floral sofa? The difference being, whereas Eggleston likes vibrant punchy, eye popping colours, Soth prefers softer, paler hues with a subtler colour palette.

Two Towels, 2004, from Niagara, Alec Soth

As with many who have gone before, such as Danny Lyon, he not only captured portraits of the people, he also photographed extracts from love letters and other artefacts which assist the narrative. Niagara Falls is a popular destination for tourists and  honeymooners yet the underbelly he captures reveals a sadder, more vulnerable and depressing face of love. In contrast to the supposedly joyous events of weddings and gasping at the Falls themselves, it is also apparently a place of “spectacular suicides” and the atmosphere created by the surroundings and situations Soth captures picks up on this undertone.

An insight to his working can be found in this interview with Joerg Colberg from Conscientious.  Another interview can be read here.

Image result for alec soth niagara wedding dress

2004, from Niagara, Alec Soth

The photo-book Broken Manual seems to answer one of the above questions…apparently it was produced as a very small run before hitting the collectors market for obscene amounts of money! Previously capturing his portraits with a large-format camera mounted on a tripod, Soth’s style in Broken Manual shows a “marked and interesting conceptual shift,” he used long-lens photography and produced grainy imagery, to mimic surveillance and spy-camera footage, many of the curses of everyday life that these people are trying to avoid. This was a four-year collaborative project, photographing men on the run, monks, lone survivalists and other hermits. Soth teamed up a pseudonymous writer, Lester B Morrison, to create “an instruction manual for escapists….the idea is its a manual for men to run away from their lives…but the manual is broken.”

Entering the third room, you come into a darker space, grey-walled with subdued lighting, straight away the mood alters and you get the impression that this series isn’t at all like the others preceding it. This underscores the importance of how you curate an exhibition which can be problematic; photographers who work in series need a lot of space to present the narrative as the final images chosen need to still work together and resonate off each other.

Installation view, 'Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth' (© Kate Elliott, courtesy Science Museum) (click to enlarge)

Installation view, ‘Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth’ (© Kate Elliott, courtesy Science Museum)

The images themselves were an eclectic mix: there was a monochrome triptych of objects belonging to one of the subjects and is loaded with suggestion: a homemade knife, two mushrooms (magic ones, I laughed but The Guardian also stated “possibly hallucinogenic” so I wasn’t the only one thinking that) and an object that I pointed at exclaiming “ha that looks like a …..” but apparently…yes… it was a male sex toy.

Some of these images were definitely unsettling and creepy but definitely fascinating. The image of a lone sparkly disco ball abandoned in the middle of a wood made you wonder who had placed it there, was it one of the people hiding away, did it hold memories for them? A juxtaposition, discos you associate with parties, hoards of people, noise and laughter, none of that appeared evident in this body of work.

Image result for Alec soth broken manual disco ball

USA, 2006. From Broken Manual Alec Soth

On another wall hung a huge print of a naked man standing ankle-deep in a pool of water, whilst gazing intently towards the camera. I had to wonder at why nude? Why not shorts…I mean he still had boots on! Yes I was looking at his boots! Nudity suggests a certain vulnerability but I think his posture, gaze, haircut and the landscape reveals that. I’m no prude, nudity doesn’t faze me, I just think it isn’t always necessary and sometimes photographers use it for shock value, a talking point and to sell. It can’t be argued that the subject was photographed in this manner as he runs around naked all the time, as he has a damn fine tan line! If it was to show this is where he bathes, then get him to sit in it! Another commentator thought it spoke “volumes about Soth’s powers of persuasion” yeah…or capacity to manipulate the vulnerable…


USA, 2008. From Broken Manual

This area also  included  vitrines which were a full of his research materials and notebooks along with  maquettes – various editions of each book – and ephemera that further illustrated what his pictures were hinting at. For example a self-published periodical called Improvised Weapons in American Jails, or How to Build Flash/Stun Grenades.

