Thursday, 31 October 2013

Ansel Adams Photography from the Mountains to the Sea NMM Greenwich 2013

I have been really lucky this year to see the work of so many respected and eminent photographers and, while it was still on at the National Maritime Museum, went to see Ansel Adams Photography from the Mountains to the Sea.

“The works in this exhibition explore water in all its forms, from turbulent views of rapids and waterfalls to contemplative scenes of rivers and pools.”
Phillip Prodger, guest curator, Peabody Essex Museum

Adams was one of the founder members of Group f-64 in 1932 (f-64 was then the smallest available aperture available on a photographic lens)

“Group f-64 limits its members … to those striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods … Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form … The members of Group f-64 believe that photography, as an art form, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself.”

So there you go!

When it comes to reviewing the exhibition I don't really know where to start... I really hate to have to say feels sacrilegious... but shhhhhhhhhhhhhh I don't feel inspired by his work that much....its not that I don't LIKE it so much as it doesn't make me feel, I like photographs to inspire some emotion, either from the imagery itself or the message/story it telling. Ansel Adams photographs while technically stunning, with amazing detail don't make me feel anything beyond those 2 observations. I have read so many reviews on other bodies of work that get mixed reviews but no-one anywhere seems to have a bad word to say about Adams? I was starting to think there was something wrong with me until I came across this...

where Alastair Sooke states:

Why, then, did I find myself resisting the allure of his photography... let me come right out and say it: I find Adams’s aesthetic curiously off-putting.....Adams’s vision is at best detached, at worst cold and misanthropic..... As a result, though I greatly admire Adams’s artistry, I rarely warm to him.

Ok, so I have cut out the blurb in the middle but I felt Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa relief...I'm NOT the only one who feel this way then. Sooke mentions the lack of people in the images, maybe this is what I haven't be able to put my finger on.

Similar shots by Vittorio Sella speak more to me than Adams but the imagery is so similar, is this due to the inclusion of people giving perspective, a human touch, emphasising the harshness of the environment?

Panorama of the Baltoro Glacier with Mitre Peak, Mustagh Tower and K2 in the background 1909 Vittorio Sella
And I get cross that no-one ever mentions Carleton Watkins who was there before him, it was 30 images of his which captured the valley's ravines, "cascading waterfalls and monumental trees" that inspired Abraham Lincoln to sign the legislation needed to secure the wilderness "for public use, resort, and recreation". He even photographed the Golden Gate area before the bridge was built which everyone raves about with Adams.

Watkins photographed ravines, rivers, waterfalls and monumental trees to secure the grant that allowed this vast wilderness to be kept 'for public use, resort, and recreation' forever. Here is River View down Yosemite Valley (looking west-southwest toward Cathedral Rock)
Despite not being as pin sharp and a bit sepia in tone, these images of Watkins have a gentle grace about them, the contrast is not so great and I know Adams spent hours in his darkroom dodging and burning, but sometimes I feel to excess. I really, really don't want to diss Adams that much as he was a master at his craft and his images are amazing, I'm just not his number one fan I guess.

What about Charles Leander Weed and George Fiske? I wonder how many people don't know about them? I know I didn't until recently.

Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California, 1865. Smithsonian American Art Museum Charles L Weed

Washington Column, Mirror Lake [Yosemite Valley]. 366. [Photograph by George Fiske.]

Back to the exhibition itself, over 100 photographs were displayed under separate headings:  Sea and Surf, Coastal, Monumental, Rivers, Waterfalls, Rapids, Surface and Texture, Snow and Ice, Geysers and finally Clouds and Reflections.The prints varied greatly in size: from tiny polaroid prints to supersize prints covering entire walls. On examining how the exhibition was curated it was interesting to note that the display of the work was varied; some collections were sectioned off with low lighting; large screens show large formatted pictures and, towards the end, a documentary of the photographer’s life and career was screened in a medium-sized room with seating. This led on to another section, making it maze-like.Sometimes the maze like way the exhibition was set out got overwhelming and you had to ask yourself have I looked at that bit yet?

Other useful/interesting features were maps placed around the space showing the locations where Adams took the photographs. Towards the end there is a small "washing line" notes pegged to it. A sign asked viewers to write down how this work has inspired them. I'm not sure what the gallery was going to do with them after but it made people feel part of the exhibition experience.

