For some reason, London's festival of photography is probably not getting all the attention it deserves. Hence this first hasty story to try and convince you to flock in droves to some of its exhibitions before they close. If i had to recommend just one venue it would be the Fitzrovia Community Centre. All the artists exhibited in the show are new to me and most of their work is of the 'documentary and heavy in urgent-social-issues' genre, just my kind of photo show!
The community center hosts 2 exhibitions. One presents the winners and finalists of the London Festival of Photography Prize. Their photo-essays or multimedia photo-films reflect the festival's theme: Inside Out: Reflections on the Public and the Private. The second show, Behind Closed Doors, is about the maids and slaves hired or brutalized to bring order in ordinary households.
My post mix and matches both exhibitions. Just because i can and also because i actually didn't perceive a separation between both shows during my visit.
Quick march through:
Hector Mediavilla talked to the Elevator Operators of a residential complex in Mexico City. The eleven buildings contain a total 1,100 apartments and were designed in 1947 following the principles of Le Corbousier: "In order to fully develop in a place, the human being needs access to three basic sources of well-being: light, space and green areas". Contradicting these principles, an elevator operator 'lives' a third of their day inside a metal box - just 2 metres square - which, in addition, they have to share with the lift users.
Kim Badawi's photo film follows the The Gaza Stripper. Her name is Ari Lauren Souad Said. Born of an Israeli mother and a Palestinian father, she spent much of her childhood torn between two conflicting faiths and cultures in Israel. In her teens she was sent to live with her grandparents in Texas where she lives today with her four year old daughter, Avigail-Jerusalem Said.
Mom by day, and topless dancer by night, the "Gaza Stripper " as she is known, is her stage name. Once a practicing Jew she now identifies more closely with Islam. Her tattoos act as a witness and corporal stigmata of her clash of identities.
Dionysis Kouris visited the undocumented migrants living in the rumbles of Columbia in Athens. Columbia, established in 1930, was the first record company to operate in Greece. It was also the preeminent record company of the country until it closed down in 1991.
Most of the migrants are Algerians. Nearly all of them want to leave for any of "the big and rich European countries, because in Greece there is not enough work".
Bruno Quinquet has spent the past few years tracking down male Japanese office workers in the streets, in public transport, in bars and other public spaces. The men are framed and portrayed. Yet, they are never recognizable.
Raphaël Dallaporta's photos of houses and apartment blocks in and around Paris are as dry and unassuming as possible. Each image is accompanied by a text written by Ondine Millot. The short stories tell the horrific stories of non-documented immigrants and naive young women whose visa is confiscated by people eager to get domestic help at the lowest possible cost. The young women are beaten, humiliated, underfed. What makes the stories of the Domestic Slavery series all the more heartbreaking is that they took place here and now, that the perpetrators of the crime might not only be our neighbors but that most of them get away with it after having been ordered by the court to pay a pitiful fine.
For the past twenty years, Ingar Aasen has lived on a communal area called Øra, Norway, in between a sanctuary for migrant birds, large industries and a garbage-recycling factory. Ingar's belief in freedom has excluded him from participating in society in any ordinary way. He lives off-the-grid, on communal property, in old Russian army trucks. (...) Three years ago, Ingar invited some selected Rome Gypsy families to get off the streets in Fredrikstad and come to live with him in his camp. They had migrated to Norway to beg and collect usable garbage to bring back to their families in Romania. Unfortunately, various incidences attracted negative attention from the media, and the governing conservative party has demanded that Ingar depart the area. The Roma Gypsies now live back on the streets, while Ingar is mobilizing his camp, building a caravan with all his trucks, which is slowly transforming to a massive art installation, manifesting his internal frustration and desire for freedom.
The London Festival of Photography takes place in various venues all over the city (but mostly around King's Cross St Pancras) throughout the month. The exhibitions Behind Closed Doors and Inside Out: Reflections on the Public and the Private remain open until 30 June 2012 at the Fitzrovia Community Centre.
Collect Contemporary Photography by Jocelyn Phillips and Malcolm Cossons.
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: The individual photograph exists as both image and physical object, and often the same image may be printed in different versions or media, which makes collecting decisions more complex.
From discovering photographers to determining editions and displaying prints, Collect Contemporary Photography accompanies collectors through the whole process of acquiring photographic works, while providing guidance on practical matters including information about different photographic techniques.
• Price guide to cover all collecting budgets
Forty photographers to consider when collecting are profiled in detail, with information about their background and training, and sources of inspiration.
Last year, a photo by Andreas Gursky, Rhein II (1999) sold for £2.7 million at Christie's, breaking the record for most expensive photograph. Such prices are still rather rare and the reason why collectors are starting to pay attention to photography (apart from the inherent quality of the medium) is that photos are still regarded as affordable. The price of a print from a young photographer is around 200 pounds.
