Friday, May 28, 2010

"Pandora's Box" exhibition with talk by Susan Meiselas

I has asked the gallery where I might park in the vicinity but they were unable to tell me. Though there was a space nearby, it did not become available for another half hour; it seemed worth risking parking there though since this was the evening?
Inside the Wapping Project Gallery, photographs lit individually by overhead lights glowed as a room full of people enjoyed a free glass of wine and some cheese. Susan Meiselas herself could be seen wandering around the room photographing with a digital camera, apparently unnoticed by the guests.
The photographs were all from a sado-masochistic club in New York called Pandora's Box and although they were taken 15 years ago in 1995, it is only now that they are being exhibited since their subject matter is provocative. There is for instance, a photograph of a man's bleeding buttocks with a whip wielding female in the background, photographs of spiderwoman-like females who play dominatrix roles, dominating females relaxing on thrones, clients wearing spiked black masked hats, a woman being whipped by another woman and so on.
Billed as a lecture, it was in fact a talk partly inspired by the photographic art critic Charlotte Cotton who asked a few questions of Susan Meiselas; she was able to throw light on how such a project came into being. It would not have come into being if she had not been with Nick Broomfield, a TV director, who was filming and hence able to allow her access. He had researched a lot of places before he found this particular club, one that he considered suitable and was willing to grant him access.
Once in the club, Meiselas worked on her own and these photographs made using 800 ISO film with no artificial lighting, were made with the agreement of those present though most clients and workers did not want to be photographed. There was an air of theatricality to the shoot but these were not staged shots. She worked on just one occasion for 12 hours from early afternoon till after midnight, an intense experience; it took sometime for the session to begin for this only happened when she felt at home in the place, an occupier rather than a visitor. She needed to gain some insight into something that she could not imagine anyone wanting. Her photographs are discomforting yet this was something she needed to work through.
Someone in the audience objected to having come a long way to see an exhibition by a world class photographer that was really just a pornographic show. Meiselas replied that this was consistent with all her work, that of confronting the violence people do to each other; there is no predictable way that a Magnum photographer works. Her book of Carnival Strippers, made many years before in the days of black and white, deals with a similar theme but while one might feel empathy there with the strippers she photographs, Pandora's Box is a different more alien place; it is not a natural need being pictured here rather a perverse one.
Someone asked me why I would want to travel to see an exhibition of such photographs. In a way, I did not come for the photographs rather to see the work of an established photographer whose work `i was familiar with. This was not an exhibition of work that one went to enjoy for the subject matter rather it was something inviting a response at a kind of horror willingly played out by people, a kind of comment on the sexual perversion that has emerged with the scandal concerning the Catholic church.
It proved to be an expensive evening though as I when I got back to my car there was a parking ticket attached. I might have objected on reasonable grounds (where does someone from out of town park in the vicinity?) but decided to pay. Meeting with a world class photographer does not happen very often and one felt privileged to see work that made the banal into something meaningful albeit disturbing.

URL for the event

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

comments by Baudelaire

Baudelaire was one of the first people to comment on photography and he tended not to be very supportive of the new medium that was emerging at the time. However, the following passage, quoted in Colin Scott's book on Street Photography, describes a dichotomy that I experience as a photographer. In some ways, it is the difference between photography as science and as art yet Baudelaire describes it here in a less theoretical and more direct way for the photographer. Baudelaire is describing artistic memory ...

" .. a srtruggle between the determination to see everything, to forget nothing, and the faculty of memory, which has acquired the habit of registering in a flash the general tones and shape, the outline pattern. An artist with a perfect sense of form but particularly accustomed to the exercise of his memory and his imagination, then finds himself assailed, as it were, by a riot of details, all of them demanding justice, with the fury of a mob in love with absolute equality."

The photograph is very good at capturing detail and yet if one focuses largely on this aspect, the overall effect of the photograph which is likely to be what most people look at, might be compromised.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

1. Exposed @ Tate Modern : BBC Radio 4 with Andrew Marr

This programme was broadcasted on Monday 24'th May 2010.

