Mack & the Art of the Photobook : Parr et al and its Future.

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Research.

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figure 1

Michael Mack, interviewed by Alexander Strecker in a recent post in Lensculture, sets out a really personal account of how he ‘ticks’ and what makes the quality of his production such a desirable and tangible thing.  Strecker sums him up thus  “there are three core beliefs that underpin everything Mack has done: first, mentors are essential; second, human relationships are paramount; and finally, that personal enjoyment is the key to long-term success”.

I make no apology in extracting substantial tracts of the interview as they serve a strong purpose, especially as it sets the agenda for my ambition to make a photobook at a future point.

On his motivations Mack says “I’m driven by a very simplistic, life-affirming notion: I want to keep enjoying what I’m doing. I don’t want to only be running a business, because much of that is quite tedious. You could be selling widgets, if all you’re focusing on is the Excel spreadsheets. In the end, the reason we are doing well is because of our attention to detail and the specificity of each design. I don’t want to do more books. I’d prefer to produce fewer titles that are higher in quality.

On the place for the tangible as opposed to the digital “there was a supposed revolution about to happen in relation to the book and ink and paper. This simply did not occur. In fact, just the opposite: the ever-expanding digital realm created the capacity for small, light-footed entities, both publishing houses and individual artists, to create their own content and market it through digital platforms. That continues to define the moment we’re in right now. It has resulted in many, many people returning to analog, physical forms for various art objects”.

A glimpse about his collaborative approach for which he is renown “Whether someone is working on the street or in their studio, we have to be sure that a book is the best possible presentation for their work. It’s never simply a catalog, a gallery takeaway, we have a studio space where the artists come and work. We bring in our designers and we sit, edit, and talk. We’ll do three days of intense work together, and then they’ll go away for a month. Then we come back together, allowing things to distill further. We give things time”.

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Figure 2

A Magnum website discussion between Olivia Arthur, Martin Parr and Fred Ritchen they review the 20 year march of the photobook; here Arthur opines “People still have a huge desire for the book, for the printed object that they can hold.” which is good to read as the future looks positive for the medium. Parr lays down the challenge for both image making and the need for purpose in a publication Photography is the easiest thing in the world but also the most difficult. It’s very easy to take a body of work and in an afternoon turn it into a book that looks contemporary and exciting but it has no soul, no message, no real substance. People believe they have made an important contribution to photography but they haven’t” 

The audience ‘span’ is addressed by Ritchin “Photobooks are having a golden era but the concern is that we are making them for each other,” and he goes on “It’s not sufficient to just talk to each other at this point. I’m looking for something that restates where we are in different ways.” and Arthur expresses her aspiration “I think we see this big cloud which is the photobook audience and what’s interesting is trying to go out and think about things differently and saying I’m going to reach these people because this is what I want to do,” and she volunteers this “We aspire to be like each other, too much so.”

Practice Planning

I aspire to create a photobook on the Pause Project.  I therefore peruse photobooks and seek out, not only the product, but the process to establish the timescale, costs, qualities and, overall, the purpose and visual/textual messaging that would create value in the widest sense of that term.  Both of these articles provide a good context to the qualitative positioning of a book.

I have started discussions with the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce about presenting the Pause Project, with a view to widening shooting opportunities but also the potential for sponsorship of a book project.  To maximise this I will be researching the sponsorship model, knowing full well that it will be often seen by sponsors as a return on investment and as such may be viewed as a form of crowd-funding modelling that will require the offer of a tangible benefit/asset upon completion.  Watch this space in 2018.


All quotes on Mack and image, figure 1,  taken from (accessed 11.12.2017);

All quotes on Mack and image, figure 2,  taken from (accessed 11.12.2017);



Three Good Leads

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Research.

A while ago I popped ‘artists that work in concrete’ into my search engine and began to uncover a series of intriguing but not wholly useful pages.

The serendipity of conversations that include the phrase “I am now working in concrete” has solicited responses from Jesse Alexander, Paul Clements and Argentea Gallery.  The age old technique of talking has reaped some super leads to three artists for three reasons;

Rebecca Fairley 

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figures 1, 2, 3

Fairley teaches and experiments at the Open College of the Arts with fabric and its interface and infusion with concrete in its wet form which cures into beautiful and intriguing results.  See figures 1, 2, 3.  She writes  “What I love about concrete is its form-finding behaviour. The mould materials and the concrete work together to create something exciting. I am never quite sure what the results will be and I find this exhilarating. I learnt that this hardwearing material is actually very sensitive, it picks up the smallest details of a fabrics surface, giving me the opportunity to create fine concrete textures” and approaches it from a gendered view “It struck me then that the concrete was no longer a masculine cold unforgiving material; in my hands it had become tactile, intriguing and feminine. This has led me to believe that there is a language of materials and a dialogue that occurs in the hands of the maker”.

She also cites a group that cast repetitive elements of work at the Tactility Factory  in Belfast –  their output looks quite exquisite; figure 4.