The final series, Songbook, wasn’t created as an original series[it] “came together from a lot of different but related threads…it wasn’t called Songbook in the beginning, but I knew the themes and the feeling that I wanted and then it just took its course.” He also believes that this set of images does not have a definite narrative, thinking it is more:

You know, lyrical, whatever. I make this analogy a lot, between poetry and fiction, it’s more like poetry. There’s elements of narrative in it, and it’s suggestive of a story, but it’s not…there’s no plot.

This was my least favourite section of the exhibition, maybe sub-consciously I was picking up on the fact it was not an actual series unlike his other work, although not knowing that at the time, maybe that’s why I felt unable to really connect with it at first viewing. Soth re-edited  work made over the last few years on assignments, news magazines, and through his collaborations with the writer Brad Zellar, twenty-five black-and-white photographs made between 2012 and 2014 – about “80 percent of the work is from a mishmash of various things.” Partially, may be it was also due to the fact it looked old fashioned? I have no problem with b&w documentary images, old or contemporary, but for Soth it seemed a step backwards, doing something that has been done before and not adding anything new, attempting to mimic the reportage style of Weegee who he describes as having  “this quality where he’s kind of laughing at the world,” This he does particularly well, using digital and a strong flash, but I have to ask why, when you have developed a voice of your own and own way of laughing with and at the world?

I fully understand the need to continue to grow and explore but this did feel like a backwards step. I guess part of it linked in with the eventual title of Songbook tying the images to a certain era and maintaining the visual style from then. And the video interview he gave does answer those questions. Soth, wanted to act like a journalist and believed that using black and white gave him more flexibility and a way to reference the past. and a way to capture the insanity of life. Despite not including captions the book does contain snatches of text -lines and verses from a collection of musical works known as The Great American Songbook   Not sure now if the exhibition displayed these lyrics, or did I overlook them? Might have helped with the understanding of the whole section if I had noted them.

The “Great American Songbook” is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century. It includes the most popular and enduring songs from the 1920s to the 1950s that were created for Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and Hollywood musical film. The music of this genre is also often referred to as “American standards”.

Soth travelled around the country taking pictures of beauty pageants, proms, and prisons focusing on both what has been lost but what is also still there; on community and the loneliness within today’s society. For this part of the exhibition the images were large and had black frames which appeared to confine the prints, a bit like newspaper columns do, and yet more vitrines displayed the newspaper format zines produced by Soth and Brad Zellar. Most of the images stand alone, pull together as a series -just- but others I’m not sure as to why they were included. Soth wanted to do something different, not rely on the text or added information he is quoted as saying:

But even still, there’s something refreshing to me about letting them just exist purely, or almost purely, as images. The Songbook, it sort of liberated me of that, and the pictures can just exist on their own.

So my final observations – I thought the curation of this exhibition was excellent, with separate rooms given their own atmosphere and the different ways of presenting the work adding to the narrative. Despite originally being created for photo-books I think the series all translate well to an exhibition.

His intentions become clear as he progresses through his work, if something isn’t working he has no fear of changing tack. He can work individually or as part of a collaboration. His work does capture “a profound sense of what it is to be human.” Soth’s subjects obviously feel relaxed and comfortable enough to provide anecdotes, reveal intimate details about themselves and occasionally get naked. I’m still not convinced that sometimes this doesn’t feel a little like exploitation. Having waited so long to complete this write up and with a little more research completed I have a better understanding of why and how he did certain things and a greater appreciation for all of the work on display.

As ever there are things you come away with other than the images themselves, you think about the curation, how and why an artist/photographer publishes their work – Soth in particular being multi platformed. I don’t see this as an issue, rather these days a necessity – take note Mr Krassowski.

They also need to think about who their target audience is – How work is to be displayed within that format, what type of book, what size run, what size frames for an image, what size print? The list is endless. Alec Soth seems to have managed ok so far and hopefully will continue to do so.

