I've visited 5 photo exhibitions all over London yesterday. Here's a few words about the ones i found most interesting. Starting with 'Last Days of the Arctic'...
The exhibition on view at Proud portrays a disappearing landscape and the Inuit people who inhabit it. Because much has changed since Ragnar Axelsson's first visit to Greenland's remote regions 35 years ago, the photos capture what might be the last moments of an ancient culture that has contributed the least to cause climate change and yet is the one suffering the most visibly and acutely from its effects.
Next in line is not an exhibition but a magazine i picked up while visiting a rather disappointing photo show. Vignette is a free paper magazine you can grab in various bookshops and art galleries across the UK. I've seen many photo magazine but Vignette is The One for me. It's a broadsheet without any glossy page you might spoil with greasy fingers, but each issue is so beautifully and simply designed that you'd want to hold on to it. Vignette contains the usual: information about photo book, photo products, exhibitions, list of events, spotlight on online resources for photo enthusiasts, list of competitions and other opportunities, etc. Each issue has a theme and the current one, the "travel Issue", presents a couple of photo essays, the most striking is probably Right Wing Along the Rio Grande - a journey along the Rio Grande River through four states of America, reflecting on the American Right TEA Party movement.
Zed Nelson followed the flow of the river through three states two years after the election of America's first black president. On the way, he met people who claim that Obama is 'a radical Muslim', are afraid of 'Marxism' and believe that fences and guns are the best way to deal with illegal immigration.
The second exhibition i should mention is the solo show of Hisaji Hara at Michael Hoppen Gallery. Hisaji Hara used his camera and a few delicate Japanese schoolgirls to recreate paintings by Balthus (1908-2001). Hara creates his images through multiple exposures, all done in-camera without computer manipulation, which coupled with the use of smoke machines and cinematic lighting lends them a wistful, timeless quality akin to the paintings he has referenced.
A few months ago, I read there was an exhibition of photographs by Don McCullin at Tate Britain. I thought "That one can wait, it's going to for ages and everybody knows the work of the award-winning war photographer anyway." That was very presumptuous of me. I finally went to see the show and it is now clear that i had underestimated the impact his images would have on me. Especially his portrayal of the homeless living around London from the late 1960s to the '80s.
While looking for images online, i discovered that in 1989 McCullin had made a documentary for BBC about the London's homeless, a sharply growing problem attributed to the failure of social policy: changes in the UK social security system, shortage of affordable housing, closing down of long stay hostels.. have thrown young people, the mentally ill, former soldiers, even entire families in the streets.
"I started seeing people sleeping in shop doorways and when I went to Third World countries people would refuse to believe there were poor people in England," McCullin explains in the video below. "But there were many, many untold truths about this country, we had poverty, we had unemployment, we had a class system that wasn't convenient, all kinds of things that people who lived outside of England wouldn't have understood, so when I started walking the streets of London and seeing people sleeping in shop doorways, even I was shocked."
Also at Tate are spectacular b&w images that shows the toll that industrialization took on the countryside, images of Berlin during the construction of the Wall and the landscapes McCullin is now shooting to try and forget the horrors of the wars he has spent decades to document.
And if it's McCullin's war photos you're after, then head to the Imperial War Museum for Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin.
I've seen a number of photo exhibitions over the past few days. I might try and find time to write about Arctic Convoys, 1941-1945 which i saw at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. In the meantime this post is going to be about some of the photo exhibitions i saw in Hannover this week. There is a solo show of Alice Springs' work at the Kestnergesellschaft. She was Helmut Newton's wife. The works on view are competent, a bit too Newton-esque for my taste and rigorously black and white. Mostly fashion shots, and shots of fashion designers. She did make a wonderful series of portraits of members of the Hell's Angels though. I wish i could reproduce on the blog every single image from that series. Sadly, i cannot find any trace of it online (please, please, drop me a line if you've spotted them.) So i'll leave that one aside.
And i'll go ahead with the two images that got stuck in my head during my trip to Germany. The first one shows Ducklings conditioned to follow a wooden duck. It's by Gerhard Gronefel, photographer of poignant moments in the Germany of World War II. And then of course i almost had a heart attack when i saw the Cheshire cat grin of Dieter Bohlen from the Modern Talking (the Modern Talking!) was plastered on all over the bus stops i walked by. Germany, I love you!
Still, the magnet that got me to Hannover wasn't a piece of musical (and fashion) history but Photography Calling!, an exhibition at the Sprengel Museum that explores 'documentary style' photography from the 1960s to the present day.
Zielony followed young people hanging around the desert city Trona outside Los Angeles.
Since the end of the year is usually the time for me to spend day and night watching British tv dramas (anything with police, villains, Sherlock or Gene Hunt will do), i thought it would be fitting to blog about an exhibition i saw a few days ago at Foto8 gallery.
Over 10 years ago, Jocelyn Bain Hogg followed and portrayed the protagonists of organised crime in South London. Gangsters, funerals, big rings, big cigars, diamond-encrusted knuckle duster, more funerals, pimps and prostitutes, etc. His book The Firm pictures them all.
More recently, as he was working on a project documenting teenage gun and knife crime across Britain, the photographer found himself driven to go back to London gangsterland and have another look at the people who were supplying weapons and drugs to housing estates. The characters he met are the heirs of the gangsters whose every day life Bain Hogg had followed in the late 1990s but if they are the new generation, these men are also aware that the heydays of the British mob are long gone:
Joe Pyle senior and the Kray twins, the old-school Godfathers of British crime, have died since The Firm was completed in 2001 and in 2008 I found a fractured society of British criminals with little or no organization and leadership who are vainly competing, as many businesses have to do, with international competition.
