The ethics of aesthetics – Imaging Famine

Throughout the coursework the issue of compassion fatigue, people’s attitudes and responses to constant images depicting certain disasters – be that war, famine or other tragedies –  have been raised. Various organisations as well as photographers and editors gradually became aware that they had to consider a new approach to their work and how it was presented. In September 2005 the exhibition Imaging Famine ‘posed poignant questions of ethical documentary practice.’ 


An ethical code of documentary practice allows for the imbalance of power that often arises between filmmakers/photographers and both their subjects and their audience to be addressed. It should affirm, among other things, the principle of informed consent for subjects. However, documentary conventions do alter. Along with those alterations, judgments about what compromises trust or violates another’s humanity also change.

We need to consider the effect of using positive versus negative imagery, about images of suffering evoking a response. I have already looked in depth at the photographers involved within the Eight Ways to Change the World project.

Read the booklet ‘Imaging Famine’ – from The Guardian. Do some research across printed and on-line media and find examples that either illustrate or challenge the issues highlighted in the document.

Imaging Famine


The catalogue sets the scene by discussing the press coverage of the Ethiopian famine disaster; pinpointing the watershed moment in October with the 1984 BBC TV report from Korem in Ethiopia, filmed by Mohamed Amin and reported by Michael Buerk. In fact, the consequences of how the crisis was perceived in Europe via such imagery was investigated by a United Nations organisation instigating new codes of practice for the use of NGO imagery.

My initial response was to not read the text but to look at the images contained within the booklet. What was my immediate response? What did I see? What did I read into them?

The opening image taken by Paul Lowe in Somalia was very telling; a starving child surrounded by 4 white photographers all hoping to get a ‘scoop’. They closely resembled the vultures from a later image; picking the bones of opportunity, survival of the fittest and seemingly more concerned about themselves than the child. That may be totally inaccurate, they may have sent funds to help the aid agencies, they may have transported struggling victims, but going on stories brought back this didn’t happen that often.

Not that I am overly criticising them, the reporters, film-makers and photographers had and have a role to play, stories need to be told if we are to help, not everything can be solved by throwing cash at it. Politics plays an important role in every event and, if images are to have an impact, those images have to be made. I can understand how some photographers felt, and feel, guilt at getting into an air-conditioned 4×4, staying in a 5 star hotel and then flying home to a very comfortable life knowing that they win awards and funding off the back of others’ suffering.

To give two examples of these moral dilemmas and the guilt photographers feel, I can cite Mike Wells who won a World Press Photo Award for the following image.

1981, World Press Photo of the Year singles, World Press Photo of the Year


Taken in Karamoja district, Uganda in April 1980, the contrasting hands of a starving boy and a missionary spoke louder than any world leader and any news story about the famine in Uganda. Karamoja region has the driest climate in Uganda and was prone to droughts. The 1980 famine in there where 21% of the population (and 60% of the infants) died was one of the worst in history. The worst recorded famine was the great Finn famine (1696), which killed a third of the population.The photographer Mike Wells, who would later win the World Press Photo Award for this photo, admitted that he was ashamed to take the photo. The same publication that sat on his picture for five months without publishing it entered it into a competition. He was embarrassed to win as he never entered the competition himself, and was against winning prizes with pictures of people starving to death.

Another photographer who faced a barrage of criticism was Kevin Carter, over his image of a little girl being stalked by a vulture. In March 1993 Carter was in Sudan near the village of Ayod. There he came across a girl who had stopped to rest on her way to a United Nations feeding centre; a vulture had landed nearby. Carter waited for twenty minutes until the vulture was close enough, positioned himself for the best possible image and only then chased the vulture away.