Copyright (2016) On songbook: In conversation with Alec Soth. Available at: https://www.icp.org/interviews/on-songbook-in-conversation-with-alec-soth (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

Gathered leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth (no date) Available at: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/Plan_your_visit/exhibitions/alec-soth (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

Magazine, W. (2015) Alec Soth’s intoxicating photographic chronicles of middle America. Available at: http://www.wallpaper.com/art/alec-soths-intoxicating-photographic-chronicles-of-middle-america (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

O’Hagan, S. (2015) Alec Soth: America’s most immaculate, intriguing photographer. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/oct/06/alec-soth-gathered-leaves-photographer-uk-retrospective (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

Reznik, E. (no date) Interview: Alec Soth’s tragicomic American songbook. Available at: http://www.americanphotomag.com/interview-alec-soths-tragicomic-american-songbook (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

The center for the performing arts – home of the palladium – Carmel, Indiana (2016) Available at: https://www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org/Great-American-Songbook-Inititative/About-the-Great-American-Songbook (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

ThePhotographicJournal (no date) The photographic journal. Available at: http://thephotographicjournal.com/interviews/alec-soth/ (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

top, P.B. to (2015) ‘Alec Soth’s gathered leaves, reviewed by Ollie Gapper’, 12 November. Available at: http://www.photobookstore.co.uk/blog/photobook-reviews/alec-soths-gathered-leaves-reviewed-by-ollie-gapper/ (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

Own Research 4 – Danny Lyon – Images

Above are some of the 37 photographs from the three bodies of work on display at Beetles and Huxley. As ever, the smaller, compressed, online images do not show the finer detail of the originals and if you are able to get into London it is an exhibition worth taking in.

From the sample I shall select a few, to comment upon the compositional elements, similar features within the images and discuss why I feel they are effective as photographs and contribute well to the body of work.

From Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement I selected four images due to their contrasting natures, the lone child has an air of vulnerability, the two group shots reveal a stark contrast in peaceful demonstration and violence, whilst the serene landscape shot hides the unrest of the civil rights movement happening at that time. Anyone viewing it, then and now – without reading the caption revealing the location- would not be aware of the turmoil occurring within the region at this point in history. In some ways this shot reminded me of the body of work Ceasefire, 6-8  April 1994 by Paul Graham. His abstract images of cloudy skies, taken above infamous flash points of sectarian violence such as Bogside, Newry, Omagh and Shankhill, were captured to depict a tentative halt in the Troubles.The images were shot specifically during the three-day ‘temporary cessation of hostilities’ by the IRA around the Easter weekend that started the peace process. I was lucky to see some of them at a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Photographers Gallery a good few years back. Without a caption they appeared meaningless, possibly a little pointless and I was quite honest back in 2011 about how I felt that Graham was jumping on the “I am famous, I can print anything” bandwagon. In some ways I still do, but I think I can better appreciate the sentiment behind them now, that occasionally you have to try a different approach to send a message or document a moment in time. But thank goodness for the captions is all I can say ;o)

Image result for Paul graham ceasefire
Paul Graham Ceasefire April 1994

Within the four images by Lyon, there is a varying degrees of eye contact; some people were aware others weren’t and there is some direct gaze at the camera. The various directions of the gaze help guide the viewer around the frame. Lyon has varied his depth of field, taken some portrait, others landscape, used natural light and flash, included people and captured landscapes. He uses diagonal leading lines and perspective to great advantage. The variety of techniques used make for a varied and more visually interesting body of work, which capture a range of feelings and behaviours within the civil rights movement and document this period in history really well.

Most reviews I read the next body of work, commented on how the images in The Bikeriders were taken a few years before the film Easy Rider was released, and I can see why they marry the two together; both encapsulate  the political landscape, social issues, and tensions in the United States during the 1960’s, such as the freedom of the open road, a biker lifestyle, drug use and a communal lifestyle. I really enjoyed this body of work, although some images held my interest longer than others. Yet again Lyon has captured contrasting shots of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club; used different light, photographed them relaxing in a field, riding along city roads, scrambling through dust tracks, socialising in a clubhouse, and maintaining their bikes.