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figure 4

Both these processes and organisations I will be exploring and possibly meeting as my concrete work evolves.  I photographed a linen drawing in the summer and the possibility of reproducing that and moulding it with a concrete substrate has taken a step closer.

Samin Ahmadzadeh

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I was fortunate to see a solo exhibition by Ahmadzadeh in the Summer 2017 at Argentea Gallery, Birmingham.  She creates interwoven images bonded onto plywood (see figures 5, 6) and, I have discovered, via an email conversation with her, this week, that she coats them with acrylic varnish.  Her work is appropriate to my experimentation as she bonds (in her case) to a substrate (thus bears some similarity to my work) and most importantly protects the vulnerability of unique woven prints from damage and UV light by the use of this varnish.  My initial experimentation with concrete has led to a severe washing out of the imagery which was printed only on thin, standard paper, but nevertheless has drawn out the need for a solution.

Michelle Henning

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figures 7, 8

Having written about Henning’s Tate presentation in my journal, I have been signposted to I have discovered that she has a width of skills in the image world.  Not only is she a long term collaborator with PJ Harvey (see figure 6 for an example of her art work), thus providing an other ‘photographer/wider artist’ example, but she has written a book being published in 2018 “Photography – the Unfettered Image” which argues that this mobility of the image was merely accelerated by digital media and telecommunications. Photographs, from the moment of their invention, set images loose by making them portable, reproducible, projectable, reduced in size and multiplied”. But also as a photographic image maker she has created these ‘through the glass’ images which my work has echoed.

figures 9, 10

And she has explored construction sites, figures 10, 11

figures 11, 12

So, for me, another one to watch.


References (all sites visited 10.12.2017)

Rebecca Fairley

All images from :

Samin Ahmadzadeh

All images from :

Michelle Henning

All images from :


figure 7 Birdshit, Bristol to London (2009)

figure 8 Dirty Sunset, Bristol (2012)

figure 9 Ealing Shop Window from The White Album

figure 10 Closed Shop, Weston-Super-Mare | from The White Album

figures 11, 12 “Construction Work is an ongoing project of photographs of half-completed or abandoned construction sites. It is based around an implied analogy between the work of artistic construction and of building. Appropriating aesthetic devices from late modernism it takes accidental arrangements and reinvents them as staged spaces for action”.

Henning and PJ Harvey work:

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Melancholia and Image Therapy

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Research.

Partaking in two symposia in close series has provided me with a moment of review of other artists’ work, all of which held my a theme which I call “Melancholia and Image Therapy”.

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figure 1

During the Tate Cartographies session in 2017, Susan Philipsz extolled her sound art projects. In these, audio, with meaning locked into the locale, is set across landscapes at a city level (Edinburgh) but then across huge tracts of land in Scandinavia.  Perhaps her work at the Kassel Hauptbahnhof, Study for Strings for Documenta 13, in 2012 was the most steeped in a dreadful history.  The contemporary reworking of a piece composed in the Theresienstadt concentration camp which was performed by detainees who were then all killed by the Nazis, with the exception of the conductor.  The reworking, with silences and reduced score, to emulate the death of the participants, was played across the station platforms in 2012 via the PA system, figure 1.  Philipsz visually records all her work via still and moving image which provides a remnant of the perforative work for review but also captures the people witnessing the sounds and their responses.  Philipsz naturally responds to place and its history with her work with deeply researched feel for human history.

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figure 2

A few weeks later at the Grain ‘Responding to Landscape’ symposium in Birmingham, two presentations echoed the human tribulation and the response of making images as a way of dealing with family illness and death.  Matthew Murray has made a series of work on Saddleworth Moor, a place with an etched meaning for anyone in the UK with a sense of twentieth century history.  Murray spent days and nights with his assistant walking up, over, down and around the moors, image making, whilst a member of his family was dealing with tragic illnesses, perhaps as a counterpoint and empathy to that heaviness and sadness.  See one example of his work in figure 2.

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figure 3, 4

Murray was followed by Jem Southam who eloquently expressed his response to a bereavement by walking along rivers and by ponds with his camera and making work about place over and over again, figures 3, 4.  Walking and walking was expressed in his imagery.  His voice cracked as he retold his method as he gently rolled through a series of images.  One could not help but feel the sadness but also the beauty and infused pathos in the making and walking.

It was perhaps not necessary for me to look for wider affirmation that walking and looking through the lens to deal with life’s tough stuff is manifest; these visually powerful examples offer evidence alone and I add to that my own history; yet this piece my Bryce Evans in PsychCentral, about the saving nature of camera-work cites these outcomes “motivation to get outside and connect with nature, provides a shift in perspective (you’re literally looking through a new/different lens, often seeing the world differently), you begin searching for and finding beauty in the world”.

One concludes, making images is a therapeutic activity.


