January 2014

ˈfōtō ˈfôrtˌnīt frīdē

TGIF – I have been waiting all week to introduce a website to you.


Run by London photographers Peter Marshall and Mike Seaborne, their Urban Landscape site is dedicated to some fascinating photography. Exploring both images and theory they ‘intend to feature the best in photography and critical writing on the urban landscape from around the world.’

The site features great swathes of Mike and Peter’s own in-depth projects on London, and also a variety of projects from invited contributors  with links for further exploration. Feeling honoured, it gives me great pleasure to let you know that I have been invited to share their platform.

For my submission I decided to rework my East 100th Street project and produce a series that contextualizes East 100th Street within its East Harlem, New York City locale.

I am introducing 10 images that have not been seen before to add to another 10 from East 100th Street project and 20 from my Building Character project. I have also written a bit of a blurb, an introduction and 2 project descriptions, that aim to give some insight into my thoughts behind these projects.

Here’s one more new image to get you started…


… and here’s that link again…


I hope that you enjoy exploring the urban landscape.

In the news today

In the news today…

Today I reacted quite strongly to a photograph from AFP on the BBC news website.

The article is about Egypt and if you scroll down to the picture of the children I wonder if you’ll see what I see.

Someone, presumably the parent of the children, has encouraged the children to stand, in support of army rule, by symbolically holding army boots on their heads.


It immediately sent a cultural reference through my mind,

Under the jackboot.

Dictionary definitions for jack boot include: (1)  A person who uses bullying tactics, especially to force compliance. (2) The spirit sustaining and motivating a militaristic, highly aggressive, or totalitarian regime or system.

As it turns out several people I asked were not familiar with this phrase. Which led me to wonder about the message this image portrays.

My initial impression from the photograph alone was that these children were expressing their oppression by the army. However, the photograph was accompanied by a caption that said that the children were showing their support for the army.

Hmmm… I still couldn’t see it. How could being stomped on by the army lead to a fulfillment of the rallying cry of the January 25th revolution in 2011- Bread, Freedom and Dignity?

Obviously I was inserting my own cultural reading. I sought out the Egyptian view.

The people I spoke with also found the image very disturbing. There is a division in Egypt at the moment, those for and those against the army. Those against the army have called their opponents, the army supporters ‘slave of the shoes’.

In reaction the supporters of the army, such as the girls pictured, are acting out an Arabic saying  را جزمتك علي راسي  ( transliteration: ghazmitack ala rhasi) that translates to ‘Your shoes on top of my head.’

Basically what this means is that they are showing loyalty to the army, showing gratitude and respect by putting the army (symbolized by the boots) on their head (as opposed to at their feet) and themselves consequently as low as they can go, ie under the boot, level with the ground. Not slaves but willingly level with the actual ground supporting the army.

Still I can’t get how this is a positive statement by putting yourself lower than a boot, literally underfoot, where is the self respect? It gets worse because apparently the idea that you would put a filthy shoe on your head, even an ordinary one, is culturally disrespectful and far from being seen as a way to show appreciation the phrase  جزمتك علي راسي is seen as denigrating to the utterer.

I can’t untangle the psyche of this action but I can think about the photograph and its power. This photograph speaks clearly to me but not in the way it was intended, or does it? Is the photographer for or against the army? Does the photographer know about  جزمتك علي راسي Is the photographer Egyptian or foreign? Posting this image to show support or opposition? Does this image prove how upside down things are in Egypt? Does this image show solid support for the army or a populace ground down with nowhere else to turn? I won’t even venture into talking about the children and their future, just to say what a very sad picture this in on so many levels.

UPDATED: I left this post but feel I have to come back to that photo again. Not being able to see the tops of the boots it could almost be that a soldier is standing on the heads of  these young girls. Demure and innocent, not smiling or shouting, just quietly supporting, wrapped in the flag of Egypt- They are everything pure and submissive that the Field Marshall, the sunglasses hero posed in front of a lion… that natural animal of Egypt, not, needs to gain control. Passivity, and adoration. Not pesky protesting types who want an open democracy or religious types who might object to hero worship. No, adore the Lion of Egypt, cool and manly, c’mon ladies grow up with me as your leader you know that is what counts, that I can succeed on your compliance.

OK that’s it.

Any thoughts on this image?