The vulture and the little girl

The photograph was sold to The New York Times where it appeared for the first time on March 26, 1993. Practically overnight hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived, leading the newspaper to run a special editor’s note saying the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture, but that her ultimate fate was unknown. Because of this, Carter was bombarded with questions about why he did not help the girl, and only used her to take a photograph.“The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene”

What is never made that clear is that Carter was working in a time when photojournalists were told not to touch famine victims for fear of spreading disease, nor that her parents were close by taking food aid from a plane.

Carter won a Pulitzer for his image, but the darkness of that bright day never lifted from him. In July 1994 he took his own life, writing, “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain.”

As a separate note Kevin Carter, was the first to capture a public execution by ‘necklacing’ in South Africa in the mid-1980’s and questioned cause and effect of the media asking: ‘The question that still haunts me is ‘would those people have been necklaced, if there was no media coverage?’

These images are nothing new, history has revealed a morbid fascination of death and disaster, the oldest image in this article being published in 1876 of a famine in Madras by a Captain Hooper. Earlier images were posed and subjects arranged so that their plight was obvious yet a code of decency was adhered to; no naked flesh or obvious genitalia on display. However, it is worrying to note that some of the subjects were tied/propped up so they could be posed properly?!? Dignity does not just mean covering up or cropping out various body parts.

In 1901 an unknown photographer took a still in Allahabad of a pile of emaciated bodies, the scale of the crisis meaning that the value of human life and the level of dignity which their remains received was scant; this is still echoed in the mass graves found today in troubled spots throughout the world. These images still have a power to shock and raise sympathy and concern, even if they have become more prevalent. Whilst these stark images are created to raise awareness and financial aid for these people, is there a compromise of dignity which undermines their value? There is most certainly a moral obligation to portray the truth and they should not merely sensationalise.

We still have to ask, because they effect us on an emotional level and occasionally stir enough people to act in order to resolve issues, should some of these images be shown? Or shown in a different way?

I came across a blog post written by photojournalist Barry Malone called Me and the man with the i-pad. It is worth reading, it sums up the dilemmas and distaste he feels every time he has to cover a human disaster. He is angry that the governments and aid agencies know these things are coming, yet are either powerless to do anything, or choose to do nothing to prevent it. He questions how he acts, how he feels he should act, or does he even really know how he should act, if what he does is ultimately right? Does he treat people with the dignity they deserve?

Some journalists leaned down over the mothers to talk to them, some stuck cameras inches from their faces. I stood further away when taking the photos, I sat down in the dirt to interview people. I thought I was better, but I wasn’t. I was just more conceited.To match Feature AFRICA-FAMINE/

Part of me felt bad for publishing the photo of the man with the iPad. Because he was a good person doing his job. And because we are the same.He comes with an iPad, I come with a notebook.Both of us steal dignity and neither of us belong.

More contemporary photographs seem to depict individuals, mainly children, or parents with children, the elderly, in fact those highlighted in my earlier posts that are considered to be the weaker members of society.

Whilst Rankin’s (working name of John Rankin Waddell) images don’t follow this trend I still question the hands out holding food pose….. (totally off topic his wife is actress Kate Hardie, whose stage name is derived from those of both her parents: Jean Hart and comedian turned naturalist Bill Oddie)

Another photographer who bucked the trend was Alejandro Chaskielberg

Imagery for charity campaigns has traditionally been caught between a Rock and a Hard Place. The Rock being a lack of decent funds for a campaign which has lead to ‘shock’ imagery in search of publicity.  The Hard Place is the challenge of creating imagery that neither feeds stereotypes nor is so emotionally gutting it turns away potential givers because it makes them feel any contribution is pointless.Alejandro Chaskielberg, Sony’s 2011 World Photographer of the year, avoids both in his Photos exhibition for Oxfam opening today at Southbank’s OXO Gallery.

Or are these too artistic?


Then we have the cause célèbrewith famous people ready and willing to promote certain fund-raising events or charities. The cynical part of me wonders if this is done to promote themselves as much as the charity, many famous characters donate or help anonymously, why don’t all? But sadly, I realise the general public are more likely to help out too if something is endorsed by their favourite footballer, film-star, singer or comedian. The Guardian ran an article on the pros and cons of celebrity endorsement in 2011.

