Monday, April 18, 2011


OCA tutor, Jose Navarro, meets OCA students
OCA visit to the London Street Photography Exhibition and the Deutshe Borse Prize 2011 exhibition (Friday April 15'th)

After a train journey that arrived ¾ of an hour late and cost a sum I do not wish to think about, I find my way to the Museum of London to meet Jose and other OCA students; by the time I arrive they are already in the exhibition and I find Jose watching Behind The Lens, a video about contemporary street photography.

This is a very informative video and features four photographers who expand on what this particular medium means to them.

The exhibition itself is in one large room and laid out chronologically with various sections. The first is  the early days when photography was largely restricted to imaging the static (1860 – 1889) as emulsions were not able to capture movement, making cameras dependent on slow shutter speeds; even in portraiture, this could present problems.

A particularly interesting feature of the exhibition is small screens implanted in the walls showing videos, the earliest of which revealed film footage from the late nineteenth century. It was fascinating to see what a street scene looked like in London at this time with horse drawn carts being the major form of transport on the busy roads across which pedestrians had to make their way perilously by dodging traffic. It hinted at times no less frenetic than our own; in fact, crossing a street in London these days must be much safer and more relaxed.

Even in the bygone days when black and white was the only medium, one was struck by the amount of detail that could be recorded. This is often greater than in colour photography which has less latitude in terms of tone owing to the larger dynamic range possible with black and white film when exposed and developed appropriately.

A photo of a woman walking in Hyde Park (1895) reminded me of an image by Lartigue. This image may have been selected because of this correspondence.

1930-1945 was a section that covered the war years but there was no real record of that conflict here. Instead, the images were of the spirited life to be found on the streets at that time while the accompanying video showed cheeky children who seemed intent on getting into the films that were being made by ogling at the camera; this appeared to be incidental to the making of the films that seemed to be concerned with simply documenting the streets of that time.

On the final wall of the exhibition, a quote in large lettering informed one that “Street Photography is photography in it’s simplest form.”

I met Jose and another student examining a large colour panoramic image. Would it look different in black and white? If the photographer had been working in black and white then might he not have made a different kind of image? In fact, the colour in the photo is largely monotone with a touch of blue and a great deal of red; the red dominates the image and helps to add a certain excitement to the street scene in which people pass by in a crowded rush.

My reactions to the exhibition centre around the surprisingly revealing video as well as the way in which the photographs record different stages in the development of photography with earlier images harking back to a time when photography was more innocent, a novelty for many, to a time when many seem to be suspicious of it and we live in an age of visual saturation in which are lives are greatly influenced by imagery.

I cannot help but wonder whether this change in the nature of photography also reflects a more general change in the way we now see the world.

Jose mentions that there is a lot of humour in the exhibition; I realize this is something that I have missed. In fact, I need to visit again because so much of my time was spent watching the video rather than looking at the photographs on display.

Jon Gay was a photographer from the early to middle part of the last century who used large cameras to make his street photographs; the contemporary photographer, Simon Roberts, works in a similar way as his Election Project shows. Both photographers although about half a century apart used large cameras on vehicles as a way to capture street scenes, the higher elevation allowing more of the street to be photographed.

With the arrival of the Leica camera and faster emulsions, photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson paved the way for a new kind of photography in which the ephemeral could be captured sometimes in an artistic way. The gestalt of photography changed.

Alex Webb is a notable street photographer who uses colour.

Jose orders lunch !

Jose invites us all to lunch! IT IS A FREE LUNCH ! A general round of appreciation for Gareth of the OCA for arranging this.

A few of the students exchange their experiences of being challenged while photographing in public places particularly train stations. Unknown to us (at least certainly to me) one student present actually works as a train driver!! Our experiences seem to be similar, being told we are not allowed to photograph when in fact, there are no rules in place to prohibit us merely the angst of those working in the stations. Network Rail for instance not only allows photography in their stations, they even welcome it, at least that is what someone told me when I asked for permission.

With a preponderance of black and white images in the exhibition, the topic of making black and white images came up for discussion. One used to be able to purchase (possibly one still can) small monocles that when looked through rendered the scene in black and white; nowadays, one can use the live screen on the back of a camera to compose in black and white. There is also a method to take a photograph as a black and white JPEG while simultaneously recording a RAW which would retain the colour information.