Once more he uses a variety of compositional techniques, which I think I will include in my physical learning log as it would be too much to annotate on a blog, but I particularly liked his use of framing for example frames within frames. The Outlaws clubhouse shot was, for me, reminiscent of Don McCullin’s The Guvnors in their Sunday suits, Finsbury Park, London (1958)

The Guvnors in their Sunday Suits, Finsbury Park, London, 1958
The Guvnors in their Sunday suits, Finsbury Park, London 1958 Don McCullin

Both shots are of groups of people with ‘attitude’ claiming a property as their own, wearing clothes that identify them as part of a certain social group. The images are shot from the ground with some of the subjects in the clubhouse framed within the framework of the architecture.

Cal, Elkhorn, Wisconsin 1967 reminded me of Lee Friedlander: America By Car 1995-2009,  I wonder if he was inspired by this much earlier shot by Lyon?


America by Car Las Vegas, 2002 Lee Friedlander

Another ‘familiar’ shot was Racer Shererville, Indiana 1966, which made me think of the series of portraits Spencer Murphy took of Channel 4 Jockeys. The series as a whole won the Campaign Award at Sony World Photography Awards 2014. The portraits were commissioned by 4Creative as part of ‘The Original Extreme Sport’ campaign for the Grand National 2013. The portraits include jockeys A P McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Katie Walsh and Barry Geraghty, shot trackside at Kempton Park Racecourse. His image of Kate Walsh won the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2013.

Ruby Walsh 2013 Spencer Murphy

All which goes to show what made a great image then still does today, with the intense gaze revealing the physical exertion both men have gone through.Having said that, I prefer Danny Lyon’s image as it feels more dynamic; it contains background detail providing more context to the subject and a sense of place, there are leading lines to take your eye around the frame and a suggestion of movement provided by the blurred bike in the background. The subjects wear very similar expressions but the amount of mud splattered on the biker speaks volumes and adds a slightly humorous touch. But you have to take into consideration context; why were these images were taken and the eventual intended use. The image used in the advert below is slightly different to the standalone portrait.


I think that the photographs I saw illustrate the sub-culture of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club and successfully documents their  camaraderie, the freedoms they enjoyed, the communal life style they led and the risks they took.

Finally, we get to Conversations with the Dead, where Lyon embedded himself with the prison population. Compositionally,  I have so much to say about this set of images, but will annotate them in my physical learning log; I shall take some photographs of it and upload them when I get around to it…so many things to do , so little time.However, I will mention his mix of indoor and outdoor shots, the differing vantage points, angles, use of figure to ground art theory, capturing ephemera and interior shots void of people.

The starkness of the locks, prison bars and the glass separating loved ones at visiting time, constantly remind the audience of the men’s captivity. Even when ‘free’ to relax there is a constant guard presence, the prison uniforms remove identities, everything is controlled and regimented from working the line to queuing for meals.

Throughout these bodies of work Lyon pays attention to the smaller detail, as well as the larger picture, immersing himself fully into the lifestyle and environments of those he chooses to photograph. His insights and ways of capturing his subjects produce a cohesive body of work providing a strong narrative for his audience to follow and understand.

Although the assignments set have to be completed within a matter of weeks, rather than years, by choosing topics that are close to me I can, hopefully, by using a range of techniques, and choosing a ‘group’ in my local community that I feel I have some insider knowledge of, attempt to do the same.

Own Research 4 – Danny Lyon @ Beetles & Huxley 2016

Danny Lyon…it’s a name I have heard, but couldn’t put any images to the name or name to the images, so when I received an email from Beetles & Huxley saying that they had a late evening, private viewing last night, 25 October, I thought it an idea to trot along.I have several observations from this viewing…and some of them not polite…but that was only about the other people there!

Oh my goodness me, I’d say 99.9% of them were the type of people who give photography and the arts the reputation they have, of being for the upper-classes/wealthy/snob brigade. Possibly I am falling into the trap of stereotypes but there I was in jeans and a flying jacket, smart casual like, surrounded by people in their best bib n tucker – or come straight from work, so were suitable attired (no dissing them on that point) and every single one of them had cut-glass accents…oh except the man in a t-shirt and dreads…I didn’t feel quite so obviously out-of-place walking past him.