The catalogue has several topical sections which hopefully I have covered above or below:

What is the appeal
Positive versus negative
The nature of photojournalism
Geographies of death and disaster
Moving images
Picture, celebrities and policy
Stereotypes, icons and symbols
Visual memory
Time and place

Working my way through it, I shall share some of my observations…

The watershed report at the time met with mixed reaction, some thought it brilliant, so it was beamed around the world, whilst another producer had the response of ‘not more starving Africans,’ revealing the truth of not pleasing all the people all of the time and underlining the problem of compassion fatigue.

The impact of LiveAid etc created a stereotype of African nations lumping them altogether as a ‘single impoverished place.’ Charity appeals tended to rely on these images for fund-raising appeals. The type of image used does seem to depend on if the charity is responding to a sudden disaster or a long term project. Sudden disasters show the more harrowing or emotional images whereas the long-term projects portray the positive and uplifting.

Compare the Water Aid campaign to the Christian Aid Syrian Refugee Appeal and others.

I noted with interest that the same image had been used but flipped for the Christian Aid poster. All of them still showing the ‘weaker’ section of society. Don’t grown men and teens also suffer? Can charity appeal images go to far?

It always seems very sad to me, yet indicative of human behaviour that it is always the negative images that gain more attention. Although a photographer may balk at taking and showing certain photographs they are usually the most honest and representative images during a disaster. May be more needs to be done to emphasise these images are of a select area at a select time and do not represent an entire country or continent.

As with the previous articles by Houghton and Kaplan, the words that accompany the images are just as important. Journalists/editors can be as much to blame for the consequences when they use a certain rhetoric or lexical set. Even the catalogue acknowledges that an image without text or a caption is ‘arguably purely aesthetic…shot of clear meaning and not photo-journalism at all.’

Very topical at the moment is the spate of terrorist attacks in the UK. Minutes silences have been held for the victims in Manchester and London. Yet major incidents occur throughout the world all the time and we don’t seem to bat an eyelid unless a British citizen is involved. With an ever shrinking world this may be less so, but sadly I don’t think so. Do we really need to have a break down of the nationalities every time there is a plane crash or a suicide bombing? The catalogue cites Susan Moeller who stated ‘One dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English Bobbies, who are worth 50 Arabs, who are worth 500 Africans.’ The reporting of far-flung places may not hit the main stream, but with Facebook, twitter et al local residents and more local photographers are on the scene to show what is happening at any given moment in time across the globe.

Possibly this is the general way forward, with using more indigenous photographers who know the people, the area, the politics and would offer a more balanced viewpoint. Would the bias tip in the other direction, would they be under political constraint to be less honest? Both situations have different problems.

Examples given are photographs by Chris Keulen who although not indigenous captured The Tour du Senegal amongst other positive series of Africa, and Petterik Wiggers who hails from the Netherlands but has been photographing Africa for over 20 years.

However, since then more African photographers have come into the limelight and are being talked about and publicised. Even more well established African photographers are becoming known outside the field of photography.

Sir Bob Geldof is cited in the text as he was another influenced by the images he saw but rather than compassion he felt outrage, just as Gilles Peress was inspired to capture his images with no political agenda, just wanting to show the stark reality of what is happening and his despair that the world stood back watching.

Has anything changed from the 1992 Guardian image of a ‘stricken Somali town’
1992 Somali

to the 2011 famine?


Geldof is just one in a long line of celebrities to get involved in charity work, we have Comic Relief, Children in Need to name a few highly publicised events. Is it right that the many are entertained to raise funds for the suffering? The funds are much-needed, but is this just voyeurism under another name? How many viewers watch the sketches and go to make a cuppa when the taped ‘fact files’ are shown? An interesting article on philanthropy can be read here.