Do black and white filters, such as an orange for darkening the sky, have any use today? Possibly if they help to retain certain values that might not be otherwise retained (for instance yellow to retain some cloud details) but since the recording sensors are all colour, one wonders if such filters would have any effect at all in the recording of detail. The Black and White adjustment layer in Photoshop can be applied in post-processing to achieve the effects that black and white filters make possible.

Black and White has a nostalgic appeal.

Filters for colour photography are still used; notably, gradient and polarizing filters.

entrance to the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2011
After lunch, we took the tube to Baker Street and Ambika P3, a temporary gallery that is home to the Photographers Gallery while their main building is being renovated. Here, we saw the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2011, a shortlist of four photographers whose work is considered for making the best contribution to photography in the last year. While the London Street Photography exhibition was as much about the history of London as photography, the emphasis here was very much on some of the best work in photography at the current time.

The exhibition is housed in a large warehouse rather than a smart city centre building and one is at first struck by Thomas Demand’s giant sized photograph of an organ (musical not fleshy!?) which he apparently destroyed after photographing. The point is that this makes the print unique as it is the only record of that particular image. I like this because most large printed photographs are not of such fine quality yet it seems to be printed on some kind of art paper that gives a rather flat quality to the work. Clive W mentions that it plays on a rather obvious photographic quality; I find that it would be better if it made the metal of the organ look like metal rather than some other less reflective material. A shinier kind of printing paper might not work though since it would be too reflective of its’ surroundings.

Most of us seem to be impressed by Jim Goldberg’s presentation since it does give such a powerful message to his documentary work. There is a bank of four, foot level video-screens that show a variety of subjects such as school children playing and singing while an elderly man stares intently at the lens for awhile. Another encouraging aspect to his work, is the way he is obviously making contact with his subjects who are co-operating with him, evident in the images of men who bare the wounds they have suffered after being tortured. As a Magnum photographer, Goldberg might be an obvious choice for the winner and yet his established authority in photography might work against his brilliant work.

Our group meet up in front of a wall on which there is a mosaic of photographs by Goldberg and we exchange views on the subject. What, if anything, lies behind the way they have been positioned on the wall? Has the positioning been motivated by size since the two largest images have been hung to the sides while the next to largest have been hung in between these in a fairly orderly manner with the smallest ones being fitted around these. Perhaps the positioning is a result of content with coherent links and yet this is not obvious. Perhaps the largely chaotic array is there to mirror the themes represented of modernity, rooted-ness and loneliness to name a few.

Clive is quite dismissive of Goldberg seeing him as an American cultural imperialist, taking advantage of the poor to present a pleasant form of entertainment. He comments ...

"Why print the Polaroid negs with their borders, or have the large image as a patchwork of sheets, or the kaleidoscopic hang, or the crumpled enprint balanced on a frame; that struck me as particularly arch.
It seemed to me that these were elements of playful entertainment which struck a discord with the serious subject matter; as if to make it more palatable for the audience.
It’s a personal opinion, I’m not being didactic. It’s up to everyone to make their own reading. Those were my reservations."

Jose and Virginia with others enjoy a final cup of tea at the Deutsche Borse exhibition
I wonder if these images are really about poverty. Facing Demand’s large print is another large print by Goldberg though this one is done on poor quality paper of which 36 pieces are used to make up the one image of a man standing with a dead goat in the middle of a huge rubbish tip. We are told the goat is rancid though I wonder whether the photographer knew that or is just assuming it to be so. Has the man just picked up the goat from the rubbish or is he carrying it? I am beginning to see Clive’s point of view.

The two other photographers, Roe Etheridge and Elad Lassry, are in an adjoining room and are both more art orientated; I would like to have spent more time here but do not. Neither do I get to see the video that is showing about the exhibition.

I am struck by some of Roe Etheridge’s photos of women that have a classic film star look to them although they are apparently ordinary people even if they do happen to be models. Lassry’s photo-shopped four eyed male is subtly done.

One student is provoked by a couple of fuzzy green tomatoes.

Jose comments on the way a magazine page has been used instead of a print.

Eventually it is time to make my way to the station and say goodbye. The end of another enjoyable OCA student day in which I have had the chance to interact with other students and learn something about the nature of photography through discussion with a couple of OCA tutors. 

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your comments here Amano. a shame we didn't get the chance to talk more on the day.