It all did feel slightly intimidating, until I noticed that not many of them seemed to be looking at or discussing the work itself? They took the time to stand there, with their free glass(es) of wine clutched in hand, stood IN FRONT of it…sorry love, didn’t you know this was an exhibition of Danny Lyons work, not “let’s count the ways I have to ask a polite version of ‘excuse me luv can you move your arse outta the way so I can see the images not you?’ ” It wasn’t as if it was an ‘oh let’s stand here and talk about the picture and move on’ type of standing there…no, it was a full-blown ‘let’s all stand here in a huddle, 2mm away from the wall, and discuss what we had for dinner/where we met last/how the kids are doing in school, fnah fnah’ type of blocking. By the time I wanted to deck a few I no longer felt intimidated ;o)

It’s a shame, as I like Beetles & Huxley, they hold really good exhibitions and book signings, offer reasonably priced exhibition catalogues, don’t mind you taking photos of the gallery set up and the staff are always so very helpful. However, if anything, I think I have learnt to wait until the first night is over and go up as and when I can at a weekend. Working and studying, weekends can get full so the late night seemed an ideal time to fit it in…

Having moaned about all of that I did enjoy the exhibition and doing some closer analysis of Lyon’s work. Another downer was that they did not have – and will not be producing – a catalogue of this exhibition. I guess I should have asked why, but at the time I was annoyed at the other patrons and irritated that they didn’t have one! I think I shall email and find out just from a learning point of view… jumps into email compose box…back in 5…ok sent, hopefully they will respond and I will do an update. With 37 prints on display, although there was no catalogue, they did have an A4 sheet with the numbered prints, titles and prices, which came in handy for me jotting down some notes…and realising that in the scheme of things he is quite affordable, with starting prices at £5000.oo and the highest £6750…affordable for some but not me ;o) The gallery itself is a largish space with plenty of white walls and spotlights to show the work off to its best advantage. The photographs themselves were mounted in plain black frames, of two types, with large white passepartouts, all mounted at the same height. I was surprised to see quite a few of the frames were chipped and damaged, I guess in transit. I’d hope for a replacement frame if paying £5000 per print!

*Update* email sent and response received:

potted versions –

Q…I was disappointed to learn that there was not a catalogue for this exhibition. I am currently undertaking a BA Photography course and in completing my write-up of the visit I commented that there was no catalogue and wondered why. I’d be grateful if, from a learning point of view, you could tell me who usually makes the decision to produce one? The artist? Their agent? The gallery itself?…

A…Exhibition catalogues are very expensive to produce and the gallery takes this entire cost. They are also very time-consuming to put together and all our catalogues are written and designed in-house. We are a small team and sometimes cannot justify the time and the money it takes to produce catalogues when the exhibition is not of significant commercial potential. Photojournalism is incredibly hard to sell, particularly in the rather underdeveloped UK photography market, and we could not guarantee its financial success at the planning stage…

See, I told you they were helpful and friendly!

Anyway to continue…Still working today, Danny Lyon has his own blog called Bleak Beauty and is said to be, “one of the most important American documentary photographers of the second half of the twentieth century.”  He probably is, but sometimes I wish publishers et al would coin a new phrase. From the gallery blurb:

Utilising a style that would become known as New Journalism, Danny Lyon immersed himself in the lives of his subjects. We will be exhibiting photographs from several of Lyon’s seminal projects, including his photographs taken during the Civil Rights Movement, and his groundbreaking explorations of American biker culture and the Texas prison system.

  • on looking up New Journalism the definition given was  ‘meaning that the photographer has become immersed in with, and is a participant of, the documented subject.’