His timing and composition are fantastic, as said above I really can't find fault with this, he pioneered so many new techniques for example his huge oversized prints produced in the early 1950's for the American Trust Company, it is a shame modern technology caught up and took over and huge is all you invariably tend to see at exhibitions these days. I found it more interesting to look closely at his smaller pieces in this exhibition palm-sized prints so unbelievably sharp – masterfully developed to have such strength in contrast and tone.

Most of the photographs were printed by Adams himself (so at least you know that he intended to make some of the darkest areas THAT dark and it wasn't an overzealous reproduction) and were accompanied by a little bit of blurb to explain the photograph and its relation to water, which was good. One aspect the exhibition showed how Adams photographed and "played with the aesthetics of patterns and textures found within nature", this work was new to me and I could see how he and Edward Weston must have bounced ideas off each other.

What I took away from this exhibition most of all (apart from the fact that I had been lucky to see up close and personal the landscapes of the Ansel Adams, oh and 2 postcards) is that every single photograph in the exhibition had been manipulated. We heard from his son in the video above that he likened a photographic negative to a composer’s score, while the performance is the photographer/printer’s interpretation and reaction in the darkroom. Why is it that today's photographers get vilified for their manipulation yet Adams is revered for his?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Exhibition Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour Somerset House January 2013

Another way back when ;o) But not quite last summer...

In January a friend and I decided to take a jaunt up to Somerset house and take in some Cartier Bresson whilst looking at the other 15 photographers on display, these were:

Karl Baden, Carolyn Drake, Melanie Einzig , Andy Freeberg, Harry Gruyaert, Ernst Haas, Fred Herzog, Saul Leiter, Helen Levitt, Jeff Mermelstein, Joel Meyerowitz, Trent Parke, Boris Savelev, Robert Walker and Alex Webb.

Curated by William A. Ewing, (name rings a bell having just quoted him on the Out of Focus exhibition which he also curated)  it featured over 75 works by these photographers and 10 previously unseen HCB images.
Not really sure what to expect I went with an open mind, Henri Cartier-Bresson had exclaimed “Colour photography is not up to the mark, prove me wrong!” So this exhibition set out to rebut his claim. I had to ask myself which is best or are they just different?  I felt that the exhibition itself didn't try to push you in one direction or another, it displayed all the imagery and allowed you to make up your own mind.

It is frequently remarked that Bresson dismissed colour photography but he did sometimes use it himself. However he destroyed nearly all of his colour negatives leaving only his B&W for posterity. In an interview asked, "how do you feel about colour photography?" he replied:

"It’s disgusting. I hate it! I've done it only when I've been to countries where it was difficult to go and they said, “If you don't do color, we can't use your things.” So it was a compromise, but I did it badly because I don't believe in it."

"The reason is that you have been shooting what you see. But then there are the printing inks and all sorts of different things over which you have no control whatsoever. There is all the interference of heaps of people, and what has it got to do with true colour?"

He did go on to admit that if the technical problems were overcome he might be more tempted to use it.

History tells us that Robert Frank remarked ‘Black and white are the colours of photography’ but, as the technology improved, photographers began to sense the gap between real life and image.The snobbery towards colour lasted until the late 1970s, when in 1976, John Szarkowski and MoMA recognised the work of William Eggleston, from then on the world of photography was revolutionized.

Much has been said about "the decisive moment" and I guess that HCB became as heartily sick of the label, which he disputed, as I sometimes am. Like poor Robert Capa and his Spanish civil war picture, it doesn't matter what else you say or produce, one thing will always haunt you. No-one seems to know HCB also said  “Time runs and flows and only our death can stop it. The photograph is the guillotine blade that seizes one dazzling instant within eternity.” So could modern technology and contemporary colour photography capture that moment just as effectively?

The photographs exhibited came from various time frames and were not displayed chronologically I guess this was intentional as they seemed to be more matched in content and subject matter, but it didn't help you decide if colour had improved over the ensuing years, you had to judge each on it's merit. Being so long ago I can't remember what was hung where and next to who so I have randomly selected some images from online to illustrate my post and give a flavour of what was on offer.

Henri Cartier-Bresson Harlem New York 1947

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Brooklyn New York 1947

San Francisco, 1960 – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson had an eye for the moment and for composition. He saw serious quiet moments and caught the humour in others. He loved to frame his images just so and never cropped.

