Sorry for being so silent over the past few days. A combination of medicine-proof flu and weak wifi at the hotel have thrown me into the arms of Jo Nesbo again and i've only emerged from this lethargy now. So here's a last and light post about the ongoing London Street Photography Festival where i discovered Anahita Avalos's tableaux of everyday life in Villahermosa, Mexico.
More of her images on flickr.
Anahita Avalos's work can be viewed until June 22 at Photofusion in Brixton, as part of the show On Street Photography: A Woman's Perspective but her photos have also been selected for the festival award along with the following talents:
Told you that was a light post. I'll do better tomorrow when i finally know how inspector Harry Hole catches the serial killer who marks his victims with the 'devil's star.'
Previously: Vivian Maier at the German Gymnasium.
Today i feel like recommending The London Street Photography Festival which opened a few days ago with exhibitions, talks, walks and workshops.
There's a particularly moving show at the German Gymnasium, right outside St Pancras station. The images are splendid, elegant and often humorous but the moving part is the story of the photographer.
Very little is known about Vivian Maier. She moved from France to Chicago after World War II, learnt english by going to the theatre and soon found work as a nanny. She was very secretive, wore men's shoes and big hats. Everywhere she went, she had a Rolleiflex camera hanging around her neck. She would photograph the legs of passersby, capture quirky urban moment or portray any eccentric characters she encountered during her walks, from the lady in pearl necklace to the homeless guy sitting on the pavement. One of the perks of her job as a nanny for rich families was that she had a private bathroom that she would use to develop her rolls of black and white photos.
As she got older, she amassed dozens of boxes of photographs or negatives, she also collected newspapers, and recorded audiotapes of conversations she had with the people she photographed. Having no space in her flat to keep them, she left some of them in a storage locker.
Towards the end of her life, Maier may have been homeless for some time. She lived on Social Security, but the children she had taken care of in the early 1950s bought her an apartment and paid her bills. In 2008, she slipped on ice and hit her head. She never fully recovered and died in 2009 at the age of 83.
Meanwhile, the negatives and documents were still in a storage locker and she had not enough money to pay for the fee. In 2007, John Maloof, then a young real estate agent in Chicago, bought the contents of her storage unit at an auction. He paid $400 for a box of what he hoped might be negatives of local architecture photographs.
From 2008 to this year, Taryn Simon travelled around the world researching and recording bloodlines and their related stories. The result of her endeavours is A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, a book and an exhibition open at Tate Modern throughout the Summer.
You might feel a bit let down if you expect to see the kind of large-scale, spectacular photos the artist gave us in An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. I know i was taken aback by these rows of small portraits on a beige background. Most visitors were indeed only scanning the images briefly. On the other hand, we all like a good story and this new body of work certainly provides strong narratives that immerse visitors into the story of feuding families in Brazil, a polygamous Kenyan healer living with his nine wives and 32 children, victims of genocide in Bosnia, South Koreans abducted by North Korean agents, the body double of Saddam Hussein's son Uday, children living in an orphanage in Ukraine, and the reviled descents of 24 European rabbits in Australia.
Her collection is at once cohesive and arbitrary, mapping the relationships among chance, blood, and other components of fate.
Each series comes with a is a textual account of text that narrates the often brutal story of a person. On the left of the text, the surviving people directly linked by blood (the idea of blood being sometimes taken quite figuratively) to that person. On the right, pictures, archive documents bring more context to the story.
The Living Man Declared Dead is Shivdutt Yadav, a man living in Uttar Pradesh, India. A few years ago, he discovered that official records listed him as dead. And so were his two brothers and their first cousins. Land registry records documented the transfer to other living heirs and allowed them to inherit the farmland.
In Uttar Pradesh, competition for land is rife and record officials are often bribed to declare living people dead in order to redirect the hereditary transfer to new owners. Yadav, his borther and first cousins have been trying to reverse land registry records and be listed as living again. The local court has been scheduling dates for a case review since 2001 but a judge has never appeared.
The rabbits kept inside a Plexiglas cubes are descendants of an original cargo of 24 that travelled from Europe to Australia in 1859 for the pleasure of a man fond of hunting. Within ten years of their introduction, rabbits had become so prevalent that two million could be shot or trapped annually without having any noticeable effect on the population. European rabbits have no natural predators in Australia and their impact on the ecology is devastating. The hunting prey quickly became nothing more than pest that has to be eradicated by all means. The poor creatures are vilified to the point that the Easter bunny has been replaced by the Easter Bilby. Simon went to the Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Centre in Queensland to photograph the bloodlines of test rabbits. The animals are bread at the lab to test their resistance to the rabbit haemorrhagic disease, a virus used to control rabbit populations.
