I must have been pretty desperate for distraction the day i went to see Island Stories: Fifty Years of Photography in Britain at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This Summer now seems like it has been a long, relentless photo exhibition dedicated to London, England and/or Great Britain. I thought that even an anglophile like me wouldn't stomach yet another exhibition celebrating the joys and wonder of the country. But Island Stories: Fifty Years of Photography in Britain is such a gem of a little show, i'm on my way to see it for the second time. Incidentally, i'm left hoping that one day my own country will develop such propensity for navel-gazing, but that's another story.
Drawn exclusively from the V&A collections, this display features a selection of more than 80 photographs made in the UK since the 1950s. It focuses on individual projects, each of which tells a story. Collectively, they give a picture of life in Britain that reflects upon subjects ranging from landscape and industry to family and community.
There are work by Jeremy Deller, by Don McCullin and by Martin Paar but most photographers were new to me. I loved the show and i'll keep the comment short:
Maurice Broomfield's prints of post-war British industry are particularly fascinating. For 30 years, his images celebrated as much as they documented the labour of factory workers. Most photo series were commissioned by industrial clients. Most of them I suspect have now outsourced their assembly lines to other shores.
I think you're not supposed to laugh at this one:
Elsbeth Juda's 1952 series Milling around Lancashire also takes the factory floors as its main setting and the photos are as staged and polished as Broomfield's. This time however, the industrial context serves only as a backdrop for fashion shoots.
The text accompanying Grace Robertson's photos at the museum says "Using a compact Leica camera, Robertson was able to capture the unrestrained and unselfconscious mood of a women's annual pub outing." Annual? I'd better keep the snarky comment to myself. The photo below is based on this one by Kurt Hutton. But Robertson's models are middle-aged and wearing, i read, whalebone corsets.
In 1999, Peter Fraser photographed from up-close details of the apparatus used for the study of matter at the Physics and Applied Physics department at the University of Strathclyde, where research was being undertaken into the fundamental nature of matter at a subatomic level.
There you go! A lovely show, entrance is free.
Another London, an exhibition which opened a few weeks ago at Tate Britain, reminded me of my schooldays. I was 12 and started to learn english and about the English in illustrated text books. There were the bobbies, the bowler hats, Big Ben and the changing of the guard, the red buses, the red phone boxes, the smog. Clichés that screamed Great Britain for foreigners. When i first visited London, i looked for them. I didn't spot any bowler hat but, hey, i went to Piccadilly Circus to 'see the punks'!
Another London is a collection of pictures taken in London by foreign photographers between 1930 and 1980. Either many of them read the same text book as me or they were hired to fill its pages with their images.
But the show is no postcard pictures party. It is less about the parks and monuments than it is about the Londoners. The photographs selected in the exhibition depict the social history of the city in black and white. I guess i'll never cease to be amazed by the photos of Shoreditch before the hipsters and by the sartorial audacity of Londoners (though i can't imagine anyone nowadays loitering around town with 'Destroy London" written on the back of their leather jacket.)
Here are some of the images you can see at Tate Britain. In no particular order:
This one wasn't in the show, i found it looking for photos by Al Vandenberg:
The photographs come from a collection created over 20 years by Eric and Louise Franck. Most of them were donated by the couple to the Tate. I hope that means that Tate is going to pay even more attention to photography in the coming years.
Another London is at Tate Britain until 16 September 2012.
An exhibition as smartly titled as Mind the System, Find the Gap deserved a short trip on the Eurostar.
That's why on Tuesday, i was once again at Z33 House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt to see the work of artists who are 'seeking out the gaps in the system.' I'll come back to it with a detailed review of the exhibition in the next few days. But let's kick of the show with Sebastian Stumpf's photo documentation of his performances in the 'gaps' (in japanese sukima) of Tokyo architecture. The artist is literally filling in the hiatus in the dense architectural structure of the city, squeezing his body in the overlooked spaces between the buildings. The action makes us suddenly aware of this 'urbanism interrupted', and calls our attention to what is in-between, behind, or beyond.
A very Pasta & Vinegar work....
Mind the System, Find the Gap remains open until 30 September 2012 at Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium.
Foto8 is my go-to gallery for documentary and photojournalism. Whatever they have up, i go and see it. Right now, the gallery is presenting the 159 photo works selected for its fifth annual Summershow. There are portraits of homeless people, of Palestinian girls dreaming of peace, documentation of the Libyan civil war, stories from the war, stories from some of the coldest parts of the globe, disorder in the streets of London. Mundane moments and dramas.
The public is invited to vote for their favourite image. My favourite is the lion behind bars from Felicity Crawshaw's Captivity and Rescue series. But i can't bear to watch the image again nor read the story associated to it.
So no photo of the lion in this post, just this quick selection:
Kryziu Kalnas (Hill of Crosses): Set in Northern Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses has become a site of national pilgrimage. Hundreds of thousands of crosses have been planted on the site.
3 years have passed since the economic crisis in Italy forced Nicola to sleep at the train station in Rome. "I was a musician, a composer. I have been working for years on a project about Christmas songs. The record company was happy about it. Then my mother suddenly died. Our house was from a social housing project. The government took it back. I was confused and depressed and my record company dropped me. I eventually couldn't find any other opportunity to integrate. I live on the street. I sleep here, on the floor just outside the big train terminal of Rome".
6 miles North of Whitstable, 5 derelict Maunsell Sea Forts lie on a sand bank called Shovering Sands. The Thames Estuary Army Forts were constructed in 1942 to provide anti-aircraft fire within the Thames Estuary area. Each fort consisted of a group of seven towers with a walkway connecting them all to the central control tower.