I don't have the budget to collect photos, not even from emerging talents -not until i stop stop collecting Swedish Hasbeens- but that doesn't prevent me from being tempted once in a while.
Collect Contemporary Photography outlines in a few pages the basics of photography: its history, the techniques used by the photographers, the format, the ideal storage conditions, the importance that framing can have, etc. Although the book is not the ultimate weapon that will make you an expert in negotiating the price of a photo you covet, it does a good job at telling readers what to look for and at explaining why a photo can fetch a relatively higher price than another by the same artist.
The biggest section of the book traces the careers and illustrates the work of 40 photographers worth collecting. Some are fashion photographers, other documentary photographers, some are decidedly fine art photographers. The game for me was then to think about whom i'd want to collect. Martin Parr obviously and he's among the magical 40 but the other photographers whose work i'd want to buy were not represented in the book: Pieter Hugo (i'd become the biggest collector of Hugo's work if i could), Guy Tillim, George Osodi or Don McCullin. I was also very impressed by the Thomas Ruff's Nude series i saw at Gagosian a few weeks ago. Besides, i can't see how any self-respecting collector could do without a few pieces by a German photographer.
The fact that readers might not agree 100% with the choice of photographers selected in the book illustrates what is probably the most sensible piece of advice dispensed by the authors: take your time, visit as much photo exhibitions as you can and develop your own taste.
Here are some of the 40 photographers appearing in Collect Contemporary Photography:
Last week, i visited the Sony World Photography Awards 2012 at Somerset House. I object to paying £7.50 to see and exhibition which title starts with the name of a brand. I feel cheated when the show closes with a shop selling goods manufactured by the above-mentioned brand and i don't look kindly to being forbidden to take pictures (which i do mostly because it helps me document an exhibition i plan writing about) because that would mean that i won't shell out more ££ to buy the booklet of the exhibition. That said, the photos selected and exhibited are so remarkable that i still feel like recommending that you go and see the World Photography Awards if you're in London.
Here's some of my favourite images.
Cristina de Middel's The Afronauts won 2nd prize in the Conceptual category. The series pay homage to Zambian school teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso, who started an unofficial space program in his home country in 1964. His ambition was not only to beat the Americans and Russians to the moon but also to send a rocket with twelve astronauts and ten cats to Mars. Fundings for the Zambian space programme never materialized.
Next on my list is the 3rd prize in the Sport category because you don't often see politics and social issues covered in a winning Sport photo series:
Andrew McConnell reports on Gaza Surf Club. Under Israeli blockade, the Gaza Strip is regularly referred as 'the largest open-air prison on earth'. With no recreational space to speak of, the Mediterranean, alluring in spite of the sewage, is an immense source of release for the local population. Surf is still a fledging sport, numbers being kept low by a dearth of equipment.
I was quite taken by the Winner of the Nature and Wildlife category:
And now in no particular order:
Alejandro Cartagena's Car Poolers won the 3rd prize in the People category for the images he took between 7 and 9:30 AM on one of the busiest highways in Monterrey, Mexico. They offer an intimate view on how car-pooling is practiced by workers in Mexico but also reflect the excessive growth in Mexico where suburbs are being built far from the urban centers, leading to greater commutes and consumption of fossil fuels.
Donald Weber was one of the first photographer allowed to enter the exclusion zone that surrounds the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. He's the winner of the Current Affairs category. "Odaka lies on the north-eastern coast of Japan. It was once home to 13,000 people, but today it is almost a ghost town. When the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March (2011) triggered blasts at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a 20km radius exclusion zone was imposed by the Japanese government."
Weber's shots find a sad echo in the 3rd prize of the Still Life category. Rena Effendi met some of the people who, 25 years since the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, still inhabit the restricted area around Reactor 4, named the Zone of Alienation. They are mostly elderly women who chose, just days after the accident, to return home. They live alone, harvesting contaminated food and berries known to absorb radiation, having outlived their husbands and children.
Alessandro Grassani (3rd prize in contemporary issues) spent part of a Winter in Mongolia, a country of 3.000.000 inhabitants, almost half of them living on top of each other in the capital, Ulaan Baator. With the Dzud, the hard Mongolian winter, becoming longer and snowier, thousands of nomad herdsmen, who saw their animals die of cold, were forced to move their Gher to migrate towards Ulaan Baator, in the slum which has developed around the city known as "Gher District".
3rd in the Nature and Wildlife category is Palani Mohan's work following the world's last remaining eagle hunters. For centuries, Kazakh nomads have roamed the steppe. When the modern borders were drawn, the Kazakhs found themselves cut off from their homeland, forced to settle on the arid, wind=scoured plains and foothills of the Altai mountains of western Mongolia.
I should stop going to these photo exhibitions, they've made me obsessed with Mongolia.
