This building, 100 11th Avenue by Jean Nouvel, is an amazing jumble of frames when viewed from street level. Even though I took the photo and know the building I still can’t work out what is going on with all these angles.
London From Punk to Blair.
In this book London is black and white. My London is black and white, a bit chilly and a bit rough. But then my London isn’t now, it’s back in the 1980s. Sure, I’ve visited London recently but I don’t remember when any of those new buildings went up.
Reading this book coincided with a trip to the brutalist South Bank. I’ve had many adventures there including an exhibition and appendicitis. They’ve splashed a bit of colour on parts of it but it is still a great blank, concrete platform to launch from. It needs people to add their activity to make the place come alive and there was plenty of activity when I was there recently.
The Long Live South Bank campaign was in full swing. The aim, to keep the underbelly filled with skateboarders rather than yet another shop/restaurant catering to the pursuit of capitalism. I’m not sinking into nostalgia here. I’ve never been a skateboarder, in fact the much vaunted graffiti wasn’t always there, but who is the South Bank for? Just adults shopping or kids too? Sitting with small children in the Sandy Village, we watched the skateboarders, participated in the performance art, hit the book stand, strolled on the beach, went to two exhibitions, had lunch (from 4 different countries) from the market stalls. We interacted and spectated. There were all manner of people. Young, old, local, tourist, rich, poor. All doing.
I come back to London and see the Palace. Who cares? My companions, visiting as first time tourists, seeing the ‘sights’. I get to the bookshops I haunted on Charing Cross Road. Foyles boring now, just like -insert name of chain here- it used to be fun rummaging in the old fashioned shop. Al- Hoda gone, I can’t complain, I left, London moved on.
But reading this book, brought my London back to me, talking about Hackney and Camden, the South Bank, Brixton. I dipped in and out of these neighbourhoods, working part time, full time, studying, staying with friends, going up at the weekend, getting a flat.
I knew about street photography and studio photography back then. I went on political marches. We tried to free Nelson Mandela from Hyde Park. It seemed like a serious place.
Maybe it is all about the weather though. Not nostalgia or gentrification. I see London with typically English weather and old brick. I live in sunshine surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers.
I cannot see London in shiny and colour even though I have seen the Shard, the gherkin, the new bridges, the London Eye. Is it because the sky is so often full of heavy clouds, that greyness suits the place? Is it in my mind, am I just sunk in nostalgia or does the new London popping up feel a bit odd? Like an add-on, not an update or an expansion, like a transplant from somewhere else?
I went through Docklands, it was sunny, it was like a little New York, without the rough edges, I liked the view, but it didn’t feel like the real London to me. I’ve started to realize that the 70s and 80s weren’t just a few years ago, they were decades ago and yet, London, away from the new bits, looks the same to me.
I have forgotten to talk about the book. Best to read it yourself. It talks about the culture, the architecture, the weather, the people. If you’ve lived in London during that time most of it will resonate with you. If you didn’t you’ll get a real feeling for the time and place, it’s a book of sensibilities rather than a history text book,it’ll make you think about how you think about London. This book scared me a little. It’s a good read, good food for thought.
Even though it’s not a photo book it is heavy with excellent photographs. The book made me think back to some street photography I did in Brixton. I don’t do street like this anymore and I thought how it would be interesting to look back at both my photography and the people and place of Brixton.
I know that some of you reading this blog also have Brixton (or London in the 80s) in your photo files, why not dig some out and post them here. Back then we couldn’t post them, we didn’t have internet and blogs, our images sat in boxes. Let your images see the light.
London From Punk to Blair Edited by Joe Kerr and Andrew Gibson Photographic consultant Mike Seaborne Reaktion Books, London, 2003
Click on images to see them larger.
James Morris, Time and Remains- Reflections on the Palestinian Landscape. Aberystwyth Arts Centre until November 2nd 2013
I’m not sure how I stumbled across this photographer’s work but I am glad I did. His website is a feast for the eyes, with a penchant for architecture and landscape that really exposes culture.
I will not be able to see the exhibition because it is in Wales, but I’ll bet that it looks much more magnificent on the wall than on the computer screen. But here I want to talk about how good it does look on the screen. I have noticed that most photographers and artists do not display whole collections on their websites and I understand why. After all, if everything is available at the click of a button who would trek out to the gallery, or spend money on a book or a print.
I used to think like that too, but then I realized that it was akin to hiding the work and that is not why I made it. I make my images it to share. When we consider this body of work presented by Morris it is available on his website with detailed captions for that very reason. It is a work that needs to be shared. Has to be shared. The detailed writings about the images are concise and unemotional but hugely impactful. I can only imagine what it must be like for someone unfamiliar with the history to encounter these images and words, the two must go together here for maximum effect.
So what is the work all about? There are two sections, That Still Remains and When This Time Comes. The former looks at remnants of the past, the other the contemporary situation. I don’t need to say more as the website has a great written introduction.
I implore you to take the time to wade through the words so that when you look at the photographs the history will manifest itself within the visual experience. Stick with it to the end. I found it a very rewarding if somewhat upsetting experience. It was interesting because having the words changed some of the desolate images from a feeling of sadness and emptiness to rage, and that is a first for me with landscapes!
The link to the work in the exhibition is all on one page, just start at the top and scroll down. When you are finished take a look at the rest of the work on Morris’ website. Let me know what you think.
ˈfōtō ˈfôrtˌnīt frīdē
This week has been very busy and I wanted a photograph with a bit of breathing room. A photograph that doesn’t shout at you, that isn’t complex or needy. A photograph to sink into.