And immerse himself he certainly did. Lyon was born in Brooklyn in 1942, gained a BA in history in 1963 from the University of Chicago, and since 1967 he has worked as an independent photographer and an associate at Magnum Photos. He has numerous credits and awards to his name including: Guggenheim Fellowships in photography and film-making, a Rockefeller Fellowship, Missouri Honour Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism and a Lucie Award. There is a lot of debate as to what baggage we bring with us, does our background influence why, what and how we photograph things. I think it always does and possibly this applies particularly well to Lyon, whose parents came to America, escaping both Hitler and the Soviet pogroms.

He has stated that ultimately:

all of his projects are “about the existential struggle to be free”

In Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement,  shot using a Nikon Reflex and an old Leica, he reveals ‘how a handful of dedicated young people, both black and white, forged one of the most successful grassroots organisations in American history.’  Lyon was employed as a staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma, Alabama. In an interview he said:

It was my good fortune to stumble into the story early…Being in SNCC politicised me. Having said that, I wasn’t black and I was free. My agenda was photography and books, and what is now called media

It is interesting to note that the book also contains certain ephemera, for example: press releases, telephone logs, letters, and minutes of meetings, pictures and eyewitness reports therefore ‘creating both a work of art and an authentic work of history.’ He strongly believes that “the young people who created the Civil Rights Movement are directly responsible for Barack Obama being our president today.”

I think this adds to the argument that an image “of history” does not need a long time to pass before being labelled a document.

Described as ‘a photographer interested in those on the outskirts of American society’ Lyon then went onto join the Chicago Outlaws motorcycle club, purchasing a Triumph TR6 motorbike along the way. I liked the quote:

Photographers show character through how people look and the bikers were a perfect subject because they were what they looked like…They had leather jackets, they were dirty, they had weapons and boots.

Finally published in 1968, the book was not an instant commercial success, I guess because it was so different from things that had gone before and a lot of the book, like Memories… is ‘filled with highly personal moments that reflect the violent and extreme lifestyle of the club.’  I shall comment more on the actual photographs later on, as this post grows ever longer I think I shall make a separate post just for them.

It has been written that his ‘only formal training…was studying Bruegel’s mastery of composition in an introductory humanities course at university’ and, in looking at the images in the exhibition, it is like looking through a masterclass on how to compose your photographs. Not that I mean that in a critical sense, he just used traditional compositional rules to the fullest and in the most effective of ways i.e. implied triangles, leading lines, perspective, different vantage points, figure to ground ratio and many more. I found this was particularly noticeable in his  images from Conversations with the Dead,: Photographs of Prison Life, with the letters and drawings of Billy McCune #122054. published in 1971. This was photographed with the full co-operation of the Texas Department of Corrections, with Lyon embedding himself in six Texan jails for just over a year.

Having reviewed this style of documentary work and that of other photographers I can see the benefit of photographing a subject that you are either embedded in, or feel passionately about. In the foreword of The Seventh Dog, Lyon underscores the fact that he has never made a photograph that he hasn’t been a part of he writes:

Everything depicted in this book happened usually to me or close enough for me to picture it.


Beetles and 2015, H. (2015) Beetles & Huxley. Available at: http://www.beetlesandhuxley.com/exhibitions/danny-lyon.html (Accessed: 26 October 2016).
Butcher, S. (2014) Looking back at Danny Lyon’s Iconic 1960s photos of bikers | VICE | United Kingdom. Available at: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/danny-lyons-bikeriders-are-back (Accessed: 26 October 2016).
Helmore, E. (2012) Danny Lyon: ‘I put myself through an ordeal in order to create something’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/may/15/danny-lyon-interview-photography (Accessed: 26 October 2016).
Kim, E. (no date) Start here. Available at: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/10/07/street-photography-composition-lesson-2-figure-to-ground/ (Accessed: 26 October 2016).
Memories of the southern civil rights movement: Danny Lyon (no date) Available at: https://daylightbooks.org/blogs/news/17203601-memories-of-the-southern-civil-rights-movement-danny-lyon (Accessed: 26 October 2016).
Written and Seymour, T. (2016) Danny Lyon – soul of a radical. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2016/06/danny-lyon-soul-of-a-radical/ (Accessed: 26 October 2016).