Hosted by Andrew Marr, one of the guests was the exhibition curator Simon Baker.

The new exhibition is called Exposed and is about voyeurism, surveillance and the camera.

Wide range of images dealing with many subjects such as dictatorship.

Circumstances in which photographs were made can be important to understanding the nature of a particular photograph. (I can't help thinking of Doisneau's photograph of the "Kiss" in which models are known to have been used; no doubt they were in The Fox Terrier also!).

Was the photograph staged or taken without the knowledge of the persons involved!?

e.g. Walker Evans on subway in New York using a hidden camera to get pictures of people unguarded.
Phillip Lorca De Coursa photographing people on the street with a constructed hide.

Use of technology and ingenuity by photographers has always played an important part in photography.

If you can catch the unguarded moment then a truth may be revealed that might not otherwise be seen.

Use of lateral viewfinders ... take picture at 90 degrees to photographer ... people tend to be curious about them!!

Getting a picture of Paris without it's hair brushed !! Unveiling the world as one catches it unaware.

Image of Gordon Brown with his head in his hands when he heard about his private impolite remarks concerning a voter were public knowledge. Gordon Brown knew his photograph was being taken at this point !!?! Hence not so genuine as might be suspected.

People in public eye play game with those who photograph them; they know they are likely to be photographed.

Shocking pictures are not the ones of sex as this kind of image is accepted nowadays rather it is photographs of lynchings and killings that have the power to disturb.

Should one look at such images? Hang them in a public exhibition?!

What is art and what is documentary?!

Some of these photos are boastful momentos .. such as the recent Abu Graib images. It is not so much the content of these images that disturbs rather the manner in which they were taken.

We know live in a surveillance society where people are being photographed all the time .. not just surveillance cameras but also people continually recording the world around us as never before e.g mobile phone cameras

Are we then entering a new age of photography? Universal voyeurism and exhibitionism.

Technology moved forward very fast e.g. Google earth view from satellite and street.

Project that documented defence places in the landscape of Northern Ireland as they were being scaled back. Modern castles. First time they could be considered historically.

Difference between old fashioned voyeurism and the surveillance state that pry into people's private lives e.g bedrooms!? Voyeurism is about what you are not supposed to look at while the surveillance is something that is supposed to look for the safety of the state.

When is being photographed something benign and when is it intrusive?

More surveillance laws hre in the UK than what was East Germany; they have better privacy laws. English have not yet understood how important that freedom is.

Is surveillance a big issue in the US? Not really.

New forms of surveillance ... e.g. AOL releasing information to public from which people could be traced. Lot of personal information revealed.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"For Queen and Country" an interesting use of the photographic portrait snapshot

"Why not King and Country?" asked an elderly man who did not look too happy with the world. The obvious answer is that the dead people pictured on postage stamps were fighting for a Queen, H.M.Elizabeth 2'nd, rather than a King though many might not feel this to be so for this was a war launched by politicians.

On their website, the National Portrait Gallery say ... "Created by official war artist and Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen, Queen and Country takes the form of a large cabinet containing a series of facsimile postage sheets bearing portrait heads of soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict in Iraq between 2003 and 2009.  The presentation of the work at the Gallery is the culmination of a national tour of the work, which has been supported by The Art Fund."

I found myself as part of a group of people attending a free gallery talk about the exhibit. We sat on stools to the side of the gallery at the centre of which was a large cabinet containing drawers, about 80 or so, and on each side of these pull-out draws, was a large group of stamps, each one containing an image of a soldier who had died in the conflict. There are women as well as men included.

Discussion centred around the artist's wish to have these stamps circulated as actual stamps which is the artist's intention who feels he owes it to the relatives of the dead. Those gathered disagreed. I questioned the fact that it would mean putting a price on the stamp to one side if not over the face yet it would seem a further travesty to pull to bits the work of art that stood bleakly in front of us which is due to be permanently exhibited at the Imperial War Museum.