This photograph is taken inside the Whitney Museum of American Art. It is a window to the outside world that allows a soft light in to illuminate art but no view out to distract the viewer of the art. I found it more beautiful than the art work with its subtle range of colours, softness and hint of buildings outside.
In this category I will post a new photo fortnightly on a Friday.
By new I mean one that you haven’t seen before, whether it is sourced from my archives or whether I literally just took it.
To start photo fortnight Friday /ˈfōtō ˈfôrtˌnīt frīdē/ here is a recent photograph of the 42nd Street shuttle sporting an unusual (but real, not photoshopped) color palette!
I popped into the 2nd annual Photoville on opening night, September 19th, what a great experience.
If you don’t know what it is – basically, it is a collection of shipping containers that serve as exhibition spaces for photographers or photographic organizations. These exhibitions are then rounded out with talks and classes. The site is on the edge of the waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park with a divine view of lower Manhattan and features a 1000 foot ‘photo fence’ displaying several photographers’ series of work. The event is free and inclusive to both the passerby and the serious photographer. Arriving before the sun set and subsequently watching the lights rise over Manhattan I experienced the site in both day and night. There were works best appreciated in one or the other, the images on the outside walls of the containers better appreciated in daylight, the digital projection and TIME LightBox images obviously better in the dark.
And what a projection. Apparently different on different nights, the projection I saw was the ‘Fence’ photos and several series that were almost accepted, honorable mentions. They were all fascinating for both photographic skill and subject matter. The series that really grabbed me though was one from a different genre than usually interests me, that of surfing photography. I haven’t found them online to share a link with you which is a shame because they were underwater and really amazing. Another one was a diptych where a man and a woman were photographed and then in the second picture they had stayed in the same place but had switched their clothes- funny and interesting thinking about the cultural baggage we attach to how we drape pieces of cloth around us.
Of the many amazing collections exhibited in the containers, far too many to discuss in detail, I was particularly drawn to these four.
My favourite, Ocean Beach by Douglas Ljungkvist. Living in Brooklyn and vacationing in Ocean Beach Ljungkvist set out to capture the utilitarian yet beautiful seaside cottages, built in the 1940s, with their traditional and simple decor, before they were all revamped with modern ‘styling’. Serene, calm and with a gorgeous colour palette and definitely evidencing a look of the past, these images suddenly take a turn when the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Sandy destroyed the neighborhood. Ljungkvist carried on photographing with the same delicacy and form but what was left of the cottages changed the images from an almost surreal fashion and time-gone-by portrait to a record of savage destruction and a realization of a time and tradition lost forever.
Without showing broken people or poignant knick knacks Ljungkvist manages to create horror not only in spite of but perhaps because of his gentle tones and formal compositions. To see the jagged, broken houses breaking out of the sand belies the ‘perfectness’ of his style of photography and unsettles the viewer almost unconsciously, not with shock but with a creeping and accumulative melancholy as realization of what happened dawns upon the viewer. Destruction of a way of life and a community.
My next pick, Tyler Hicks: One Year. Hicks trades in shock of the traditional photojournalist style. A staff photographer for the New York Times, Hicks has worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Africa and covering the Arab Spring. His images, technically perfect and beautifully composed, hold you in spite of their terrible subject matter. The question that faced me as I looked from images of one desperate child to another is which affects us most. Has the starving child in Africa with his forlorn yet still handsome face lost his pull when we see the dead child carried aloft the crowd in a bombed city and the wretched sadness of the adults carrying him. Have we gone beyond the shock of starving and now respond to blood and anger, or are we still not being moved? Not all of his images are in your face, some are less violent but even those that you have to ‘read’ a little more still force your brain to uncomfortable places. We need these images to bear witness but will man’s stupidity, greed and ignorance ever end? When I compare the images of Ocean Beach destroyed by nature and Hick’s images where lives are destroyed by other men’s actions Hick’s images make me feel angry and impotent. Will his images change the world? Unlikely because man seems to have an infinite tolerance to destroying or taking advantage of the other for the benefit of self. AGGGHHHHHH.
PS Whilst we are in comfortable NYC pondering the art and meaning of his images Tyler Hicks was in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, (where he lives) photographing the results of more pointless violence.
Many of the images on show at Photoville were dealing with difficult or thought provoking subjects. My third pick is ‘Photo Requests from Solitary’. A coalition of organizations worked with Tamms Supermax Prison in Illinois asking the inmates in solitary confinement to request a photo of anything and the group would find a photographer to take it. Not getting into the debate about what these inmates did and whether solitary is deserved or not, just to put yourself mentally in a position where you are so cut off from people for a decade, what would you visualize? As I walked into the container and had a look around two of the images struck me, one an inmate’s picture superimposed on a big blue, sky with fluffy white clouds and another of a crowd of people. Both fairly obvious requests I would have thought but imagine not being able to encounter either that freedom or the ability to be with so many people. The clown and the horse were less obvious choices and perhaps speak to another way of thinking that separation forces on people. The exhibition was staffed by people who had been in solitary, had family in solitary or advocates against isolated confinement so the photographic project was impetus for a larger discussion on human rights. An interesting use of photography to enable a way of trying to understand a life style so different from most of our experiences.
Finally what photographer doesn’t love a photo book. The Indie Photobook Library had a container too with a selection of its collection on show, 70 books and some prints, a ‘A Survey of Documentary Styles in the Early 21st Century’. If I had had more time I would have read each one there, as it was I handled a few and was attracted by a small book full of greenery with extra thick pages, it felt really good to hold, like one of those kids books that can handle a bit of chewing at the corner, of course I immediately forgot the photographer’s name, so if you get down there and see it let me know!
Did you go to Photoville? What peaked your interest? If you didn’t go what do you think of the work I shared here?