We recognise television as important in the respect of fund-raising whilst documentaries and news reports keep us up to date with events around the world, but what is the impact of new technology and digital techniques? Everything is so instant and disposable these days, a click or a swipe and the image is gone. We are asked: ‘If this is the future, what can be learned from advertisers who have mastered the art of triggering an emotional response through visual metaphors?’

So where lies responsibility? As covered earlier in this post some photographers feel guilt, others try to think of doing a job and moving on. Although not famine based there was some discussion over the photographs of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian refugee boy, whilst it may have impacted upon policy have we kept our word and welcomed many refugees? Have we done anything to stop the war? His father, although he thinks it was right to publish the images, does not think anything has changed.

Ultimately the question of ethics is a very important one. Who draws the lines? Who decides to cross them? Photographers don’t always have ultimate control over how their images are published and what text accompanies them, but they are responsible for pressing the shutter and their actions before, during and after. I can only strive to apply my own moral compass in the basic situations I face.

References [Accessed 07/06/17] [Accessed 07/06/17] [Accessed 10/05/17] [Accessed 07/06/17]

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clark had three main motivations:

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

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

In Negative Publicity:

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

Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out:

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

Letters to Omar:

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

Control Order House:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

How does Clarke protect himself mentally and emotionally? Therapy.

What did I take away from this exhibition?

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


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

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

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

This year’s judges are:

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

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

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

Sophie Calle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Dana Lixenberg

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

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

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

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



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

Imperial Courts became:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What did I take away from this exhibition?

  • that you can change style and still be successful!



Own Research – Roger Mayne The Photographers Gallery April 2017

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

                                                                                              Roger Mayne, Peace News, 1960

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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





What did I take away from this exhibition?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

What did I take away from this exhibition?

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




Own Research – Robert Mapplethorpe Jan 2017 @Alison Jacques Gallery

Robert Mapplethorpe was born in New York, USA, 1946 and sadly died in Boston, USA, 1989 at the age of 42.  Mounting over 50 solo exhibitions during his life, including numerous museum shows in the USA, Europe and Japan, he has, since his death, continued to be the subject of important retrospectives. A recent exhibition of his earlier work was held at the Alison Jacques Gallery in London. Having missed an exhibition of his at the Turner Gallery in Margate a few years ago I was determined not to miss this one.


To coincide with what would have been his 70th birthday, Alison Jacques invited the UK-based, German-born photographer Juergen Teller to curate an exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work. Teller worked in collaboration with The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in New York to make his selection. There were 48 images on display, spanning his whole career, some of which have rarely been exhibited before. They ranged from Polaroids of the early 1970’s to silver gelatin photographs from the mid-70’s through to the late 80’s.

Alison Jacques, who has represented Robert Mapplethorpe in the UK since 1999, said: ‘Provocative and subversive, making images which are the antithesis of conventional fashion photography, Juergen Teller was the only choice to curate this special exhibition of Robert’s work. There are obvious parallels between these two artists and I believe Juergen’s eye will bring a new reading of Robert’s work.’ Really?


Beyond the art historical and social significance of his work, his legacy lives on through the work of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. He established the Foundation in 1988 to promote photography, support museums that exhibit photographic art, and to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV-related infection

There was a mix of still life: a spoon full of coffee, a set of antique silverware, two coconuts, a television set, and prickly unopened seedpods on a plate. I read sexual overtones in most, possibly deliberate, possibly due to my mind and the photographer! There were a number of images showing animals, including a hanging bat, plate of frogs, reclining dog, kitten on a sofa, and horses. I was disappointed that there seemed to be not one of his more famous or, what I consider to be, brilliant portraits or still life flowers on display. as one reviewer commented:

You won’t find the big hitters here – instead Teller’s selected a disparate mix of animals, portraits, still lifes, architecture and, of course, naked guys. I counted nine cocks and four splayed bumholes. But whether he’s photographing a pert tush or a loaf of bread, Mapplethorpe treats them with the same detached levelling view which makes the overtly sexual seem almost mundane and everyday objects come to life with erotic possibility.