Early in the morning, after a 12-hour nightshift, Vladimir Vladimirovich Paltyshev cleans out the stove of the local community heating system. From a project about Teriberka - the dying out village could soon become the natural gas capital of Europe.
A flooded building in the city of Yeni Halfeti on the Euphrates river. The city was partially submerged by the Birecik Dam in 1999 and the majority of its inhabitants were relocated in a new nearby city. The Birecik Dam is part of the 22 dams of the GAP project (Guneydoglu Anadolu Projesi), a development plan launched in the 80s by the Turkish government that aims to enhance a social stability and economic growth in the Southeastern Anatolia, the poorest region in Turkey.
Turkish Blue Gold represents the consequences of the exploitation of the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers by Turkey, such as the flooding of villages and the reduction of water supplies for Syria and Iraq.
No photo competition would be complete without some images of socialist buildings in various states of preservation. Tim Allen's photos from his visit to the abandoned Buzludzha Monument are nevertheless stunning. The structure was designed by architect Guéorguy Stoilov and opened in 1981 by the Bulgarian communist regime to commemorate the events in 1891 when the socialists assembled secretly in the area to form an organised socialist movement.
Mack Moore, in his 80's, started off his working career in funeral homes and cemeteries. But both he and his wife had a desire to move to Las Vegas and in 1997 he bought 80 acres of land outside Beatty, Nevada. The land came with a 100 year old brothel, called Angel's Ladies. Mack ended up running the brothel and currently has eight girls working there. Prostitution in Las Vegas itself is illegal, but many visitors on the convention circuit will head into the desert and across county lines to find the legal brothels. In 2005 his brothel had 4,500 customers. (via)
Watson, the 23-year-old boss of his gang, peeks out of his shack during a gang battle.
Yesterday, i went to the Saatchi Gallery to see Korean Eye and the most charitable comment i'm willing to make about the show is that it has a few good moments. However, the exhibition on the top floor, The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, is worth the trip to King's Road.
The nine eyes are the cameras mounted on the pole on top of each vehicle that Google sent around the world 5 years ago. The technology of Google Street View has sparkled moments of deep humiliation, interest from the press photography community, privacy concerns and brilliant artistic reactions.
Jon Rafman was one of the first artists who spent hours looking at the images collected by the cars and searching not just for the amusing, the ridiculous and the fortuitous but also for postcard perfect moments. And does he have an eye for stunning images...
As the artist writes: With its supposedly neutral gaze, the Street View photography had a spontaneous quality unspoiled by the sensitivities or agendas of a human photographer... capturing fragments of reality stripped of all cultural intentions.
Without indication of their location:
Looks like Trellick Tower in North Kensington, London.
Probably my favourite:
Previously: Community Performance in Google Street View, Aaron Hobson's Cinemascapes: Google Street View Edition which i discovered at the London Festival of Photography, and Michael Wolf, We are watching you...
Publisher Routeledge says: In an accessible yet complex way, Rebekah Modrak and Bill Anthes explore photographic theory, history and technique to bring photographic education up-to-date with contemporary photographic practice. Reframing Photography is a broad and inclusive rethinking of photography that will inspire students to think about the medium across time periods, across traditional themes, and through varied materials. Intended for both beginners and advanced students, and for art and non-art majors, and practicing artists, Reframing Photography compellingly represents four concerns common to all photographic practice: vision, light/shadow, reproductive processes, editing/ presentation/ evaluation.
I'm guilty of a serious case of Judging a Book by its Cover. The indecisiveness in picking up a single image for the cover put me off. Once you open the book, i can't say that the design gets much more appealing (although it is remarkably effective) but the content is literally mind-blowing. Bringing together rigorous theory, idiot proof 'how to' tutorials, artistic works that illustrate each concept and method might sound a bit too much for a sole book written by only two authors but somehow, it works. Theory, techniques and illustrative works complement each other efficiently.
The texts are extremely rigorous and well-researched but the authors never take readers' knowledge of any concept nor reference for granted. Nothing is too pedestrian: the tutorials are extremely detailed and info boxes regularly pop up on the side to explain in few words what is a magic lantern, a chiaroscuro or an installation. Who is Lacan, why Bauhaus matters.
Reframing Photography is probably not a book you'd want to read from cover to cover in one afternoon (it's 500 dense pages, my friend!) I headed to chapters presenting the work of the artists, looking for new names as much as new perspectives on artists i already knew. In the coming weeks i'll probably be back inside the book for the step-by-step on how to construct a pinhole camera and use it. I'm also quite tempted by the one detailing how to hand-colour black and white images.
Another quality of the book is that it doesn't abstract photography from its social context, discussing issues such as censorship in military operation, the place of photography in social networks like facebook, or comparing notions of originality and reproduction in photography to the same notions in genetics, etc. I learnt a lot from the paragraphs dedicated to the right to photograph, the authors not only explain that private parties have no right to confiscate your film if they don't have a court order, they also explain how to handle confrontation.
Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice is accompanied by a website of the same name. The online resource is so action-packed i sometimes wondered if the publishers were not shooting themselves in the foot.
Here's a few works i discovered in the book:
With Objective Distortions, Garth Amundson questions photography by manipulating the image with lenses made from recycled water bottles.
Rebecca Cummins converts trucks, buses and mobile homes into moving camera obscuras.
Somewhere in France, long before Cindy Sherman:
Shizuka Yokomizo sent an anonymous letter to people living in ground-floor apartments asking them if they could stand in their front window at a specified date and time, for them to be photographed. Anyone unwilling to participate, they are suggested to draw their curtains. Because the seance takes place at night, Yokomizo's subjects can only see the photographer as a dark silhouette.
Just because i love Edward S. Curtis' photos:
German expressionists were pioneers in the art of playing with shadows:
I love that movie btw, and it's now in the public domain in the US.