One of the most powerful series exposes the bloodline of Hans Frank, Hitler's personal legal advisor and governor-general of occupied Poland. Frank crafted and enacted laws and legal doctrines that served the Third Reich's ideological and territorial ambitions. Under his rule over occupied Poland and Heinrich Himmler's command of the SS, Polish nationals were conscripted into forced labor in Germany, schools and colleges were closed, academics and intellectuals arrested and the Polish population was starved and a program to exterminate Jews was initiated.
He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at Nuremberg and was executed in 1946.
Some of his descendants understandingly refused to be photographed but it's hard to resist the urge to study the face of the brave ones who accepted to be portrayed. That's a a heavy legacy they were born to.
I'll end with a mention of the chapter about Cabrera Antero, one of the members of the Igorot community put on display at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, to showcase the US's recent acquisition of the Philippines.
Representatives of the Igorot community were sent to St. Louis where they constructed simulated village for the amusement of the public.
Their exhibit was a huge success among visitors who were intrigued by their custom of eating dogs and for their tattoos. Igorot descendants claim that dogs were eaten mostly on ceremonial occasions, yet the fair organizers compelled them to eat approx. 20 dogs per week. Antero was documented as the only Igorot to speak english. He remained in the country after the fair.
The photo exhibitions that Tate Modern proposes have been one excellent surprise after another. If you have the opportunity to visit the art space, don't miss the superb Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From The War In Afghanistan nor Photography: New Documentary Forms.
Wallpaper has a slideshow of the exhibition and the book.
Thomas Hoepker was the first West German photographer to receive an official authorization to live and report from East Berlin when the city was still divided by a wall. He was followed by the constant gaze of East Germany's secret police but his work was uncensored. An article in Deutsche Welle explains: Hoepker's reports gave West Germans their first glimpses of how "the other half" lived. Unlike the East Germans, who could watch West German TV, most West Germans had no idea what life in the GDR was like.
Some 280 photos from Hoepker's work in Eastern Germany are currently on view at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. The exhibition, titled On Living. Photographs by Thomas Hoepker and Daniel Biskup, marks the 50th anniversary of start of the construction of the Wall.
And i'll leave you with his pictures even if i posted far more in one go than anyone could stomach.
Hoepker's pictures are followed in the exhibition rooms by Daniel Biskup's photo documentation of the political and social upheavals in the former German Democratic Republic, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the clashes in the Balkan states.
On Living. Photographs by Thomas Hoepker and Daniel Biskup remains at the German Historical Museum open until October 3, 2011.
I'm afraid this is another photo exhibition i'm going to review! I know they are not the most popular on this blog but for some reason, London seems to be all about photo shows this week.
I'm just back from Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From The War In Afghanistan which has opened a few days ago at Tate's best kept secret: the Level 2 Gallery.
Simon Norfolk went in Afghanistan for the first time in 2001, when the US began to bomb the country as the prelude to the so-called Operation Enduring Freedom. He came back with the series Afghanistan: Chronotopia: Landscapes of the Destruction of Afghanistan. A few years later, someone from the National Media Museum in Bradford showed him pictures by the nineteenth-century British photographer John Burke. Burke, who is thought to be the first man ever to have photographed Afghanistan, accompanied the British forces during the invasion that became the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-80. Burke's splendid sepia photos gave Norfolk the desire to follow the footsteps of the Victorian photographer.
In October 2010, Norfolk flew back to Afghanistan to shoot a new series that respond to Burke's Afghan war scenes in the context of the contemporary conflict. A 17 minute video shown at Tate shows Norfolk explaining that although Burke and him are collaborating over time (130 years!), their perspective is quite different. While he did not glorify it, Burke was nevertheless embedded in the British Empire. Norfolk is a free agent whose aim is to show that, alas!, history is repeating itself. He hopes that his photos will communicate his disappointment at the situation in Afghanistan where thousands of people have already died. Norfolk sees the war as a murderous manifestation of imperialism.
The new body of work is presented at the gallery alongside Burke's original portfolios.
Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From The War In Afghanistan remains open at the Level 2 Gallery, Tate Modern in London until July 10, 2011.
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has an exhibition on Contemporary South African Photography. Given my unwavering admiration for South African artists, it should have been a feast. And at times, it was. But the show is also immensely frustrating. The quality of works presented is unequal (who wouldn't look like the ugly duckling when presented right next to a Guy Tillim or a David Goldblatt anyway?) and i often felt that the show lacked in depth. I don't want one Hyena Man next to a Wild Honey Collector. I want a series of Hyena Men and then a series of Wild Honey Collectors. That's how greedy i am but i also happen to think that you might not necessarily get a better sense of an artist's work by picking up only one example of each series they have been working on.
