Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hoppe and Kar @ The National Portrait Gallery : four for a little over the price of one

I decided to visit the National Portrait Gallery to attend a guided tour of the Ida Kar exhibition. On arrival, I found that I could buy a ticket that included not only the Kar exhibition but also one by Hoppe. there were also a couple of free exhibitions; one a group of portraits by different photographers of Mick Jagger and another group of portraits by the highly accomplished, John Swannell.

So I started with a visit to the Edward Hoppe exhibition. He was a photographer of whom I had never heard yet one was quickly impressed by his Germanic precision that helped to make his subjects stand out and the variety of genres he covers. His images seemed to be a lesson in the best way to make photographs although of course, if there is a best way, it is always going to be dependent on the situation. Nevertheless, Hoppe's work is well executed and I like to see images that have been well crafted.

The National Portrait Gallery regularly stages photographic exhibitions of high quality. This is one they have not actually curated though since it has come over from America.

The prints are in black and white and although a few are vintage, many are more recent.

There is certainly wit here ... a shop that sells skeletons, making waxworks at madame Tussauds, a tatooist at work on a woman's back etc A curious way of looking at the body!

Some images have historical anecdotes with images of post-war London, street musicians of 1945 of whom one is legless yet upright, a reference to the war and its' heroism ...

There are also images from London before the Second World War as well as other places such as St.Margaret Hall in Oxford, the posh girl's school known as Rodean as well as a borstal in Aylesbury. The play between people and place is clearly evident.

Hoppe was also able to photograph eminent people such as George Bernard Shaw, King George V1'th, Einstein, Ezra Pound, Kipling, Henry James, Thomas Hardy ... such images are remarkable if only because of their subject matter.

Some of Hoppe's reflections are recorded. For instance, Thomas Hardy was someone who did not like to be photographed; he talked with great courtesy and charm making it almost impossible for Hoppe to photograph him who gave up hope of getting an image until Hardy suddenly said with a shy smile, "Would you like to take my photograph now!?" Hoppe made his images and came away with one of the best sets of photographs he ever made. This was in 1914.
Hoppe wrote of Thomas Hardy that, "His aged face had become a map of his Wessex and everything he found there is written in his countenance - climate, atmosphere, unflinching realism, his humaneness."

Some portraits stand out like one of Margot Fonteyn from 1935 while of particular interest to me was a photo-story about Santiniketan during which he photographed Rabindranath Tagore himself.


We were given a guided tour to this exhibition by a museum curator and the following is a mixture of her comments as well as my own observations.

She came from Armenia and had contact with the early Surrealists while studying in Paris during the late 1920's. She developed an interest in photography though trained as a singer until her voice started to fail. She met the poet and artist, Victor Musgrove, also an RAF officer, and moved to London with him. He gave her access to important people such as Bertrand Russell and Somerset Maugham.

Her black and white images often contain a wealth of detail; she used natural light with a twin lens Rolliflex as her camera.

Kar liked to make large images and staged a major exhibition at The Whitechapel Gallery during the 1960's.

Among those she photographed were Man Ray (surrealist and photographer) as well as Le Corbusier, the architect and designer.

Many of her subjects became friends if they were not already.

The well known photo-historian, Gernsheim, wrote of her work saying that she "depicts sitter in their own surroundings".

She photographed a lot of artists, one of whom was Augustus John. His aged face stares out with an almost startled expression. If this images resonates with me more than others, it is surely because my mother met him on more than one occasion and remembered him as being a rather lustful gentleman; my godmother married Daventry, one of his contemporaries, though the marriage did not survive the war.

She also photographed the ST.Ives group of artists which included barbara Hepworth.

Kar also photographed photographers such as Billy Brandt in 1968.

The Tatler wrote of her on 21 march 1962 that "Ida Kar is that rare thing - the artist photographer."

The artist Graham Sutherland wrote to her that "You certainly know how to get the best out of people ... ! "

The author Colim Mac Innes wrote that "an Ida Kar portrait is at once identifiable by its purity and distinction!"

Her interest i photographic portraiture was based around expression .

"Anyone who was familiar with Ida's work saw that she was not just a photographer,but an artist ... " Terry Taylor (one of her assistants who was also a writer, photographer and artist).

Although I looked around the other 2 smaller one room exhibitions I did not make notes. The Mick Jagger exhibition contained images by a number of photographers and although an interesting collection, seemed to be more about Mick Jagger than photography. The John Swannell series of prints was not only an interesting selection of people (some were models) but also examples of extremely well made photographs

Monday, May 23, 2011

work of another student re People and Place

Attention from the course author, Michael Freeman, and OCA CEO Gareth Dent, has been drawn to a student on the course who has been doing the People and Place module. Dewald Botha is a South African living in China.

His website for People and Place is ...


Its' helpful to see what another student has come up with particularly when he got an A!

The following link is for the interview ...


Paul Seawright - a photographer of place

One photographer worth looking at when one considers place is surely Paul Seawright.

I first became aware of his work when he showed images of places connected with the sectarian murders of Northern Ireland.

The photographs were mysterious by nature while the fact that they were connected to an event gave them a certain impetus.

The next two photographs are from http://uknps.org.uk/2011-nps-details-and-programme-0

Paul Seawright is a leading photographer and artist from Belfast, where his early work was made; he has subsequently worked in Afghanistan and urban Africa. He was the first editor of Source magazine and is Professor of Photography at the University of Ulster. 