The Global Pigeon

The Global Pigeon

I love the library! Browsing leads to bizarre finds that often make me think about photography, what I choose to see around me and include, or not, in my photographs.

Not a book I would have directly searched for, I came upon ‘The Global Pigeon’ by Colin Jerolmack, and gave it a go. Set mainly in New York with visits to London, Venice, Berlin and Sun City, South Africa, this book covers birds, social relations, manliness, race relations, tradition, gentrification, and the relationship between nature and humans for starters. Totally absorbing.

The portrait Jerolmack paints of the New Yorkers’ pigeon lofts were particularly vivid exposing a world that before now I’ve only understood as a stereotypical northern English pastime. I did not realize it existed here in New York too. Jerolmack even posted an Andy Capp cartoon, a British character, drawn by Reg Smythe, that I grew up with, famous for being northern and keeping pigeons! Here’s a link to strip different than the one included in the book. http://www.gocomics.com/andycapp/2013/03/17#.UuA1Axb0B0s  (please copy and paste)

Pigeons are plentiful in New York but they are not the only non-human species we live alongside. On any given day New Yorkers also encounter quantities of bugs, rats, mice, seagulls, hawks and raccoons and of course I am not counting all the domesticated creatures we share sidewalks and homes with, dogs and cats, horses, reptiles, guinea pigs, squirrels and even camels on 3 Kings Day.

When I am busy photographing the built environment of New York, I sometimes include the people and occasionally even the weather of New York but never the animals. Is it that the animals are not authentic nature, they are too urbanized to be considered wild yet are not considered an urban product, rather interlopers?

Maybe I think that animals do not belong in a representation of cityscape, after all, most of the time I do not represent people in my built environment images so why would I want an animal in there. Animals are there but not always seen, and unless you live with one contact is often a soft step, a wet head, or a shriek as something small dashes over your shoe. Not a relationship, not part of the usual narrative. Something other and apart.

What is funny about the pigeons, and what makes them different though, is that they do get in my photographs. If you look through the projects on this site you’ll notice them creeping into a couple. I knew, of course, that they were there and I haven’t had any problem accepting them. They are as much a part of the experience as the rest of the referent. This is where we acknowledge their special status amongst ‘wild’ animals as almost equals. Not shy, not hidden. The streets heave with people AND pigeons. We walk, they walk, we have lunch, they share it. They cross boundaries that other creatures don’t. We don’t think they are cute, like squirrels. We don’t get freaked out by them as we do with rats. We might not like them but we definitely accept that they share our environment and when their concentration is lower than say Trafalgar Square we don’t even think about trying to get rid of them.

It would be odd to think of chasing pigeons out of my images, in fact it is odd to think about pigeons at all, but after reading this book I think I will thinking about them for a while. When I read in this book about the birds being released I immediately thought back to a photograph I had taken near Marcus Garvey Park, a mass of birds circling overhead. I’d taken the photograph just because it was a sight to see them swooping all together in that clear blue sky. They looked like they were having a good time, really enjoying themselves. Now I am wondering whether they’d been let out from a nearby loft, maybe one in the Bronx that I’ve just read about in this book.

Cambridge, 27-29 East 124th Street opposite the North end of Marcus Garvey Park.


Have you noticed any of the pigeons in my projects? What do you think – should they be there? Have you got any in your photographs? Why not post one here or on the facebook page?

Staying on the subject of photographs I recently saw the student show at the International Center of Photography and guess what was featured? Yes! Pigeons. The metal cages so perfectly accentuated the iridescent colours of these birds that I became quite enthralled by the images, despite the sorry state of the birds. Maybe some of these birds were ones that had been ‘lost’ during the races I read about in The Global Pigeon.

Mansura Khanam’s photographs:


Jerolmack, Colin, 2013, The Global Pigeon, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

16 Acres

16 Acres

I have just finished reading this interesting book on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. Watching the soundbites on the local news as the months and years of planning went by the whole venture seemed like a fiasco that would never be resolved. We know it has been now as we look at 1 World Trade Center reaching into the clouds but this book reveals the decisions and colorful process that took place in all its fascinating detail.

I leave you with a quote from the epilogue and the view of 1 WTC in the rain this week from Madison Street and Catherine Street.