Ernst Haas New Orleans 1960

Helen Levitt - Cat next to red car, New York - 1973

Harry Gruyaert Belgium Flanders-region- Province Of Brabant 1988

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, 2009 - Karl Baden
Karl Baden's series reminded me of Lee Friedlander only in colour. In comparison I think I prefer Friedlander.
Reflection, 1958 – Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter, Snow, 1960
I adored this almost painterly image by Saul Leiter taken in 1960. The muted colours giving it a slow calm atmosphere even if outside was actually in chaos due to the weather.

9/11 – Melanie Einzig
Always astounded by this image as a courier seems to be so unaware or unconcerned about the action behind him. Einzig captured a decisive moment in more ways than one, both the subject and the photographer totally unaware of what would happen next and the dire consequences.

Fred Herzog, Crossing Powell, 1984
Joel Meyerowitz, Camel Coats, Fifth Avenue, New York, 1975
Joel Meyerowitz is a street photographer who I have a soft spot for, he cleverly uses colour to bring his pieces together. This one in particular I love due, once again, to a limited colour palette and also the timing, the steam rising and the shadows on the passersby caught in that split second.

Alex Webb, Tehuantepec, Mexico, 1985
Alex webb does the same thing within this image, it would not be the same if the ball were red and the child in the background sported a green t.shirt. Part luck that it happened and part skill to capture it.

Andy Freeberg, from Art Fare, 2011
Andy Freeberg, ‘Spinello, New York Pulse’, 2010
Andy Freeberg, Sean Kelly Art Basel Miami, 2010
I make no excuses for including three images by Andy Freeberg, possibly the most immediately eye-catching images in the exhibition. They made me smile then, I had forgotten about them and I still find them almost hilariously amusing. 

Carolyn Drake, Border town, Kyrgystan, 2008
Part of an ongoing project photographing in the former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Drake is trying to document the relationship of the people to the land and  to explore how these countries are coping with the economic, ecological and political uncertainty. I think the composition is amazing, I did wonder at first if it was photoshopped! There is so much to look at with interest in the fore and background. The tree dividing the frame to perfection. The colours neither add or detract.

Carolyn Drake New Kashgar 

Trent Parke “Today Cold Water”

Boris Savelev

Jeff Mermelstein, Untitled (10 bill in mouth) New York City,1992
Robert Walker
Robert Walker
Robert Walker embraces colour in all its chaotic glory. It is sometimes difficult to see where reality meets the advertising hoardings in the busy New York Streets.

Apparently HCB once said ‘Colour is for painters’, but I think that many photographers, and not just those included within this exhibition have proved him wrong. They bravely accepted the gauntlet he threw down and were well met at 10 paces at dawn. As with the Out of Focus exhibition I feel my initial reception to this exhibition has changed. I did enjoy it at the time but looking back from the comfort of my PC chair, having the time to reflect on the myriad of images available with only a select few actually appearing online has eased the confusion and image overload I remember from the day itself. Cartier Bresson's black and white images were shown alongside those whom he has influenced and I think they complimented each other rather than rivalled.

In conclusion I think both work,  B&W imagery still has a place but colour can be used to great effect. Sadly the book published alongside this exhibition was sold out by the time I went and as far as I can see has not been reprinted...if anyone has a copy they don't want anymore send me a message ;)

Don McCullin talk at The Photographers Gallery January 2013

Back in January I was lucky enough to attend a talk given by Don McCullin at the Photographers Gallery. During their first Key Speaker talk of 2013, McCullin spoke about his work, in conversation with curator and photography historian Colin Ford.

A quick intro for those who have never heard of him...

"Don McCullin (b.1935) has captured photographs of conflict, disaster and devastation in Britain and abroad for over 40 years, including extensive coverage of the Vietnam War and the conflict in Northern Ireland. He’s the recipient of a number of awards, including a CBE in 1993. In 2011, The Imperial War Museum, London, mounted the largest exhibition to date of his work in the UK, Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin. His work is currently on view in War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath, at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and subsequently touring to LA, Washington and New York."

"Colin Ford, CBE, was the first senior curator of photography at the National Portrait Gallery, 1972-82 and Founding Head of the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television (now the National Media Museum). He was a regular BBC broadcaster for many years, and first interviewed Don McCullin for Radio 4 in 1977.  Ford’s Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the Twentieth Century (in 2011) was the first photography exhibition ever originated by the Royal Academy."