I had always wondered what made photography (and other forms of contemporary art) from South Africa so compelling. The introduction for the exhibition brings a series of answers to my question:
Photography from South Africa comes with a heavy luggage. Long before it played its documentary part in the fight against apartheid, the medium was used as an instrument to classify people according to racial type. A few years after the fall of the apartheid, a new generation of artists and photo reporters is attempting to rebuild the picture of a country where the old rules of codes and structures governed by race have (somehow) started to crumble. A number of these photographers, however, have chosen to turn their back on the culture of realism that defined South African photography in the years of the fight against the segregation and are exploring a more purely artistic aspect of photography.
I knew a few of the artists in the show before entering the rooms but i did discover the fantastic work of Graeme Williams. The Edge of Town is the result of Williams' trips to over 100 towns and townships around South Africa. Williams used to be a news agency photographer. The arrival of the new democracy left him confused as he explained in an interview: 'Post-1994, you didn't have apartheid lurking over your head, which meant no starting point for all the work I did. It was disconcerting.'
He had to look for a new language and moved from documentary to street photography, trying to convey moods and moments rather than facts and events. Williams worked only in early morning and evening light to create the long shadows and vibrant colours. As he has noted: 'I wanted viewers to be slightly unsure of what was going on in each photograph and this reflects how I felt about change in South Africa at the time.'
The photograph that opens the show at the V&A is part of Pieter Hugo's Messina/Musina, a set that raises questions about race and the nature of the family. This photo was shot in a rundown rented room in Blikkiesdorp, an area once populated by white railway workers. The white poor can no longer afford to buy land there and middle-class black families have taken their place in the neighbourhood. The white couple in the photograph rent a room from the child's father.
The show has also an image from the Wild Honey Collectors, another one from Permanent Error and one from The Hyena and Other Men, a series which i suspect many of you are familiar with. I'm obsessed with The Hyena and Other Men. I'd love to be able to buy Dayaba Usman with the monkey Clear but then the price a print fetched at a recent auction made me realize this will have to be for another life. To add insult to injury, the book The Hyena and Other Men is now out of print. How can it be out of print?!
'If one looks at the "Permanent Error" series, and "The Hyena and Other Men" and The Honey Collectors, one of the themes that keeps coming through is the issue of power and submission and domination. Whether it's to do with the geopolitics between the first and so called third world, whether it's man and animal with "Hyenas", or man and environment with "Honey Collectors".'
Mikhael Subotzky is another photographer whose work i've been admiring for a few years. More precisely since i saw the moving pictures he had taken in South African prisons. His recent work focuses on crime, violence and their inevitable accomplice: the quest for the ultimate security.
His series Security looks at the guards employed for protection by the middle and upper classes in wealthy districts of Johannesburg. Many of them survey the properties of their employers from the 'Wendy houses', wooden huts often found outside the mansions of South Africa's predominantly white elite. 'These "Wendy's" or "Zozo's" as they are known are simple in design, just as a child would draw the most essential of houses. They are also one of the few direct visual manifestations of the fear that is implicit in the surroundings.'
David Goldblatt has photographed South Africa since the late 1940s, observing its social, cultural and economic divides. He too had a few series showing at the V&A. For Ex-Offenders, he asked former criminals to go back to the scenes of the crimes that led to their incarceration and tell him their story.
Tradesmen are workers photographed at their work-places next to the hand-painted signs advertising their services. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any image of this series online. 'In post-Apartheid South Africa I became acutely aware that little signs were mushrooming on our sidewalks and on our trees and poles advertising all kinds of services: painting, building, tilling, carpentry. Often these were very crude but there was no question of what was happening. Suddenly black people were able and willing to offer their services within the suburban life of Johannesburg in ways that were not only [previously] unknown but forbidden because black people were not allowed to trade within white group areas.'
If you visit Figures & Fictions, don't miss the exhibition of the photos that Goldblatt took at the time of the Apartheid. You can find it in the V&A Photography Gallery, room 38A.
Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography features the work of 17 artists. Here's a couple more i found fairly interesting:
Roelof Van Wyk's series Young Afrikaner - A Self Portrait echoes early ethnographic photography projects that portrayed black people as anonymous examples of 'types'. series, Young Afrikaner - A Self Portrait. But whites people are now the 'others'.
Photojournalist Jodi Bieber -who won a major award for her Time cover of an Afghan woman whose nose had been cut off by the Taliban- is showing a photo series inspired by the Dove campaigns that used 'real' women to advertise their soaps and creams. In Real Beauty, women of all sizes are posing in their underwear. The series denounces the influence of Western media and culture in South Africa on ideals of female body shape. Their impact is so strong that cases of black anorexic women is increasing in the country, as the full figured body which was once celebrated is no longer as desirable as Western body shapes.
Nontsikelelo Veleko explores the fashion-sense of South Africa's 'born free' generation that has grown up after the end of Apartheid.
Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography remains open at The Victoria and Albert Museum until 17th July 2011.
Related stories: Permanent Error, In South African prisons, Pieter Hugo's Nollywood, Avenue Patrice Lumumba, Images of the Belgian Congo, Book review - The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence.