Thursday, June 23, 2011

FINDING YOUR OWN VISION - 1 (the problem with assignment 5)

   After a long phone call with my tutor, Robert Enoch, about the direction of my photographic work, I found myself somewhat confused as to the best way to proceed. Although I am quite happy with my present photographic approach which centres around the photographing of birds, I also realise the need to broaden my horizon and adopt a more photographic vision if only as a way to inform my present practice.

   In regards to completing my assignment, the final one of People and Place, I have been considering a number of bodies of work. There are the Tibetan Sacred Dances that also includes portraiture, the Woodlanders that revolves around places associated with Thomas Hardy's novel of the same name, a project to photograph shopkeepers of my local town standing outside their shops as well as my work about the Taj Mahal which I was advised to drop for the time being as it was becoming a little burdensome.

It was while considering the Finding Your Own Vision workshop that I realised that although all the projects above would work, I really needed to do something with which I felt some definite rapport. Hence, my mind turned to an eco-park in India where I have been photographing recently.

This decision though has nothing to do with the workshop; this is being run by a couple of Magnum photographers, Alex and Rebecca Webb. Alex has just had a book of his work published, thirty years of photographs. However, what appealed to me was that Rebecca has explored "the complicated relationship between people and the natural world."

The following relates to Alex Webb's book and exhibition at the Magnum offices in London ...

American photographer Alex Webb; The Suffering of Light (Thames & Hudson, 2011).

The first comprehensive monograph charting Alex Webb’s acclaimed career,
Recognized as a pioneer of American colour photography since the 1970s, Webb has consistently created photographs characterized by colour, shape and light. His work, with its richly layered and complex composition, touches on multiple genres, including street photography, photojournalism, and fine art, but as Webb claims, “to me it all is photography. You have to go out and explore the world with a camera.” 
The exhibition at the Magnum Print Room encompasses twelve of Webb’s best known images. 
Webb says of his Haitian experience; “I realized there was another emotional note that had to be reckoned with: the intense, vibrant colour of these worlds. Searing light and intense colour seemed somehow embedded in the cultures”.
It is not just the intense colour of Webb’s work that is so instantly recognizable, but the density of his all-over compositions. Packed with information, each frame, creates a matrix of inter-relating gesture and form.

I wonder if the cost of the workshop is really worth it! However, it is good to hear accomplished photographers discussing not only the work of others but also one's own and perhaps I might get a clearer view of my own work. Probably better to talk to Raghu Rai though and that costs me nothing!
For some reason, I feel a lot of stress around this workshop. It may have something to do with a lack of clarity of what it is actually about with an "optional" street photography project that I am not really interested in.

In fact, my apprehension is justified in regards to the organisation of the event. being misinformed about the bus stop leads to me walking for about 15 minutes which would not have been a problem but since it was raining hard, I got soaked and felt slightly rheumatic for awhile.
Here are some links ...

The Tea Horse Road : an illustrated talk with Michael Freeman at Asia House

The Tea Horse Road
An illustrated talk by Michael Freeman
@ Asia House

I wanted to see Michael Freeman, the photographer whose books I have been reading for the OCA course of which he is the author, and also visit Asia House, a place where I might have a book launch one day and possibly an exhibition. Had discussed it with Shobit Arya of Wisdom Tree Publishing.

AMANO photo by The Noble Savage
Before doing so, I met up with a fellow OCA student for a drink beforehand in Starbucks. It turned out we both had Canon G compacts with us; his was a later model and it was interesting to see how Canon have made functions previously available only in the software now available in the hardware. For instance, the exposure compensation dial has replaced what was previously accomplished by pushing a button and then using the in built software.

Asia House, a stately building just off Harley Street, maintains a dynamic link with Asia via a cultural program yet also hosts business and political functions about the region that consists of fourty countries from the Persian Gulf to Japan. Asia House holds photographic exhibitions and a lot of its’ visitors are people who have traveled to Asia.

Michael Freeman, whose well spoken voice has a distinctive yet subtle Northern twang, has been photographing in Asia for thirty years and The Tea Horse Road is his 112’th book; almost entirely composed of photographs there are however several 1,000 words of text that appear at the beginning of the books different sections namely The Tea Road, The Stone Road, High Passes Deep Gorges, The Grasslands, The Burma Road and The High Plateau. MF is not the author and says nothing about who the writer is.

Michael Freeman answers questions at his presentation
Michael Freeman apologises to those who had seen his talk at The Royal Geographic Society on The Tea Road since this is the same talk; this suggests a highly structured approach to his subject.

This is very much an illustrated talk in which photographs are used to illustrate the subject matter, that of the old tea trade routes where the Chinese sent tea to Tibet in return for horses. The emphasis is on tea rather than horses and many images are shown showing people both preparing tea and drinking it; of those drinking it, an image of The Marchioness of Tavistock drinking it in her stately home is one of the more memorable although most of the images are from China with just a few from India.

The talk is accompanied by maps that show where the photographs were made as well as the geography of the old trade route. There are a few videos too, one showing MF absailing across a river on one of the older kinds of rope crossing that can also take pack horses.

Michael also uses photographs of paintings that relate to the talk.

The photographs that Michael Freeman shows have clearly been chosen and made to convey a certain subject matter notably tea, with definite topics being covered by a series of images (the preparation of tea). One understands that the photographs are there to communicate certain information rather than in their own right. The photographs are however very skillfully made with careful attention to detail. I can not but help see a disparity between Michael Freeman’s approach to photography and the way it is being taught by tutors at the OCA where there seems to be much more emphasis on it as art. Frankly, I am not as interested as seeing my work hanging in a gallery which seems to be the emphasis of the course (part of Level 3 is about staging one’s own exhibition) but would rather see it in books. Michael Freeman’s photos are not only pleasing to look at, they also convey the essence of their intended meaning.

MF sometimes presents 2 images on one slide when he is using vertically constructed images which can be seen in quite a lot of his portrait shots. One image appears to the left and when he is ready, another image appears alongside to the right. As with the rest of the talk, the images are tightly orchestrated with the words.

Although most of the photographs are in colour, there are a substantial number in black and white with the use of a few black and white photographs from the 1920’s. Some of these black and white images are also infra-red; apart from being aesthetically pleasing, these images are also good at conveying scientific information as they can show the degree of chlorophyll in a plant.

Some images are of anthropological interest since they record tribal peoples such as the Akar who are disappearing. Yet this project also records a trade route that is disappearing as modern bridges are built and old roads disappear under concrete.

Michael gives a few anecdotes such as mentioning a pot of tea he saw selling for £280 in one restaurant (he went for a slightly more modest £25 pot) and advises no one to try and enter any country saying they are a photojournalist. Photojournalism is the genre of photography that Michael seems to have perfected.

When asked about China and the difficulties of obtaining permission to visit areas, MF replies that the Chinese are very straightforward; he sensibly does not want to be drawn out on the Tibetan question! The majority of tourists visiting Tibet are Chinese and tourism is now an important part of the Tibetan economy.

I leave soon after the talk although I would have liked to have said hello to Michael Freeman who is busy autographing books. A short taxi ride to Paddington gets me to my train on time but since it’s departure is delayed by 25 minutes, I could have lingered a bit longer. Perhaps MF who has probably seen some of my work such as the photograph A Slice of Ham in Gareth’s office might have responded to a student like me and yet quite likely he would have been distanced as the evening itself seemed rather formal.

At the end of the evening, I felt I had attended a good talk about the tea trade which might well be of interest to many yet this had rather consumed the photography that was there to explain the subject rather than in it’s own right. Maybe this is the role photography has to play in society rather than as art form.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ALex Webb ; Thirty Years of Photographs at The Print Room Magnum

entrance to the magnum offices in Gee Street, London

Firstly, here is the blurb from Magnum about the exhibition ...

The Magnum Print Room is delighted to present a selection of key photographic works from the career of American photographer Alex Webb, in conjunction with his forthcoming book The Suffering of Light (Thames & Hudson, 2011).

The first comprehensive monograph charting Alex Webb’s acclaimed career, The Suffering of Light, is a beautifully printed catalogue of his most iconic colour photographs. Taken in the far corners of the earth, with Webb’s key works featuring alongside previously unpublished images, The Suffering of Light provides the most thorough examination to date of this modern master’s prolific, thirty-year career.
Recognized as a pioneer of American colour photography since the 1970s, Webb has consistently created photographs characterized by colour, shape and light. His work, with its richly layered and complex composition, touches on multiple genres, including street photography, photojournalism, and fine art, but as Webb claims, “to me it all is photography. You have to go out and explore the world with a camera.” Webb’s ability to distill gesture, colour and contrasting cultural tensions into single, beguiling frames results in evocative images that convey a sense of enigma, irony, and humour.
The exhibition at the Magnum Print Room encompasses twelve of Webb’s best known images. Spanning four decades, these editioned c-type prints are drawn from destinations as diverse as Cuba, Greece, Turkey and Haiti; the country which Webb credits as transforming both his humanity and photography. It was in Haiti that the vivid colour of the Caribbean first pervaded his photographs replacing the dull grey light of his early New England work, shot in black & white. Webb says of his Haitian experience; “I realized there was another emotional note that had to be reckoned with: the intense, vibrant colour of these worlds. Searing light and intense colour seemed somehow embedded in the cultures”. Works exemplifying this are Webb’s 1979 photograph of a bar in Grenada, the silhouetted figures backlight by the intense tricolor of red, yellow and green or his caged circus lion lit by an ethereal red light in Merida, Mexico (1983).
It is not just the intense colour of Webb’s work that is so instantly recognizable, but the density of his all-over compositions. Packed with information, each frame, creates a matrix of inter-relating gesture and form.
Images are available online at ...
It is significant that this exhibition is in the Print Room of Magnum rather than in a Gallery; this seems more in keeping with the nature of photography which is different to that of "art": "Vive La Difference!" assuming there still is one!?

The Print Room at Magnum London
copies of Alex's book are open at certain pages; one of the 12 prints can be seen at the end of the room


“The Suffering of Light” is a book recording thirty years of photography by Alex Webb; it is also currently an exhibition of 12 large prints at the Magnum Print room at Magnum London in Gee Street, a short walk from the Barbican. The prints are hung along one wall of the room with just one, that of a lion from Bombay, India in it’s cage, on another adjoining wall and another Mumbai photo facing it at the other end of the room. They are all for sale at £2,150 except for the first print (also the first print in the book) of “Mexicans arrested while trying to cross the border to the United States (San Yisdro, California USA 1979)” which is selling for £9,150, being from a limited edition that is almost sold out; this print is also considerably larger at 30 by 40 inches with all the others being 20 by 30 inches in size.

The title of the book is taken from a quote by Goethe “Colours are the deeds and suffering of light”. Alex started working in black and white producing documentary photos of New England and elsewhere in pretty much the manner of others such as Lee Friedlander and Charles Harbutt. It was after reading Graham Greene’s The Comedians which led him to make a three week visit to Haiti that he started to work seriously in colour and became one of the first photographers to do so.

“Not a typical documentary photographer or photojournalist, I’ve worked essentially as a street photographer, exploring the world with a camera, allowing the rhythm and the life of the street to guide and inform the work” writes Alex in the introduction to his book, “At times I feel the street can be a kind of bellwether, hinting at sociopolitical changes to come.” He further writes that he has “been consistently drawn to places of cultural and often political uncertainity.”

The first photo in the book after the frontespiece image of Mexicans at the border, is called Jumping and shows a man leaping for no apparent reason at a wall; his shadow shows clearly on the sunlit wall he is trying to scale. This is another image from the Mexican border and so one might assume that the man is trying to make some kind of escape. However, looking at the surroundings that consist of whitewashed buildings without another person to be seen, this does not seem to be the case. Perhaps the man thinks he is going to escape by such a leap which by the looks of it is failing anyway since he is far from the top of the wall that is part of a building rather than a boundary. The famous image of Cartier-Bresson’s man walking of a ladder into a puddle comes to the mind of one familiar with it; in these digital days of easy cloning, it seems unlikely that this image would have the same impact of futility and frustration that it did when first made.

One of his defining colour images, the third in the book, is from Grenada and shows a trio of almost silhouetted figures with blocks of red, green and yellow in the background that appear to be window coverings. A man is smoking a cigarette with his head cocked to one side while looking directly at the camera. This image is the second in the exhibition and was used to advertise it on the Magnum website.

The prints in the book are accompanied only by nearby captions giving the place and year the photo was made. What is actually going on in the photos can only be guessed at and yet it is obvious that something is going on; most of the scenes have an underlying tension. The seventh photograph in the series that does not appear in the exhibition, is from Mumbai; this is also used as the cover photo which does not however fill the cover but wraps around the book to continue on the back. A quote from Max Kozloff is printed on part of this photo and states that Webb’s photos have a “metaphysical heat, suggestive of energy under stress, a spring-loaded poise that might flash into action. The spectacle he creates is both delirious and deliberate.” The meaning is never clear.

Some images are printed on one page with the caption on the other page; sometimes the double spread contains images one both pages with the captions underneath. The links between these images may relate to subject matter or colour as in the two “red” images on pages 24 and 25.

On page 43, one comes across another image from the exhibition entitled “La Gonave, Etroits, Haiti 1986.”

On page 59, another image from the exhibition entitled “Saut d’Eau Haiti 1987”

On page 151, another image in the exhibition from Istanbul, Turkey 2011; a child with candy floss with green walls around him and an orange background behind in which two figures are walking … the child’s parents perhaps.

On page 173, there is a photograph from Mexico in 2007 that also contains a caption on the facing page; “Murder outside a bar”.

There is an Afterword by Geoff Dyer who states that Alex Webb’s photographs have been largely “presented in relation to geography or space.”

Webb describes his work as “a highly interpretative presentation of the world”

“The world is a complex place and there are great dangers when you start looking at everything in terms purely of black and white.”

Webb’s photographs are “complicated pictures of complicated situations. Increasingly complicated pictures …”

Dayanita Singh, the Indian photographer, took classes from Webb and describes his work as “migraine photographs.”

Dyer looks for associations in art for Webb’s work, mentioning Gaugin and also Van Gogh; literary associations are made with John Donne and the suggestion is that Webb makes “metaphysical photographs”.

Pico Iyer describes Webb as a “shadow sociologist”. Shadows often dark and impenetrable play an important part in Webb’s images.

A record of a “belief dependent reality.”

In Webb’s work, there is a blurring between photojournalism, documentary and art.

Ezra Pound’s definition of literature “News that stays new” might be applied to great documentary photography.

Webb often divides up his frame; some images are like triptychs! There is further multiplication.

There is a sense of claustrophobia but there are also doors that enter into a wider expanse.

Pictures within pictures!

Like Winogrand, Webb’s images have a kind of horizontal vertigo.

Many photographers contain representative images, virtual trademarks, in their work; this does not seem to be the case with Webb.

Webb is “trying to ask questions”.

FINDING YOUR OWN VISION : The Workshop 17-19 June 2011

FINDING YOUR OWN VISION workshop with Alex and Rebecca Webb

Really, a workshop like this needs to be experienced but the following are my notes which describe what the workshop was about; my apprehension about attending it was soon dispelled as the content was exactly what I wanted to know as making books is for me an essential part of the photographic process. Evaluating and sequencing photographs then making photobooks ... is what concerns me in photography.

Alex Webb (standing) to left with Rebecca seated to his left;
between them at the back is Anna Gormley, the workshop organiser
The Glass Between Us by Rebecca Webb is the result of 7 years spent visiting different zoos, natural history museums and animal parks in 25 different cities around the world. For Rebecca, the link between text and image is important. A note about Rodin introduces the book; he advised the poet Rilke to go to the Zoo and really observe an animal until he actually saw the animal - it might take 3 weeks yet even a month might not be long enough! I find this a usefull insight into my own project of photographing Lucky, my mother's dog.
Rebecca is currently working on a project about South Dakota.

Alex started out as a dedicated black and white photographer; in the mid-70’s he went over to colour at a time when it was only just beginning to be made acceptable. He shows colourful and gutsy images with a soundtrack by Jimi Hendrix.

The Violet Isle is a duet of their photographs about Cuba; their designer-publisher suggested they do the book together and an equal number of their photographs were used. Has taken 11 trips to the country spread over 15 years.

Need to discover who one is as a photographer; beyond mind, not rational, intuitive, spontaneous, questioning … who one is as a photographer determines the kind of photographs one makes.

One can learn more by looking at and understanding other people’s photographs rather than just one’s own.

There are issues in photography such as composition and colour.

Photography is not just about photographing; there is also the process of selecting images, of editing, of playing with photos and the world they represent.

Photographs tend to work differently in book and exhibition.

A book is quite likely to start as an obsession; it can be a long and complicated process.

Does Alex shoot with a concept in mind!?  No, its’ totally experiental, walking the streets and responding.

Tends not to be able to talk about projects until about 7 years afterwards!!

Experience of feeling that a project is going nowhere and then “something happens!”

An image is the most primitive concept.

Photographs tend to be smarter than one is; one sees signs in them that one did not see at the time.

Photography is a process of exploring and discovering.

One can previsualise and yet still there are surprises.

There is often a difference between personal work and that required for assignments. Personal work is always important but one needs to keep the client happy and solve their visual problems. Hence, usually a need to make a few standard photos.

With clients, there is often a difference between the images they want to use and the way they intend to use them with one's own vision. One can suggest ways the images might be used but one still needs to supply commercially viable images. One can not be too purist about one’s work.

Alex was inspired to go to Haiti by Graham Green’s novel The Comedians. Once he got there, his work started to develop in a certain way.

When working he tries to be unobtrusive, creates an aura of ease, feeling his way with the camera, casually, images can happen immediately or take time to find. Does not tell people what to do!

Re-doing books has not worked for him. He once returned to a town he had photographed in 25 years later with the idea of making a new set of photographs. It did not work out though as some of the people he had photographed had died violent deaths, another had become a drug addict etc
One can though do a re-issue with different photos, a different editorial approach.

When working in a place, a fixer (minder) can make sense.

Takes time to perfect one’s craft. According to Malcom Gladwell, 10,000 hours!!

Editing can be a process of falling in and out of love with images.

Photographing intensively, a subjective business, a subjective process. Need to understand the kind of photographer one is and the kind one is not.

I ask if, when photographing or editing, if it is a completely intuitive approach or is there some guidance? Both he and Rebecca consider this to be a very good question and Alex replies by saying that although he is being open minded, the process is a selective one!

One the way back to Bethnal Green, I get on the bus and find Alex and Rebecca also there; there is another stop closer to the studio! We chat a little. 


Black and white or colour; both are different processes!
RAW images require a degree of post-production; Alex usually increases the blacks a little also the Vibrance.
He’s only just starting to use digital.; some clients still demand film.

Coherency and preciseness can conflict with pushing work to the edge (which might include not looking through the camera when photographing or using very fast film/high ISO)

Alex and Rebecca looking at photographs
We start to show our work and are asked to introduce ourselves by giving our name, how long we have been photographing, where we think we are coming from, our interests, what our job is and where we think we are going. I forget most of these when, a few hours later, after a lunch break, I finally put down some of the prints that I have chosen to bring along. Although I made brief notes on all those who shared their work, it seems pertinent here to merely record what was said about my own, largely because of the time it would take to write about work I cannot clearly remember.

However, it was interesting to meet Keith Greenough and see his work since he is also an OCA student, about to start Level 3.

Editing can be a more conscious approach than actually taking photographs.
There are images that tell you what something is; these amount to propaganda.
There are also images that contain ambiguity.

If one finds street photography too difficult then one can try attending festivals; often, there are good things happening at the edge of these.
People are generally more relaxed.
Look for colour, light, mood …

Alex has had trouble photographing in London particularly when approaching children. In spite of being a “recognized photographer”, he has been accused of paedophillia. One does not have to be a street photographer; there are many different approaches.

When editing, it can help to pin one’s images up on a board.
After looking at them for sometime, maybe over a few days
It becomes obvious which ones do not work.

Lens choice can be important.
For instance, Henri C-B used a 50mm lens that gives a standard yet slightly distanced view; it is also easier to use for verticals than wider angle lenses.
(our eyes tend to see at about 45mm!) Some photographers use wide angle lenses such as the 28mm for effect; this often means that the photographer comes in very close to the subject which can be intimidating for the one being photographed and is considered to be an aggressive form of photography. William Klein and Bruce Gilden are examples of photographers who favour this approach. Alex likes a 35mm lens as this requires him to get a little closer if he wants some intimacy in the shot.

It is a good exercise to use either a fixed lens or a taped zoom lens for a while.

Alex is currently working on a photographic project to photograph East London owing to the Olympics. However, the theme is becoming more centred on the multi-ethnicity of the place.

There is something like a 99.9% failure rate with this kind of photography. Quite a lot of good photographs on a regular basis but very seldom one that is really good and seems to be making a statement.

The photograph can capture a moment in time, never to be repeated, a slice of history and need not be merely a surrealist moment.

National Geographic is one of the few magazines that still pay for assignments.

Sales from his archive, once thought to be the right kind of investment, have dropped considerably over the last 20 years. Alex and Rebecca live on the edge and they don’t own property. Alex has often faced debt; such hardship though has not stopped him from enjoying life. The media business is undergoing a lot of change with people unsure of how to make money and whether a source of money will last. Many photographers are working for NGOs.

I show some black and white photographs that I made about 8 years ago; they are of the Kailash kora in Western Tibet. The images come with quotes of about a paragraph each from Tarthang Tulku’s book, Gesture of Balance.

There are rather a lot of mountain shots, the same mountain mostly, and these can be a little monotonous. A title for the work might be “Pilgrimage” suggests Rebecca (who has suggested titles for a number of books!) Pilgrimage sounds good. A possible title for a small book.

There is too much text with the images; one needs less text and for one passage of text, one might have 3 or more pages of images.
The resonance between text and image is important.
The last photo in the sequence might best be the image of water of the lake rather than the image of the stupa; there is a finality to this image. While I can agree to this, I also see the need not to have an end but a continuing process.

I also show a group of my Osho Teerth Park that have not been sequenced.

Suggestion that the landscaped images could work well alongside bird images.

Keith of the OCA suggests there is too much green!!? Good to be aware of the green … something I might look at when the selection is ready as there may need to be some consistency within the green, a colour not always easy to reproduce.

Another participant is trying to rediscover the original sense of excitement he had about photographing

A photograph is about the particular way one sees a situation, a concept”

One can loose one’s way in professional work by trying to solve other people’s visual problems

Henri C-B’s early work is the most exciting, intriguing

Photography is in some ways very simple but complex issues surround it.

One photographer feels he got lost in the digital revolution; needs to find his way again.

Why do we find it easier to photograph abroad? Novelty factor?

One needs to take care when photographing on the street – people can be aggressive. Alex wears black.

A photograph can never be entirely objective hence a need for subjectivity!
Irony in photography.

This workshop is about Finding One’s Own Vision, a somewhat individualistic approach … modernism!?

STEPHEN BULL quote from 45%

Someone comments that I have found my own vision since I have done my own books. Yet vision is about SEEING not doing.

Is photography really easier than writing!? May not be!
Alex and Rebecca Webb are both Literature Majors.

Alex and Rebecca with a student during a lunch break


Photographs tend to “talk” to each other
An opening quote, possibly from a book, might help!
Colour between images important
Sequence one’s images before presenting to a publisher
A dominant theme can vary between projects or even within a body of work

One can introduce sections or chapters within a photobook
Rebecca went to 15 diferent publishers before she got her first book published
Need to find the right publisher
Called “The Glass Between Us” it is about the relationship between man and animals in zoos, animal parks, aquariums etc
The title is from a line by Milage (Polish) …
“we are separated from nature as if by a glass wall … “
text can be separated from images; they do not have to be side by side

one does not have to crop; it is a personal decision
sometimes necessary such as when straightening an image

sequencing can depend on many factors such as …
subject matter, colour, form, texture,
narrative but not necessarily a story
visual relationships need not be linear
corresponding shapes between photos as well as overall subject matter
images need to be seen individually as well as collectively
emotional impact of images

editing is an almost continuous experience

more powerful images can rest alone e.g. separate page
weaker ones to fill gaps in continuity perhaps

(negative space – blocks of uniform colour in an image)
am asked how I managed to get the detail in my black and white images
the answer is by over-exposing and under-developing film
avoiding the clumping
one does not need to produce a good looking negative
as Ansel Adams said, it is only the “score”

The COVER is suggestive of what the book is about, of what is to come
Also an advertisement!

One reason Alex and Rebecca offer these workshops is that in their view, real editing, the process of sequencing, is not being taught in colleges and universities

If one does not have a tripod with one, there are other ways to support the camera. For instance, Bruce Gilden has a method whereby he attaches his camera by a length of string to his foot, and tightens this when making a photograph that needs a steady hand. My own approach is to allow the cameras to rest in one’s hands, to feel it’s weight

One student sees Alex’s work as a mixture of standard photojournalistic images with other being more imaginative.

Alex does not process his photographs very much … increases the black a little, pushes up the vibrance, possibly crop a little

Editing can be an imaginative process
There needs to be coherence of subject and theme

Nan Goldin took her second book to Prestel rather than her first publisher Phaidon; should have given Phaidon first refusal. Phaidon sued Prestel successfully. This was because of Goldin’s contract with Phaidon.
Alex always has a lawyer run over any contract.

I chat with Alex over contracts on the way to lunch on the second day. Anything from 5 to 10% on a visual book is appropriate; he has never had more than 7.5% This refers to royalties; the amount relates to the sale cost of the book not the advertised price.

Alex and Rebecca show images by a host of photographers that inspire them; these are detailed in an accompanying page!

When making a selection, the use of small work prints can help – 5b7” prints on Epson matt paper for instance.
A book dummy need not be anything special, just Xeroxes taped together !!

Personally, I find myself working digitally here …
For instance, opening a series of images in Bridge or Lightroom and looking at them on a screen
PDFs can also be made to create an electonic dummy
However, if one is aiming for a book in print then hard copy may be the best way to go!

One needs to first collect the photographs before assembling them in a sequence

A placement photo can be described as one near the beginning that lets you know what the book/assignment is about

A good designer is always worth listening to
One can choose who might want to write an introduction
Publish Your Photobook (contains 8 case studies)

When working on the press, one really needs to do checks every 2/3 hours to check it is running OK
Sometimes publishers may not like the photographer to be there when the press is running
For the photographer it can be an emotionally grueling experience
Intensifying the text can have a knock on effect on the blacks (reminds of when Indian Birds in Focus was being printed)
Adding a layer of varnish later can effect the contrast
Check the proof under different kinds of light though Tungsten is always a good light to use as it is a common one
Daylight balanced is best though

Limited Editions …. Not many! 40 copies for a 3 to 2000 print run?
Depends on market; manner of distribution

Question over consistency with digital work
RAW needs some processing otherwise tends to look dull

Alex’s approach to photography is about responding to a given situation
Not overly concerned with technical issues

When it comes down to making limited editions of photographic prints, there is very little legal coverage of this subject.
Some photographers such as Elliot Erwitt and Sebasto Salgado do not make limited edition prints.

Rebecca showing her photographs

Alex says he can not really talk about one of his projects until several years later; Rebecca however is happy to talk about current her body of work entitled My Dakota which after the unexpected death of her brother took on a more personal note as an elegy. There are some poetic words (handwriting can work well) but not a lot.

There is a need to choose the format of the book, develop the layout and choose an appropriate cover. Consider making a handmade dummy.

Rebecca feels her images are about the relationship between loss and landscape, an allegory for the destruction of landscape.

Images only need short titles.

There are creative ways to book bind!

I show a jumble of images from Jeerang; some portraits, some dance …

Dance images need to be compelling, involve one in the drama

Photographs of the mileu of the dance !

The contrast between dance and the outside world.

Colour and black and white images can be combined.

Where is this project going? Alex does not know and I also don’t know at the moment.

Suggest subject rather than rely on a caption.

Some of the photographs such as “Watching the Dance” are representative but not really interesting

Images need to be more dynamic

Looking at a group of prints can be a grounding experience.

A group of images can then be sequenced.

Confusion is a good starting point!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

another concept for assignment 5 - people interacting with nature

While discussing assignment 5 with my tutor, I suggested the possibility of photographing people interacting with nature; since then, I have done a few photos with this approach in mind. It seems that there is a lot of consideration given to nature these days with programmes like BBC2's Springwatch programme being very popular with its' interactive approach. Likewise tourism is increasingly involved around experiencing wildlife.
However, examining the way people relate to nature is in itself an interesting subject and one that has been considered by John Berger in his book, About Looking. The essay title is called Why Look at Animals? and considers the relationship between man and animal over the centuries; nowadays, man has become separated from animals whereas before he lived in much closer proximity. Zoos and wildlife watching are a contemporary alternative in which animals are studied.  

Here are some initial images made recently in London.

Heron and father with baby; Kyoto Garden, Holland Park

visitors at the waterfall, Kyoto Garden, Holland Park

feeding the pigeons in Kensington Gardens
people walking through the Somerset-shire countryside

another idea for People and Place assignment 5 - people from village

For some time, I have been photographing people from a village in Orissa, India. They are Tibetan and came as refugees to this place during the 1960's.

Many of the images are from scanned slide film although a few are from a digital SLR camera.

While I am happy with this series of images, this work does not really fit the brief of an assignment for which one is being asked to write a brief and then carry that brief out.

The photographs here are informal portraits that show something of the people pictured and their place in village life.

Anzing Rinpoche with monks making medecine during ceremonies

Amomo, a villager counting prayer beads

Gyetrul Jigmed Rinpoche, the abbot's son

Kama in Ling Dro dance costume

Dolkar and Ka-Ling in Ling Dro dance costume

Karma Shedrup videoing the ceremonies

Chimmey Dolkar, wife of the head abbot

Semo Pemadechen and Semo Sonam Palmo, daughters of the abbot, in Ling Dro dance costume

Sonam Palzome, the abbot's eldest daughter, dancing Ling Dro

Sonam Zangmo with poesy

Sonam Wangchuk, mask maker

Terton Namkhar Drimed RInpoche, the abbot, emerges from the temple
surrounded by monks and dancers at the climax of the Xitro dance

Semo Tseyang La, the abbot's youngest daughter

pilgrim with prayer beads in village

Thursday, June 2, 2011

FACTS AND FICTIONS - 1: contemporary South African photography @ the V+A

The title of this exhibition being held at the Victoria and Albert Museum suggests that it is not about the politics of the region and might be about photography in general since the dichotomy between what is and what is not in a photograph is a question that often arises. Jo, a fellow student who met me at the exhibition, was a bit more down to earth in her initial understanding of the exhibition, saying that the title probably related to the actual subjects in the exhibition. At her talk, the curator, Professor Tamar Garb of University College London, described it as a teasing dialogue.

photographing the Peter Pan statue

After a morning walk from Holland Park across Kensington Gardens via the Peter Pan statue, I arrived and waited outside the main entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum in case any other OCA students decided to respond to my posting on the OCA Flickr forum. In spite of displaying my OCA notebook prominently there appeared to be no one else so, as I began to feel like a displaying peacock with no hen in sight, I went inside and began to make enquiries about the exhibition. 