It was quite an enlightening talk and I discovered many new things about him. After reading his autobiography, borrowed from a friend, it was disappointing to find quite a bit of the information overlapped, I guess it would if you are telling a life story of how you got somewhere and how you started but it did emphasise how some of these talks are just "on a circuit". A bit like when celebs get trotted out for their latest book, or film. I later found a podcast of Colin Ford interviewing him for the National Media Museum, the same questions and the same answers....I know they would be the same answers and I guess there are only so many ways to tell it and it does not take away from the man himself or as Ford described him "the legend" that is Don McCullin.

What made me giggle lots was at the beginning half the information of how the people met etc was wrong...important to get your research right....

Having said that nonetheless it was very interesting and I jotted down lots of notes which I am now struggling to decipher, I should learn to write properly lol. All his life McCullin seems to have been a risk taker, from hanging around with gangs (first published images were of gangs for the Observer)  jaunting off to Berlin with only £42 in his pocket when unable to speak German, to finding himself in the world's worst theatres of war and coming face to face with some of the worlds most dangerous despots. You have to be of a certain personality to handle all of this. He admits he was full of rage and even now will still rant at the world. His upbringing in Finsbury Park gave him a chip on his shoulder and his first photographs were steeped in violence. The gang member photographed eventually killed a policeman and was hung. He feels this rage and feelings of hate have coloured how he takes his images. In a different interview he stated "I grew up in total ignorance, poverty and bigotry, and this has been a burden for me throughout my life, there is still some poison that won't go away, as much as I try to drive it out."

The Guv'nor Finsbury Park London 1958

McCullin's period of National Service in the RAF saw him posted to the Canal Zone during the 1956 Suez Crisis, where he worked as a photographer's assistant. He failed to pass the written theory paper necessary to become a photographer in the RAF, and so spent his service in the darkroom. During this period McCullin bought his first camera, a Rolleicord.

McCullin says he felt as a young person he was on a permanent "losers ticket" but he then used his photography and camera to get out of this situation. He took a gamble, defied the Observer and went to Berlin to photograph the soldiers and the building of the Berlin Wall. Some of the results were accidental experimentation as he had the wrong camera for the job so got on the floor and shot from differing angles. Luckily for him and us they came out as well as they did.

Berlin 1961

Later on he was prepared to push boundaries even more, friends from Finsbury Park invariably ended up going to prison thinking they had done something daring and risky. His risks took a different direction; the prison he ended up in was in Uganda, after they insisted he pay his hotel bill!

1964 saw McCullin in Cyprus and he received the World Press Photo Award in 1964 for his coverage of this war. In the same year he was awarded the Warsaw Gold Medal.

In fact he is no stranger to awards in 1977, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bradford in 1993 and an honorary degree by the Open University in 1994. He was granted the CBE in 1993, the first photojournalist to receive the honour. The Cornell Capa Award in 2006,  The Royal Photographic Society's Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2003, The Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal in 2007 are also claims to fame.

On 4 December 2008, McCullin was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Gloucestershire in recognition of his lifetime's achievement in photojournalism. In 2009 he received the Honorary Fellowship of Hereford College of Arts. In 2011, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Arts) from the University of Bath.

Despite all the recognition he comes across as a modest and compassionate man who appreciates the smallest of gestures. He tells of how in war he still found acts of warmth and humanity, for example being covered by a coat because he decided to stay with the Turkish people capturing the atrocities and telling their story. In the course of this war, his first, he faced the prospect of photographing the dead and the maimed. He felt he had to capture what was there, he had made the decision to go, he knew he was intruding in private moments, he felt shabby and felt although he had conquered something, his fear of death or dead bodies, he also lost something from within. He occasionally questioned why am I here, but "once you take the air ticket there is no turning back. You can't have second decisions" it wasn't done to be cruel or vindictive, its done with compassion and concern, he always looked for permission. Now he thinks if it does not tell a new story or won't change anything he does not photograph it, citing some examples from his recent trip to Syria.

Cyprus conflict 1964

One of the questions he was asked after his talk was with regards to if you should help or just photograph and walk away, he replied that even knowing first aid has strings attached, if you go to help someone who is injured, lying in the middle of the road, the chances are you will get hit by the same sniper. The image below below is described as a deposition, like Christ being taken down from the cross, despite not being religious he does see religion in things, "When human beings are suffering, they tend to look up, as if hoping for salvation. And that’s when I press the button." After taking this image he shouted to the men to bring him over, they tripped and fell so he took him on his shoulders and carried him out of the battle.



McCullin admitted to being sick of the above image of a shell shocked soldier , he laughed as he told us that he made a mistake and missed it out of the edit for the Sunday Times. Asked if he ever felt if his images had been manipulated to give another meaning or used in a fashion he did not like McCullin replied that he was lucky to have had a lot of control over his images and the captions. He protected them and would supervise the layout and their use despite prompts and suggestions that surely he had other things to do.....we worked for the Sunday Times for about 18 years.

Going to Vietnam and meeting some of the characters there he described as pure Graham Greene, and it was a gigantic war, the battlefield was "help yourself" and nothing now will never be the same; photographers are embedded, they are restricted in their movements. He partially blamed this on the coverage of the Vietnam war, where he spent 4 years, an independent witness of the "mad follies" of war that happened. There is less access now. with more spin to hide realities, western leaders are made more accountable and there is a public outcry over casualty figures. Dictators have no fear of public opinion.


One of his observations at this time was that war sometimes makes men not act like "real men" but more like "real human beings" which seems a paradox, but men cried, black men cried over white and white men cried over black, segregation and politics didn't matter. But sometimes the soldiers acted  inhumanely. The above photograph was taken after American soldiers looted a dead soldier. McCullin thought this wrong, he thought of him as a hero, fighting for his country,with family and paltry possessions. He freely admits to staging this by gathering the scattered belongings together, he wanted to show these pathetic possessions, how the Americans had everything while he had nothing and they had messed about with his body for souvenirs. He thought it disgusting which I found rather telling and a revealed a compassionate side which commentators don't always apply to war photographers. They tend to assume after a while the photographers become immune. McCullin is proof they don't. In another interview on discussing the death of a mother of five from cholera he said "I was looking up to the sky, trying not to let them see that I was crying. I am very emotional, but people don’t know this, I am expected to be the big tough John Wayne of war photography – which I don't want to be."

He likes to be known as a photographer, unhappy with the label that some chose these days of being an artist "I don't want to be called an artist, I don't have the right to practice creativity at the expense of human suffering."

During his talk he brings up Biafra and capturing the plight of the children and young women affected. Again he discussed the ridiculousness (to him)  of religion, how these poor women were starving, their children dying and yet he would find graffiti claiming "today I am reborn" etched into the walls. Religion is to blame in many a conflict, Christian Phalange killing the Palestinians, Protestants against Catholics in Northern Ireland...the list is endless.

"I find it most in the people who suffer the most, they seem to marshal the energy of dignity, because they will not surrender. Like the Biafran mother with the child at her breast, you cannot imagine a more dignified human being."

On photographing both sides in the Northern Ireland conflict he said "photographers don't have enemies, they don't take sides...[paradoxically]... once you see an injustice you do take sides."

Northern Ireland
McCullin did not just photograph war and conflict, he produced bodies of work at home on the underclass of English society, "his haunting landscapes and darkly luminous still-lifes are all part of the man and his photography" On photographing West Hartlepool he said it was like looking at Dachau and gives us an amusing anecdote about crashing his car into a bus stop, finding a BnB for the night but when offered a room share with four other men "sat scratching themselves" he got in his car and drove straight down the A1 and home.

West Hartlepool 1963

Day Of Ashura, Bradford, 2006
"A couple of years ago I turned up into Manningham Lane and saw a group of people in their pyjama trousers, flogging themselves. Iran seemed to have turned into Bradford..."

"What I would consider my self-portrait, if I had to, would be the Irish tramp who looks like Neptune. Because of his melancholy, his dignity. It is difficult to associate the word “dignity” with conditions such as I photograph, yet dignity is what I try to show."

Don McCullin cites the following photographers who have influenced him: Roger Fenton, Robert Capa, Bill Brandt, Eugene Smith (describing him as bonkers) and William Klein. He greatly admires Chris Killip and believes he has surpassed everyone else in the field of documentary.

He is still learning, about himself, about others, about his environment, carrying around a "war reputation" he describes as a man not changing his clothes. He likes landscapes, still life and other aspects of photography. McCullin likes it when people compliment his landscapes and it makes him feel clean. However he does not like chocolate box landscapes, and being in touch with himself the inner darkness he feels influences how he shoots.He hardly ever sees the "blossom, lights or fluffy clouds." To achieve the deep contrast and richness of his photographs he uses a yellow filter, and when it snows an infra red.