References (all accessed 10. 12. 2017)

Tate Symposium

Grain Symposium



Image Sources:






“Incontestable Meanings”

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Research & Reading

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Figure 1

Michelle Henning in her paper given at the Urban Encounters/Cartographies Conference at Tate Britain (figure 1) on 11th November, which I attended (and subsequently obtained the paper via Paul Clements), tabled the notion that we, in the current age, draw too large a distinction between digital and pre-digital depiction (what we now call analogue) in her paper entitled “Optical Transformations: Between the Analogue and the Digital We are Here, but Where are You?”  In this account I draw mainly on sections of her argument.

She launches by stating that “I want to challenge some of the assumptions about the pre-digital image that new theories of the digital re-circulate. I am going to argue that in order to draw a sharp distinction between a digital networked visual culture and earlier forms of visual culture, theorists of the digital have been too selective about the characteristics of pre-digital photography that they emphasize”.

She notes that theorists “argue that the digital image is not principally visual, that it is also a surface manifestation of data, determined by specific algorithms, invisible to the observer of the image. As a consequence, it is argued, we have moved beyond representation and this constitutes a significant break between analogue-chemical photography and digital photography”.

She challenges this “I suggest that the notion that we have moved beyond representation is based on a specific understanding of representation and of its role in photography — which involves, first of all, the idea that an analogue-chemical photograph was organised around resemblance and perspective, and that it was dependent for its meaning on its status as an analogue trace. While this is true of certain kinds of photographic practices, it is not invariably or essentially the case.  More worryingly, digital image theorists sometimes repeat ideas about photographs that photography theorists might have thought had already been quashed. For example, William Mitchell writes “Images in the post-photographic era can no longer be guaranteed as visual truth — or even as signifiers with stable meaning and value” – the problematic part of the sentence is that “no longer” – as if photographs had ever been guaranteed truths, or had stable, incontestable meanings

“In my view, theories of the digital have a tendency to exaggerate the break between digital and analogue and to assume that all photography prior to the digital image can be lumped together as one medium, one technology and one set of practices. I want to give some perspective, to temper a little this notion of a dramatic historical rupture, and to complicate the notion of photographic representation”.

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Figure 2

Figure 2; John Gutmann’s, We Are Here But Where Are You? taken in San Francisco, in either 1936 or 1937.

Henning continues “This is a photograph that almost completely erases itself as photograph and presents itself as just a text or surface to be read”.

“Guttmann is attentive toward the grain of the wood, but the boards are not just scrawled on but stabbed, burned or shot, peppered with tiny marks. …..the whole surface is the result of human activity. And yet, there is no-one and almost no-thing in this image: “We are here” it says, but no-one is visible. The question “where are you”? is clearly written for the absent addressees, Sophie and Mae, but it also implicates “you”, the reader-viewer, raising the question of where you (or Gutmann ) are standing. We are given a date that Sophie and Mae were present but, at the point when the photograph is taken and at the point when it is being viewed, they are gone. The photograph is not simply a trace of the past, but a trace of a trace of the past: and while we can safely assume the message is no longer still “live” eighty years later, it is unclear whether it was already a dead letter, a defunct piece of communication at the point when Gutmann took the photograph”.

“We find ourselves now in a period where “the vast mound of documentation seemed to have buried reality rather than to have clarified it” as TV Reed (puts it in the review of 1930’s practice). Digital culture theorists point to what else this process of incessant documentation is producing — they suggest what is at stake here is not what is depicted but what happens in the process of taking and circulating the image, what kind of data is being accrued and exchanged. This is important, but to take our eye off representation, to abandon the visual as mere surface manifestation, is to develop another blind-spot, this time towards the making and reading of nuanced and complex representations of our own reality. In opening one secret passage, we might take care not to close another”

In summary, Henning pleads for an appreciation of the representation in the context of the plethora of image making; not to loose one of the main causes of photography in the world of data making.


Figure 2, sourced from accessed 19.11.2017

Programme of the symposium at Tate Britian accessed 19.11.2017

Research and Development

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects. Research


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figures 1, 2

My proposal to install a digital screen in a square in Birmingham’s central business district took a healthy leap forward in September.  I prepared a paper (see figures 1 and 2 (extracts)) to prepare for the ‘Relationship Manager Digital and Creative Economy’  at Arts Council England’s regional offices in Birmingham which explained the conceptual approach to the idea, citing projects such as the outdoor display at Derby 2017. 

The company I contract to  already has a 5 figure sum set aside for a ‘public art’ installation and this was tabled as an investment for gearing up either a capital sum or a revenue sum which would embrace the cost of curating/commissioning work for display for 5-10 years.  The meeting included suggestions on local, regional, national and international photographic agencies for display.  The meeting went exceedingly well and I am now preparing a research and development grant application to draw funds to undertake technical modelling, draw on planning advice, build up a business plan for construction, installation, marking and communication, develop a curatorial strategy, maintenance planning, operation review and dismantling.

This is not the core part of my MA project work but aligns closely to my progressive integration into the photographic networks in Birmingham including my photowalks and charity endeavours.

Image Credits

Fig 1 Philip Singleton

Fig 2 Chris Northey (night), Philip Singleton (day) ad, British Journal of Photography