"Photography brings him to places where he can find himself, paradoxically by losing himself. Seawright is good at making himself invisible. Other photographers who travel to places of conflict and poverty often leave the viewer pondering the inescapable question of how they felt as they pressed the shutter. Throughout his career, Seawright has worked towards negating his presence. Often he achieves this so completely that viewers feel they are the only ones witnessing the scene. It's an expert illusion." - Christin Leach, Sunday Times

One can see more of Seawright's work through his website ...


If I did do a series of images about Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders, a quote from the book would be a powerful caption that would enhance any interest in the photograph.

I wonder about this approach to photography in which the caption is such an important part of the image; taken alone, these images may be meaningless. Yet the words make the images relevant and give them a wider meaning as well as narrative.

Have downloaded a PDF which discusses his work.

Seawright includes the following quote ...

Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely
free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting
because it is not only about soldiers and canons but also about ideas, about
forms, about images and imaginings.
Edward Said

Here is text from that document written by Christoph Ruys ...

In exploring aspects of his own identity as someone with a Protestant background
in Ireland and the defence mechanisms and defensive celebrations of that community
which articulate a need for authority and control, Seawright has drawn
on a reservoir of meaning that is actually universal. He has taken the exploration
beyond the theatricality of the cultural /political rituals involved in parades and
marches, manifestations of law and order to sectarian murder in the specific context
of Northern Ireland and connects to a wider reality. It is on this level that his work
is universally legible.

comments on Seawright from Justin Carville

His landscapes are not traditional, do not pander to exoticised imagery typical of that to which we have become accustomed.

Turning the familiar into the unfamiliar !?

Lack of evidence

requires the viewer to rethink their experience of the photographic image

obscure representation of landscape

absence from the frame of what the photograph is meant to be about

"The Sectarian Murder series is important in the context of Seawight’s
later work because although people are often absent from his photographs, or
their bodies have been truncated by the pictorial space of the image, his work draws
in the human dimension of claims to dominance over geographical territory."

Some of his photographs are easier to understand than others. One I like is called Between V11, Wales, 2003 and shows only black and red colouration yet the outline of a mountainside is visible while a red streak on a black mountainside indicates the backlights of a car.

On the whole though, Seawright's photography is conceptual like a lot of art photography and I find it hard to understand.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Assignment 5 ? a couple of suggestions!

Shopkeepers of Wellington

A series of photographs showing shopkeepers standing outside their shops.

To include ...

The Wine and Cheese Shop (Delicatessen)
Sunseed (health food shop)
Carly Press

(these are all shops whose owners I know!)

and also ..

award winning fish mongers

green grocers


Reflections on the Woodlanders

A series of places about the location about which Thomas Hardy wrote in his novel, The Woodlanders".

Photographs to include ...

A Turnpike

The old road

The green of the Woodland way

The house where Fitzpiers lodged when he came to Little Hintock

The hill that looked like a whale

Sheriton (Sherborne) ... main street and the Abbey.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

a few quotes

Sometimes I find it necessary to write down what other photographers have said or written; not because I necessarily agree with them but because it can help to reflect on what others have said.

Walker Evans ...
"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long."

about not being negative when photographing others on the street

Here is a link to a video in which a photographer talks about his experience of street photography and being able to photograph there ... without being negative!


He says that one needs to know one is not doing anything wrong or hurting anybody;

There is a discussion about this issue on Flickr at ...


Monday, May 2, 2011

Towards a Perfect Portrait

I had come along to a meeting about a new hospice. Being known to the organisers of this event, I tried to make a couple of grab shots during the meeting but was told "later!". When the meeting ended and I had no photograph, I was asked why I had not taken a photograph and that I should have discussed the matter with them previously. This misunderstanding was partly my responsibility yet someone I did not know was the main speaker and she was obviously in charge and is someone who cares about her image, making sure she is projected in the best light, as I suspected and later came to know. It is never easy to photograph such situations where one wants to record what is going on and avoid the obviously setup photograph.

The original JPEG, sent to me via email
So later on, I was asked to take a photograph which showed the main speakers at the event, posing for the camera; I was able to do this with relative ease though being told to take off the cap from my flash (it was in fact a Stofen diffuser filter) was a reminder that the subjects and speakers at the meeting wanted it their way! The photograph was made using a JPEG, something I rarely use preferring the RAW format, and the image went straight onto a memory card belonging to one of the speakers.

Later on, the image was mailed to me (see above) so that I could prepare it for the website; in the meantime, it was posted on the internet by someone else who manipulated it a little by cutting off the top and sharpening it slightly as well as downsizing it ...

image posted on the internet
I decided to work on it myself to make it a bit more palatable; it was at this point, that one of those pictured mentioned that she'd like the bags removed from under her eyes! I decided to oblige and worked to soften the faces of all the women in the photograph as well as improve the look of the founder, seen in a photograph in the background.

Almost the final cut - faces softened, Levels applied etc

I wonder if this final photo is any better? Certainly a little clearer. The woman with the red face (it is like that in real life) looks a little less red but more scarlet than a more natural beetroot while the other two women have lost their lines and their faces look more cosmetically appealing. Probably the image could be worked on more! here is another attempt which changes little but magenta has been reduced while minus clarity has softened the image overall.

This image was accepted by the webmaster yet probably only because I sent it to one of the women in the picture who wanted her bags removed and who requested for this image to be used.

In the meantime, I have bought a booklet on portrait retouching! Its' an incredibly complex craft and one wonders how much one really wants to do. Striving to make someone look perfect can make them look unreal.