entrance to the V+A exhibition

While the David Goldblatt solo exhibition is free, the Facts and Fictions is not and so I began to queue; hardly surprising then that OCA students would rather come on the OCA day when entry will be free. It was at this point that my mobile buzzed; Jo aka Crazee1ady had come but had gone to a different entrance and was wondering where I was. A few minutes later we were in the queue together discussing both the banalities of the camera club mentality where everything has to conform to certain rules and the corresponding over-aestheticisation of photography as high art. As usual with OCA students, I found someone who was asking the same kind of questions as myself.

entrance to the V+A photo-gallery

On entering the exhibition, one is met by a large photograph (most photographs in this exhibition are large) by Pieter Hugo of a white couple cradling a small black boy. We did not give it much time since it’s meaning was apparently obvious; however, in the talk we attended afterwards by Tamar Garb the exhibition curator, our attention was drawn to the complexity of the image. One tends to assume that one knows the kind of narrative going on here, that of white people contradicting the trend of descrimination against black people with an obvious act of compassion. Here is what we assume to be a family, one that includes both white and black, configured in a traditional way, as if from a Renaissance painting; the setting is impoverished since the sofa is actually a car seat and there is no carpet to cover the bare floor. This photograph could not have been made at one time since the black and white people lived in segregation. One might even go so far as to fantasise that the boy is the child of an AIDS patient who has died. Looking closer though, our constructed story might find itself being questioned a little as we notice the man has a prosthetic leg while the woman has a mark on her nose (which is in fact a melanoma); the small black boy looks well fed and the people appear very clean. When we learn of the truth behind this image which is that the white couple are actually tenants of the small black boys father, we may start to see the image differently; it is likely to upset any view that this yet another image asserting the superiority of the white man over the black.

The exhibition itself consists of the work of 17 different photographers who live and work in South Africa; they have all been made between 2000 and 2010. Hence, there is no great political dialogue with images of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tuttu and various white politicians like De Clerk to remind us of the painful past of that country. This exhibition is much more likely to break down the veil of anti-apartheid that many people in the UK still unconsciously carry as it reveals the accomplished work of contemporary photographers. Whether one likes the work or not, it very well presented and the images excellently constructed.

The first group of photographs we looked at was by Zanele Muholi,
... an active lesbian, whose elegantly portraits of dressed black men, two are wearing Zulu clothes with one supporting a series of brightly coloured combs in his hair, is a reminder that this exhibition is post-apartheid. Jo and I look closely at one image and notice a degree of noise; for a moment we exchange jocular but potentially nerdy comments such as “I’d like to put that one through Camera Raw 6.1” before standing back a little to realize that from normal viewing distance, one can not see any noise at all. This group of photographs contains a series of images called Beulahs about black transvestite men and another called Faces and Phases about black lesbians whose images are shown in nine large, striking black and white photos, some of the faces looking distinctively female with others unmistakably butch.

Graeme Williams
... does street photography in colour and has traveled to over 100 towns to make his portfolio. His images are reminiscent of some of Joel Meyerwitz with their late afternoon light and long shadows. Williams has no agenda and says he photographs “to capture a feeling or a mood rather than a particular event.” His images reflect the change that has taken place in South Africa.

One series of images that Jo and I both liked were of an abbatoir. This may sound strange coming from a vegetarian but these photographs are concerned with the Muslim way of preparing meat known as Halaal. They are made by a couple of Muslim male twins, Hasan and Husain Essop
... who document this practice by making images that are performed for the camera and later digitally constructed which means that the only people in them are the photographers themselves. There is no obvious sign of Photoshop here, either compositionally or aesthetically, meaning that the images are possessed of a seductive complexity. There are contrasts between modernity and tradition, the West and Islam, with a narrative about young Muslim men negotiating their way in contemporary society. Some of the images are quite gory as they reveal the way the animals are killed with sheep being hung upside down, in some cases by only one leg, and allowed to die slowly.

Guy Tillim
... is a photojournalist who wants to portray not the poverty of people but their dignity. Jo is not happy with this rationalization since the images still reflect poverty. The names of those being photographed are beside the images while there is a random nature to the photographs with their oblique angles and fragmentary approaches. Jo comments on the sense of fun that is apparent in images of children. The images were all made in the course of a week in Petros Village, Malawi.

Zwelethu Mthethwa
... a painter and photographer, has three large colour photographs, (one of them being used to advertise the exhibition) of strangely clad young African men standing in wooded countryside. The series is called Brave Ones, and pictures Zulus of the Shembe religious community who have adopted a mixture of both Christian and African beliefs. They are wearing ritual dress that draws heavily on the Scottish kilt and the green Arcadian background might be considered a reference to Scotland. As the curator points out, they pose in a way that might be considered reminiscent of artist like Gainsborough. There is beauty here but might there be also further meaning !? A pleasing response to the stereo-typed ethnographic images used to record and inevitably help restrain people in the past.

Jo and I wonder about how some of these images were made. There are clues in the printing methods, C type print indicating a film based camera while Cotton rag prints are obviously digital though possibly not made from a digital camera but from scanned film. Large format cameras have been used in some instances as the clarity of many of the images is a delight to the eye and a reminder of the physicality of the photograph.

