Reflections on Paris, Practice and Week 9; Critical Thinking


Le Bal, Jue de Paume, Grand Palais, the European House of Photography and Polycopies all provided provocation, information and a stunning visual memory.  The wet roads and pavements made for many liquid fields of view for my camera too.  So plenty to draw upon as a masters student.

The inquisitive perambulation around the circuit of booths at the Grand Palais, the focus of ParisPhoto, left me studying the quality of printing and presentation; the beguiling depth of sliver gelatin black and white at the intimate and striking scale has given me the invigorating energy to explore printers back here in the UK – when the moment is right.

Using archives to generate a context for new work but also the social and political place we find ourselves in today, were exhibited with great care and aplomb at two venues.  Le Bal with its Japanese movement from the 1960’s, capturing global tensions via Provoke; happenings, publications and a generous flow of images.  Then the European House of Photography which had opened up and displayed its archive of Pierre Molinier’s prints and artefacts exploring sexual behaviour as a precursor to the increasingly more explicit imagery of Mapplethorpe and others.


Seeing Donald Trump at huge scale in vibrant colour by Andres Serrano was unsettling, partly because of the juxtaposition with other images, but timely one supposes.

Back in the Grand Palais, on the third of the countless booths I ventured into, I had a conversation about a modestly scaled but most beautiful nude in sand by Edward Weston, for whom I have a real soft spot; on being told it had sold on the previous day, I managed to get an idea of the price and almost reeled at the sum involved, that was my fist hand insight into the market for authenticity and the dealer and gallery owners art of the deal.  It was 700,000 Euro.

So, with the brain stacked full with a new visual catalogue, how to analyse and think?  Can I enrich my consumption on a day when Instagram, Facebook, articles, course videos and WhatsApp have all washed me with images?  The incisive viewing of Francis Hodgson’s 2012 interview emphasises the accountability of the subject, photographer, distributer and viewer; ‘avoid the meaningless translation of pixels’, ‘learn how to look’, try to avoid ‘separating the crafting from the subject’, see ‘what it is about’.  And the killer line ‘when it matters people are prepared to concentrate harder on receiving it.  When it doesn’t matter, photography always stays trivial.  Concise and impactful words which dwell on the mind.  We are all accountable.

How do I look at photographs?

I look for a message and purpose.  I ask myself is the subject captured by choice, by chance or reluctance?  I attempt to understand the context, the history, the circumstances, the situation, politics and geography.  Detachment from context can diminish meaning or sometimes create a striking counterpoint to new politics and contemporary imagery. I am obsessed with light, form, line and shadow; discovering Harry Callahan’s archive of his sabbatical year in Aix en Provence 1958 was the perfect indulgence on all of those parameters at the European House of Photography.

What matters to me?

The technique is a matter I like to understand in each image, the angle, exposure, perspective, light, print type, where I view it, colour, texture, narrative.  I found a degree of frustration at ParisPhoto as the main expo was all about the image, plus the quality of the print, no information about motivations, technique, post-production and, because I like to know, the camera, lens and medium.  But that’s the market I suppose.  I met Edgar Martins and asked him just how he had managed to make the most painterly image I found at the expo and he embarked on the most amazing account of setting up his large format bellows camera in a vertical orientation, with him crawling underneath it to set it up and then spending the 40 minute exposure time (you read that right) walking around the space with his flash gun.  The meaning behind that image grew enormously for me – it was the conjoining the making with the image.  So that became my favourite image because now I knew.  That account ends with me bidding for a second hand large format camera on the way home to England.  That will be the subject of another blog! Seek out image 51 in this very beautiful series

I am colour blind in one area of the spectrum, so I do not know whether that minor disability (it is not serious enough to allow me to park in disabled parking lots) drives me to an abiding fondness for black and white compositions and images or the removal of colouration and the reveal of the texture of things, but I will pour over a beautiful black and white print for a long time.

How can I avoid triviality in a world dominated by images?

I believe it is difficult to avoid triviality as a viewer, as I write above, before you even rise out of bed you have usually consumed dozens of images, but I do have strategies.  I buy photo magazines, photo books, books on photography and I leave them untouched until I can sit down as a reward for hard work and unwrap them and dwell on each image.  I have a back-log just now.


Making images has much more accountability for me.  I am now contemplating subject, technicality, viewer, selecting the portals to show and, above all, showing less.

In summary, as a viewer and maker I am on that journey of discrimination and judgement and this is narrowing the bandwidth of tolerance and rejection.  I suspect this will mature and tighten by the point of completion of my masters in 2018.


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