Russians, Albanians, Kosovans and Turks rule the UK underworld now but the indigenous villains still wear their heritage on their sleeves, talking business at unlicenced boxing matches and night clubs and working with their Jamaican brothers - the Yardies - for a slice of the criminal pie.
The Family picks up where The Firm left. Joey Pyle is dead and Joe Pyle Jnr has taken over. Together with brothers Mitch, Warren, Alan (adopted by Joey Pyle to ensure that business would stay in the family should something happen to his son) and associate Teddy Bambam, Joe forms the core of The Family (dubbed by the US press "The Sopranos of Mitcham".)
One thing is sure: i can't imagine the men picture above being as soft-spoken as the Krays were in 1965 (let alone being invited by the BBC to talk about their innocence):
On Tuesday evening, George Osodi gave a talk at Foto8 in London then had a public conversation with Julian Stallabrass. I discovered Osodi's amazing photos at the last edition of Documenta and there was no way i'd miss his presentation.
The Nigerian photographer is one of those rare photo-reporters whose work is shown in newspapers as well as in art galleries around the world (you can check his photos right now in the Oil Show at HMKV in Dortmund). He was in London to discuss the Oil Rich Niger Delta series and his new book Delta Nigeria - The Rape of Paradise on the oil exploitation in the Delta region of his country.
Nigeria is West Africa's largest producer of crude oil but years of corruption and poor governance has left the southern Niger Delta desperately poor, its environment devastated by oil spills and gas flares and other environmental hazards as a result of activities of the oil companies in the region.
The story of Oil Rich Niger Delta started almost 10 years ago when Osodi decided to leave his well-paid job as a banker to buy a camera and teach himself photography. It didn't start too well. First of all, no one in Nigeria, he said, takes photography seriously and he received no encouragement from neither his friends nor his family.
To him, the Delta region, where he grew up is an endless source of wonder and stories of pollution, conflicts, greed, danger but also hope. However, no matter how hard he looked, every piece of documentation about it had been made by foreigners. He thought that the fact that he grew up 'inside' those issues would give him a perspective no foreigner could have.
The beginnings were hard. He worked with films and all his money was spent on materials, he didn't have internet at the time and would stay for hours in cafés and do research about photography online. At first, people recoiled in horror when they saw his photos. They were too harsh, too disturbing and raw. But bit by bit, he learnt to "make beautiful the most difficult issues." He worked on the aesthetics of his photos so that the onlooker would first see the beauty of the images before realizing they were portraying important and uncomfortable issues.
Taking these photos is risky. Oil companies and their security forces don't him to document the impact that oil exploitation has on the environment and on the inhabitants of the region. He's been arrested several times and has even been kidnapped by Delta militants who thought he might be a spy.
Despite the dramatic situations he encounters, Osodi has hope for the Delta region which he says is one of the most beautiful on the planet and has a lot more than oil to offer. The photographer also expressed his faith in the ordinary people he meets, "they are not passive victims, all they need is a fair ground to realize their potential but right now it's still difficult."
Ultimately, he hopes that his photos will make us think about the origin of the oil we consume without even paying much attention.
The book Delta Nigeria - The Rape of Paradise by George Osodi is published by Trolley Books. For more than five centuries the fortunes of the Niger Delta have been closely tied to that of the global economy. For its slave ports, then palm oil industry, and most recently, through the discovery of crude oil in the 1950s. Oil multinationals soon came to the fore, working in alliance with a local elite to strip the region of its wealth and despoil it. At the receiving end are the region's impoverished inhabitants: left with a poisoned environment, faced with a government that never cares and victims of rival armed militant groups laying claim to territories.
Yesterday i went to The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2011 at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The title says it all: a law firm is sponsoring a competition of contemporary portrait photography and 60 of the best entries are exhibited in London.
There are cute kids and celebs (sadly, there were no mature men in speedo this year) but because i'm drawn to documentary photos, that's what my quick selection will be about:
Anastasia Taylor-Lind's looked inside the first Cossack school to accept female cadets as full time boarders. Cossack people from Crimea and Caucasus, Southern Russia are relearning their warrior traditions and cultural heritage, which were suppressed so virulently by Soviet leaders that the policy got its own name: the Decossackization.
Nowadays, children sent to Cossack military style schools divide their time between regular academic lessons and learning traditional Cossack skills, such as horse riding, martial arts, folk dancing and Shashka performance, as well as the more contemporary soldiering necessities of shooting and parachuting.
"Anna and Roberto got married in October 2004 aged 78. They go on holiday, they pray a lot, love makes them feel younger and they still enjoy having sex."
For nearly twenty years the women of Benin City, in Nigeria, have been going to Italy to escape poverty. Most are found along the roads working as prostitutes. They live in sub-human conditions and send the little money they can save to their families in Africa.
The success of many Italos, as these women are called, is evident in Edo. For many girls prostitution in Italy has become an entirely acceptable trade and the legend of their success makes the fight against sex traffickers all the more difficult.
One concern is that the anti-trafficking crusade is causing effects opposite to its objectives. What presents itself as a campaign to protect migrants from harm is actually making their efforts to flee home, to find work, to make the most of their lives in often difficult and unforgiving circumstances, much harder.
Men who die on the battlefield in Southern Afghanistan are tended to by a small group of dedicated soldiers. Their responsibilities include the retrieval, identification, preparation, preservation and transportation of the dead back to the United States.
Rebecca Martinez's preTenders explores the world of the makers and adopters of dolls that look, smell, weight and feel like real infants.
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2011 is on view through 12 February 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery in London.