Berni Searle
... is an artist that works with different media and here presents a series of 6 images in 2 triptychs. Jo finds the photography excellent, the photographers figure clad in a white robe has been shot in a studio with no sign of any definite shadow, yet does not follow whatever it is that the artist is saying. The series shows a crown of leaves falling from the head of the photographer who is covered by the white robe that largely conceals her identity. The leafy crown drops some kind of liquid ... not blood but something resembling it.

Kudzanai Chiurai’s
... presentation of a series called The Parliament, is a satirical look at politicians. At first, I wonder if these images are real as I look at a young man in sunglasses coming up the stairs carrying a pile of books and a briefcase; a pistol is tucked into his trousers. Fortunately this is not the reality for politicians in South Africa but in countries like Zimbabwe it is perhaps not impossible. These images are not only amusing but perhaps some of the most original in the exhibtion as they respond to politics not with the seriousness that politicians attempt to impress us with but with humour.

Pieter Hugo's work
... is first experienced as one enters the exhibition with the previously discussed photograph of the white couple cradling a black child, an image whose symbolism is not as obvious as one might first assume. The curator remarks that it can be viewed as being about the difficult transition that South Africa has been experiencing. Hugo's approach is documentary and yet it is not predictable. He has found off-beat characters to photograph such as wild honey collectors, street performers and a group of men wearing tweed; the wearing of Scottish tweed goes back to colonial days when Scottish culture was obviously a strong influence effecting local traditions.

Mikhael Subotzky
... draws from the documentary tradition of photography. Large prints show quite ordinary vistas such as that of a security guard sitting on a chair outside a suburban house; it is from a series called Wendy House and the Wendy House in this instance is a small hut that obviously caters for the guards' needs.

Terry Kurgan
... shows images of photographers who work in a park, photographing the people who come there. As well as a set of 6 large colour photographs of photographers involved, there is a group of much smaller photographs made by the photographers for clients who never came back to collect them.

David Goldblatt
... born 1930, is the oldest photographer on show here and has been responsible for training some of the other photographers through his Market Photo workshop that started in the 1980's. His work is mostly in black and white, reflecting the formalism of that tradition and it's concern with ethical and moral issues and representing subjects such as vulnerability and masculinity. By photographing ex-offenders at the scenes of their crimes, he creates an interesting photo-essay that is accompanied by long narrative captions in which the person pictured is also able to voice their story. Goldblatt works with security staff to make these images. His colour work is also on view in a series about tradesmen.

Roelof Petrus Van Wyk
... has photographed the heads naked torsos of a number of people against a black background in a formal studio setting. There is a brashness about these images that flaunt anthropological conventions. 

Jodi Bieber
... in a set of 3 images from a series called Real Beauty, in which beauty is far from obvious, images scantily clad women. There is a fat black woman in a bikini and two white women smoking cigarettes, one of whom might be described as elderly and is almost topless except for a black negligee bra while the other is a somewhat corpulent middle aged woman.

refreshment in the V+A restaurant

It was at this point that Jo and I broke for some lunch before the curator's talk. We enjoyed a sandwich while admiring the magnificent room to which the restaurant is attached. It was soon time to make our way to the lecture hall in the Sackler Centre.

The 45 minute talk was by the curator, Tamar Garb, who talked about the exhibition as a whole. A video of her talking can be seen ...
She mentioned 3 different genres previously at work in South Africa, namely the ethnographic (traditionally a white man’s view of the world) as well as documentary (telling the world about South Africa) and portraiture. She also talked about the emergence of colour art photography during the 1990's which coincided with the transformation of South Africa from a provincial, inward looking country that had suffered years of isolation owing to apartheid. Most of what the curator said during this talk, I have inserted in my understanding of the exhibition. One thing Jo and I realised after this talk was that we had missed some of the exhibits and therefore needed to return again to the exhibition which required a bit of negotiation with security at the entrance.

Santu Mofokeng
... works with film and also in the darkroom. Much of his works references AIDS such as in the series Child-headed Households, the parents having died of AIDS, while in Chasing Shadows, he images the spiritual life to be found in a group of caves where a close relative of the photographer went in an attempt to find a cure for AIDS.

Sabelo Mlangeni
... is a gay man who focuses on the nature of relationships between men, working with a documentary style in black and white. His photographs contain depictions of poverty yet are more concerned with the intimacy between people and the places they inhabit. The compositions are interesting. Another series called "Country Girls" contains photographs of men dressed as women addressing concerns of violence against women. This kind of work could not have happened until the more recent and liberal times.

Nontsikelelo "Lolo" Veleke
... is a female street photographer and part of the generation of artists celebrating the end of apartheid; she plays with the language of fashion photography with those pictured often in costume that can include tweed.

Jo Radcliffe is described as being in dialogue with traditional documentary practice. In a series called Terreno Occupado, about the border war in Angola during the 1970's and 1980's, there are images not of war but of the effects of war. The images are not classically composed and this reflects banality of the subject matter which includes a series of murals about the Portuguese exploration of Africa.

This exhibition helped to free me of preconceived notions of South Africa and as I waited for a train soon after, I realised that I was seeing a "black woman" in front of me differently, with more understanding of her world. The exhibition is also an interesting view of photography as a whole particularly from a contemporary viewpoint.

A lot of the photographers are represented here ...