Nature and Wildlife was a very strong category. The 2nd prize went to:
I can't remember having ever been disappointed by any of the exhibitions on show at Fotomuseum in Antwerp. The current shows are particularly worth the trip to the city (one of my favourite places in the world and it's a mere 30 minute ride from ugly Brussels.) The main exhibition is dedicated to photographers who capture the past, another one is about young Belgian photographers, a third show explores subjectivity through history and on the top floor is a fascinating installation by Zoe Beloff. The work took as its point of departure America's longest running comic strip to explore the influence of cinema on the movement of the body and the mind. I might come back to these exhibitions in the coming days.
Beloff's exhibition contains a number of historical documents. Some of them show chronocyclegraphs of sportsmen and factory workers. I had never heard of the chronocyclegraph before.
The technique was developed by Frank Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian in the early 20th century to improve work methods. The couple employed time-lapse photography to reduce a complete work cycle to the shortest and most efficient sequence of gestures.
To look for this optimal "relationship of human effort to the volume of work that the effort accomplishes", they attached a camera to a timing device and photographed workers performing various tasks. The motion paths were traced by small lamps fastened to the worker's hands or fingers.
They called the essential elements of their subjects' movements therbligs.
The Gilbreths later built wire sculptures based on the trail of light created by the movement of the worker's hand.
The objective of the research was to minimize arm movement and hence speed and ease manual work. Gilbreth's findings were used in assembly lines but they also found their way into other contexts: Gilbreth was the first to propose that a nurse would assist the surgeon, by handing them surgical instruments as called for. He also devised the standard techniques used around the world to teach army recruits how to rapidly disassemble and reassemble their weapons even when blindfolded.
More images: Frank B. Gilbreth Motion Study Photographs (1913-1917) at Kheel Center Labor Photos.
Compulsion, an exhibition of new work by Alex Prager, i saw a few days ago at Michael Hoppen gallery is so impressive I'm breaking out of my habit of writing about exhibitions mere hours before they close.
In Prager's part film noir, part fashion shoot work, heroines wear impeccable make-up and synthetic wigs, pose as if they were in a Hitchcock movie, breathe through an atmosphere worthy of David Lynch, and are submitted to ordeals inspired by the images of crime photographers Weegee and Enrique Metinides. The stories might take place in Hollywood-like settings but they promise to never end on a happy note.
The Compulsion in the title might refer to our compulsion to gape at other people's tragedy. Underlining the voyeur theory are the dramatic close-ups of eyes that accompany some of the stills.
Along with the colour photographs, the artist is showing La Petite Mort, a short film starring French actress, Judith Godrèche.
La petite mort, literally "the small death," is a French idiom for orgasm. In Prager's film, we hear the voice of Gary Oldman saying that "the act of dying, and the act of transcendent love, are two experiences cut from the same cloth."
The main protagonist of the short film navigates the mystery of death through a series of experiences that involves being ran over by a steam train, being stared at by a gathering of stern-looking people, meeting a man and drowning in a river. The action unfolds very slowly but somehow all of the above takes place in a couple of minutes.
If you're in London, New York or (lucky you!) Los Angeles, go and see that show.
Alex Prager's Compulsion is showing at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, London until May 26. The work is also shown at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New york until May 19, and at M+B Gallery, LA until May 12.
The title of this post is a nudge to an old friend i met by chance while i was on my way to the BIP, the International Biennale of Photography and the Visual Arts in Liege. I hadn't seen him in ages and when i told him what my job was about, Didier looked at me in horror and said: "God! That must be soooo boring! Poor you!"
I'm sure he's never going to read these lines, bless him, but that won't stop me from carrying on with my miserable existence and turn my attention back to the BIP.
The precedent editions had the kind of politico-social theme i like so much. This year, the curators decided to take things lightly with a theme that revolves around love and a title like Only You Only Me. I'm not going to hold their choice against them. Given recent events and the number of beggars who stopped me in the streets, it's obvious that the city is in dire need of amusement and kindness.
To my surprise, i had a fantastic time visiting the main exhibition at the MAMAC, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. I'll probably come back to the whole exhibition with a long post. In the meantime, let's just have a look at two photographers that made my Sunday.
Jean-Claude Delalande creates settings and scenarios that he inhabits with his partner, his son Valentin and his ever-deadpan expression.
In this bitter family album, the protagonists never look at each other, they perform the most mundane tasks, go on holiday with the same torpor that'd have on a supermarket trip, they iron, have showers, answer the phone and lead a joyless family life.
"We'll never be apart!" says the grandma to her little cat. Both of them live in a tiny world, with dignity, with mutual love. Still today, under the blue sky, Missao and Fukumaro work in the fields and in these natural surroundings, where they shine like the stars.
What is it with Japanese cats, eh?
Only You Only Me, the Liege International Biennale of Photography and the Visual Arts, remains open through May 6, 2012.