Hothouse16

Hothouse came to Birmingham on 26th November 2016.  The Redeye initiative, in collaboration with Grain, created a vibrant day hosted at Glenn Howells Architect’s seminar space in Digbeth.

Largely it was emerging talent that was sharply on display.  The format was a 10 minute session for each of the 12 photographers to explain, contextualise and illustrate their approach and images.  A short burst of questions were addressed, with good audience engagement after each.  The day was very well organised and the pace was well mannered and allowed for decent breaks and portfolio reviews in the ante space during the whole day.

So, here is my personal reflection of all the work on show;

Even though Stewart Wall was not well enough to attend Paul Herrmann, of Redeye, took us through his presentation which focused on the work of a monumental mason; monochrome images showing the pride and precision of the mason’s workshop.

Next Corinne Perry, having graduated from Birmingham City University (BCU) set the theme of highly personalised work, responding to depression.  Images showed her occupying and being trapped in her bedroom, some views bore a resemblance in part to Lucien Freud’s paintings, with dramatic floor board angles and expressive, often naked humanity.  Corinne made reference to a Victorian novella ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ that inspired some of her work.  Happily Corinne was expressing the view that in making work she was finding a pathway to improving her mental health.

Joanne Coates, Yorkshire born, but with a fascination with the Orkney Isles used the tool of photography to visualise the story she wanted to tell about life and work in one of the most northerly parts of the UK.  She lived there for the period of working and image making.  She explored mental erosion, escapism, Brexit, lost ways of life and the idea of hinterland in her work.  She conveyed a mystery and ambiguity in her expressive images.

Juliana Kasumu, another graduate from BCU, set the scene with some of her acclaimed early work, then turned to her work in New Orleans and its community of Senegal origin women. Life has been tough and places still express the slave trade history of the city. A brief video showed the colour, liveliness and joy of the women she worked with.  Her monochrome, film based, images reduced the colour to texture via strikingly powerful poses.  She was able to gift all her subjects with prints before departing.

Olli Hellmann provided a colourful counterpoint to the previous series of work as his premise was the behaviour of tourists in Hawaii and London with two collections showing the tourism, Magic Tropics Wonderisland and Interesting Angles respectively.  The American series showed how the cliched view of a place finds its way onto back drops, beaches and clothing, with a human herd mentality that caused for some humorous views.  The contortions of tourists using paving stones as the preferred surface to rest their smartphones when pointing up to London’s landmarks.  Funny and consistent behaviour.

Evonne Bain from Edinburgh School of Art showed a series of images under the title un-monumental. Her advanced use of Photoshop enabled the figures in monumental public art to be removed, leaving the plinth and  groundscape as a remnant, provoking a thoughtful insight into celebration of human endeavour and its loss.  Seeing or not seeing as a way of challenging memory and perception of place.

Melanie Latoré, a student who studied through the period of the dreadful fire at the Mackintosh school of Art told us of the practical and emotional effect the event had upon her and her output.  She also braved her way through a collaborate project and ended up as the sole image maker. Her work showed the ordinary but significant views of her world as the outcome of a regular and annual editing down of images, demonstrating that reduction can distil to the essence of a story.  She showed in ingenious two sided display of 12 hinged flaps each with two images as part of an interactive exhibition.

Jessa Fairbrother held conversations with her mother, both literally and metaphorically preceding and after her early death.  Jessa’s inability to have her own children added a layer to the insightful mourning that she movingly described through her images.  Her photographs show performative, haunting, rich, embroidered, burnt, buried, transforming images to a higher state of illustration and meaning.  She sought to ‘make sense of what could not be made sense of’ as a wife, daughter, sister, artist, carer and orphan. My observation was that her hand in transforming the images had captured not just the manifest sorrow but the richness and colourfulness of her mother’s life and her garden flowers.  It was moving to see and hear.  Delivered with calm decorum.

Alison Baskerville talked about photography that mattered.  As an ex-military, campaigning activist she was concerned about what her subjects got back from being involved in her work.  Despite being in Nepalese community where people struggled to eat whilst she was laden with expensive kit, her work consistently provided and created dignity and poise throughout. She dismissed photo-agency’s desire for sensation.  She then focused her work on her adopted city of Birmingham and her work within the black lives matter demonstrations, having been invited to be part of the organising group.

Mark Wright, a Midlands photographer, and another BCU graduate, introduced his work as a departure from the ‘poetic, fine art imagery’ of his university work into social documentary which was research led around fracking and its impact on people before work commences on the land in Lancashire.  He showed work in two facets; the people whom he spent a long time with talking about the long, patient revealing of the fracking company’s drive to, apparently, invisibly crack into the ground under the land which was then shown as a collection of beautifully captured ‘stillness’ of  the place.  His work had given people a platform for expression.

Jean-François Manicom and Fabienne Viala provided a double act as conceptual artist and academic respectively.  The clever, participatory project based in two of the most deprived peripheral parts of Paris created 47 compositions all with a back story.  There were three talked about in greater detail. Three young men from Egypt and Morocco were treated to a dream fulfilling moment of glory wearing borrowed ski wear then three more adopting the imperious pose of army uniforms entitled ‘return from Algiers’.  Then a mill backdrop to an idyllic scene with faded processes applied to provide an apparently authentic but mythological image.