They also sum up how the exhibition was displayed much better than I possibly could…

The way the show is (well) hung amusingly plays with this contrast: a cute kitten on a couch sits innocently opposite an explicit close-up of double anal fisting, while Muffin the dog is neighbour to a mouth covered in clothes pegs and a picture of a pear shares a wall with a wildly muscular pair of arse cheeks. Similarly whimsical is a comically large floor-to-ceiling nude portrait of a man posing on a beach, his impressively large swinging schlong on show, which can be seen from the street (people are furtively taking pics outside).
There were portraits of ‘key female muses’ such as Madeleine Stowe,Marianne Faithfull, Lisa Lyon and Patti Smith, but also lesser-known personalities including Cookie Mueller, Lisa Marie Smith, Hans Gert, the photojournalist Gisele Freund and Susan Sarandon’s daughter, Eva Amurri, as a small child. Other well-known people on display were David Croland and Sam Wagstaff. The image of Gert was the first that Tom Baril worked on for Mapplethorpe from his Bond Street Darkroom. Baril continued to be Mapplethorpe’s exclusive printer for over 15 years.

Two of the original images were enlarged with the permission of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. These were over 4 metres in scale and pasted directly onto the gallery’s walls, to provide a backdrop to the entire exhibition. One wall portrayed Mapplethorpe’s first partner David Croland wearing a gag and the other featured the model Marty Gibson, from Mapplethorpe’s later work, posing nude on a beach.

It will come as no surprise that interspersed with these photographs were sexually-explicit images, but according to the blurb:

by interrelating these to a more romantic view of Mapplethorpe’s work, Teller has brought out the essential mission of Mapplethorpe’s work: a life-long quest for perfection of form whatever the subject matter may be.

Again I repeat…Really?

I searched long and hard (no pun intended) to see if there was anyone else out there who wasn’t eulogising Mapplethorpe though this exhibition, who felt the same way that I did, that an amazing photographer, who rocked the establishment and took amazing still life and explicit imagery to perfection, was presented as a mere caricature within this show? Eventually I found it here . Thank you Jonathan Jones for asking, ‘Was wild Mapplethorpe just another guy with a camera?’ Part of his review read:

Instead of being divided into genres or categories, his images are here shown in deliberately disturbing juxtaposition. Cocks abound. Huge ones. Right at the centre of the main room, just so you don’t miss this basic Mapplethorpian theme, is a giant blow up of a man whose penis would be impressive even in a much smaller print. “Hey, don’t you get it?” Teller in effect is yelling. “This guy was all about cocks!”

Teller reveals hilarious double entendres in the way Mapplethorpe photographed nature. A funny shaped loaf of bread reveals a dark anal image. A pair of coconuts become as suggestive as they would be in a Carry On film. So much for Mapplethorpe the sombre student of form.

Teller succeeds brilliantly in making Mapplethorpe raw and immediate. Yet he also exposes him as very silly…Teller has deconstructed Mapplethorpe’s claim to be an artist and shown him up as just another guy with a camera.

I thought the quality and composition of the images, whether cocks or not, were not that good for a photographer held to be a genius :o/ Most shots were plumb in the centre, with little or no movement, the lighting was basic and provided no contrast leaving flat, uninspiring photographs.

I left the gallery shrugging my shoulders thinking was that it?

What did I take away from this exhibition?

  • that all great photographers have to start somewhere
  • that some of my images may be aren’t as bad as I initially think
  • don’t believe all the hype and reviews that are available
  • I want to see a Mapplethorpe exhibition that’s GOOD!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bricks, Outskirts of Kolkuta, India, March, 2014


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


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

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

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

– Phil Bicker Oct 12, 2011

What did I take away from this talk/exhibition?

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



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.