“There was only one thing to report at ground zero: the process had done its necessary work, not neatly, not purely, not without selfishness or rancor or vice, but in a manner that was recognizable as essentially New York- fast, vital,vain, and not too hung up on the past.” (Nobel, 2004)

Sixteen Acres                                                                                                                   Architecture and the outrageous struggle for the future of ground Zero                   Philip Nobel




Talking Photographer

Talking Photographer, or Image maker or Generalist or Artist…

I like Nick Knight’s work, I particularly liked ‘Flora’ and I think his ‘Blooms’ are even better. This guy produces incredible work.

Flora: http://eternal-optimist.com/section/fashion/fashion-news/nick-knights-new-exhibition-entitled-flora

Blooms: http://showstudio.com/project/dynamic_blooms/editorial_gallery

It was interesting to hear Knight speak, (on video, thanks Eric!) and define himself and his work, at the University of the Arts, London. In conversation with Colin McDowell, fashion writer and academic and Frances Corner, head of college at the London College of Fashion.

Knight proposes that photography as we knew it (analog) is dead and so he no longer calls himself a photographer but perhaps a generalist or an image maker. Fair enough.

It was fascinating though to see the academic and the commercial bump up against each other and the stereotypes spill out. It made me think about how photographers are portrayed lately and how it seems to be an insult unless you are of a particular breed.

The commercial photographer embraces new technology and distribution methods whereas the academics think it is important that new photographers get to grips with the technology of the past. I agree with McDowell that a knowledge of what went before probably gave Knight the ability to be what he is today but I also agree with Knight that learning about reciprocity failure might not be crucial to being a good iphone photographer, and that using an iphone doesn’t necessarily make you a bad photographer. (Although personally I hate some of those crummy effects!)

The question of whether photography is an art seems to have died down or maybe it has been circumvented and replaced by questioning who is a real photographer and can a photographer produce art or is the best photography really made by artists using the photographic medium.

Academics seem to be torn between two thoughts. One that a photographer must use arcane technologies, never digital, to prove they are ‘real’ photographers if they are to be accepted into the art world and on the other side artists that use photography including digital are the ones that really should be represented in the ‘photography’ gallery. Work that is not intended for the gallery wall they find hard to place.

This I find borne out by the proliferation of photography classes dealing with the camera obscura, photogram, and of course the ultimate traditional technique, the pin hole camera. Comparing two very different photographers, Nick Knight and Tom Hunter, we can still see that even though they use opposite technologies and subject matter they are still clearly photographers, making images.

I like Tom Hunter’s work and this series, Prayer Places, taken with a pin hole camera, photography at its most basic. Hunter is an image maker/photographer and his nod to the past does not, in my opinion detract or in fact make his images. The images are the thing and the process whilst an integral part of his concept does not become the sole reason for his project.


In the meantime if you visit MoMA and view their New Acquisitions in Photography you wonder whether the work is by a photographer at all. It feels like an art installation rather than a photography exhibition. It is not the medium or the technique that is the issue, it is the subject matter. Mariah Robertson’s piece ’11’ questions ‘the materiality of photography’. The piece claims to be a photograph but it has nothing much to do with how we see the world, not even tangentially, it exists to explore physical, material, process only.


Knight talks about the old photography being about silver and the new being phosphorus, glowing from a screen, but his images use process to talk of subject rather than the medium.

Nick Knight might be a generalist, an image maker and an artist but to me he is the epitome of a photographer. It doesn’t matter whether he uses analog, digital, videos or live fashion, when he talks about getting ready to shoot, how for each photograph you start at the beginning again, the intuition, perception, waiting with terror and excitement for that moment, not seeing it, but feeling it and desiring it… well that sounds like a photographer to me!

Watch the whole talk and give a thought also to the tone and discussion of banal and money!





ˈfōtō ˈfôrtˌnīt frīdē

ˈfōtō ˈfôrtˌnīt frīdē

Seeing Rising Waters this week, the exhibition about Hurricane Sandy at the Museum of the City of New York, encouraged me to take this photograph.

On 1st Avenue at 99th Street this building was flooded by the East River surge, caused by Sandy, and has not been used since. In fact FDNY were the last people I saw enter the building on the night of the storm. For a while there was a notice on the door warning people not to enter. No one in the neighborhood knows why it is just sitting there empty but, from the outside, seemingly in perfect condition.


In such an illuminated city as New York it is very odd to see such a large building with not a single light on at night.