Dimitri Haddad was introduced as part of the Grain international exchange programme.  He had been in Birmingham for 2 weeks making new work.  His exhibition in Beirut had ingeniously recorded the two sides of the street that formed the ‘green line’ between 1975-1990, separating the city into Christian and Muslim halves with the civil war raging.  His family archive provided us with a view of the generational gun-totting rite of passage for three generations.  Haddan though used his small camera to shoot.  He stitched the series of images together in batches and some buildings were distorted causing viewers to query their era and remind people of the horror, commerce, architecture and contemporary nature of the place.

As a Brummie myself I have heard Vanley Burke speak about his place in Birmingham’s heritage and visual history many times and was not able to stay for his finale talk, but departed feeling inspired, moved and informed by the 12 people, all humane, intimate and powerful.

Advertisements

There are No People in These Images

 ‘The landscapes represented in my photographs are the deserts of our circumstances

Extract;  “In The Poetic Quality of Infinity, Leonor Nazaré writes in 2013, as cited in Edgar Martins’ web site http://www.edgarmartins.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Leonor-Nazar%C3%A9-The-Poetic-Quality-of-Infinity1.pdf (Links to an external site.)

‘When he states, for example, with respect to a 2009 series, that ‘The

black hole functioned as a metaphor for reason at the point of exhaustion’

(Arq./a, 2009) he is describing to us that moment of collapse in which creation

gives way to the forces of another intelligence. In addition to this possibility

there is the possibility of nostalgia, of the inscription of archetypes and of

evidence of a vague incomprehension of the void in phrases such as: ‘without

artifice, without premeditation, my landscapes raise the question of the

complexity of the collective unconscious. The landscapes represented in my

photographs are the deserts of our circumstances. They are the landscapes

that survive our absence’ (ibidem).

Edgar Martins knows that the absence of humans of these places is

unsettling and says himself that ‘the observer longs for signs and evidence of

life to increase the visual volume and give (the) place its social identity’ “

Here, the author, Nazaré, is eloquently sampling Martins’ thinking and expressions which lead the viewer of his work into a deep contemplation of the beautifully crafted and captured settings and landscapes.  He captures open views which may be democratically accessed as well as highly protected and secured places which he has gained special permissions to see.  In both positions the tranquility, the calmness, the ‘other-worldliness’ are conveyed by the state of stillness of the photographer which I believe transfers to the viewer.  The still image stills the viewer.  The emotional and cerebral window is opened and the air is drawn in.

I am convinced this is achieved by the absence of people populating his images.  The distraction of recognition of facial expression, gender, race, clothes and age are removed, to be replaced by our own occupation of the composure and serenity; the theory pervades the practice.

Reflections on Paris, Practice and Week 9; Critical Thinking

red-tree-light-cropped

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. http://www.mep-fr.org/evenement/archives-pierre-molinier-pierre-molinier/

d-trump

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. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/apr/03/andres-serrano-interview-donald-trump-piss-christ

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 http://www.edgarmartins.com/work/the-time-machine-an-incomplete-semi-objective-survey-of-hydropower-stations-2011/?show=photographs

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.

models-on-wall

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.

Micro Commission

As part of my positions and practice learning on my MA course at Falmouth University I was set a micro-commission by a student peer, in this case Chris Northey.  I had the choice of two briefs and I chose ‘Dead Spaces’.

Perhaps it was the influence of Halloween and the time of year in general, as I chose this theme to exploit the opportunity to walk through two cemeteries in Birmingham, UK.  I acknowledge I created a rather literal translation of the brief.  The first visit was shortly after dawn when the sun was bright, but low, in St Peter’s cemetery.  The second was at Warstone Cemetery after dark on 5th November.  For the latter I asked an assistant along, Edward, who also became the model for the evening, nursing the remote flash and animating the deep darkness of the catacombs and stones.

I used 50mm lenses in both instance as I am deliberately restricting myself to these presently, to remove the ‘laziness’ of a zoom.  The f1.4 and 1.8 have enabled very sharp depth of field in most instances.

The challenge for me was the determined choice to shoot in the dark, away from ambient light which made subject focusing, maneuverings and flash control quite tough.  At the last minute I remembered a torch which enabled the whole process to be executed.

The shoot captures both solemnity but also the ecology that thrives throughout cemeteries; a visual paradox which has appeal.

memory-scriptdied-scriptangel-looking-downivy-shadowcross-shadowedward-left-copyedward-catacomb-walkedward-right

A Sort of Manifesto…….

We have looked, as part of the MA in photography at Falmouth University at contemporary practice and the ethics and accountability the photographer has towards her/himself, the audience and the subject(s).

Clearly the frozen moment can be reproduced endlessly today, more so than ever, given the viral nature of internet based communication, whether you chose to harness the web or not, somebody will.  The ‘risk’ of exposure that can be misconstrued is high.  It could ‘damage’ the subject, your reputation as an image maker and indeed the eye and mind of the viewing audience, if the context and the reason for the ‘moment of seeing’ is not explained.  There may not be an opportunity to explain.

So, with a degree of simplicity and trepidation, I set out concisely here my ‘manifesto’ for my practice:

  • I aspire to capture images that inform, provoke and occasionally thrill.
  • I aim for authenticity – being real, honest and frank.  My images reframe the familiar.  In the city I capture line, form and shadow.
  • I am accountable to an audience, whom I realise I cannot predict, and thus will not allow my images to be used for religious, political or any extreme purposes.
  • I will always enter a debate about my images and discuss their impact, information and suggestion.