McCullin acknowledges that you can't go to war without some kind of damage, either physical or mental. He welcomed his injuries so he could acknowledge others suffering. Now he wants some time to himself, you go to war you suffer, he has had 55 years of this and now wants time to himself. "I have been manipulated, and I have in turn manipulated others, by recording their response to suffering and misery. So there is guilt in every direction : guilt because I don't practice religion, guilt because I was able to walk away, while this man was dying of starvation or being murdered by another man with a gun. And I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself : “I didn’t kill that man on that photograph, I didn’t starve that child.” That’s why I want to photograph landscapes and flowers. I am sentencing myself to peace."


This post, and indeed the talk that I attended in no way can sum up the photographer or his back catalogue. I came away quite pensive, with many questions answered. Some on the ability of a person to willingly go to war, on how can they constantly photograph the horrors that are out there, how does it affect them. Do they walk away unscathed. McCullin confirmed what many before have said, that your background and experiences will affect your photography. That he hasn't walked away unscathed, he is still haunted by things he has seen. Yet despite wanting to walk away he can't, in 2012 he returned to the theatre of war going to Syria and at the time of this talk was planning to return. I hope that whatever has been keeping him safe for so long continues to do so.

Exhibition: Out of Focus Saatchi Gallery OCA Study Day

Forgive me Blog, for I have sinned, it is too long since I wrote up some of my study days and personal gallery visits....over the next few days (as I have to be in for roofers to come and look at a leak I suddenly seemed to have acquired) I hope to address this issue...though looking at how many I need to do I don't think they will all get done and some maybe more in depth than others.

Firstly I'm going to concentrate on the Saatchi Out of Focus OCA study visit that was done back in the summer of 2012. Yes, THAT long ago. Having recently used information gathered and photographers displayed in this exhibition I realise how important it is to take notes, keep exhibition guides and complete a write up no matter how brief.

I think that the write up would have been different had I done it at the time and looking at it respectively has given me a different perspective. To remind myself of the exhibition I have re-read online reviews, both from other students and online publications.

So here goes me....

On reading the reviews I was reminded that this exhibition was the first one held at the Saatchi gallery in over ten years. Quite a few of the writers were scathing about the curation stating "Entitled ‘Out of Focus’, ironically, there is not much focus to the works overall" continuing with "there is a lack of consensus from room to room," Another writes "Saatchi captures the confusion of contemporary photography... messy, sprawling [with]... uncomfortable truths about the current state of photography." Yet another wrote “I left feeling rather perplexed — the variety is astonishing but it feels uncurated. The catalogue suggests looking at this show through “an appropriate lens — a kaleidoscope”

The following quote comes from the book which accompanied the exhibition and here I give a nod to Armano's blog and fully admit to getting it from him, so thanks Armano in helping me complete this write up, even if you are unaware of it! A link to Armano's blog is at the end and he also has some wonderful pictures from the day which brought back memories.

William A Ewing wrote "I believe that we are missing something essential if we don’t acknowledge that photography covers a much broader field than what is found on museum or gallery walls.”

And there I think we have the rub. An exhibition about contemporary photography will by default appear messy and random, with so many new technologies and avenues to explore, the ability to try new things and be unfettered it will seem a little uncurated. It wasn't an exhibition about contemporary landscape, or contemporary portraits, it was well...just...contemporary. This does not mean to say that it was not a little overwhelming. With 38 photographers on display and quite  a few pieces from each, there was a lot to take in and I probably skipped some accidentally and glazed over with others. It is quite easy to become tired walking up and down flights of stairs and through 15 equally-proportioned exhibition spaces, which when opened in October 2008 were described by the Observer as being “the most beautiful art spaces in light, as high, and as beautifully proportioned as any in London”. The space is gorgeous, high white walls and ceilings, well lit with ample space to stand back or view from a high gallery to take in the displays.

In all honesty I did find it a little confusing, but when you go to any museum as you wander from Romans, to silverware to costumes to glassware then a selected exhibition you do get accosted by different sights and cultures and we accept that so why not this?

What I took away from this exhibition more than anything is that you should feel free to experiment with photography, size, colour, assemblage, collage and even the controversial. There were some images on display that I didn't like (Pinar Yolacan and her offal series, sorry,  Perishable series comes to mind) but who am I to say that she does not have a message to send about how in the end we all perish, and "are what we eat"?

Out of the huge array on offer the most memorable for me, in no particular order and not to say I did or did not like them were:

Katy Grannan, David Benjamin Sherry, Mitch Epstein, Sohei Nishino, Luis Gispert, Ryan McGinley, Mariah Robertson, Mat Collinshaw, Noemie Goudal and Hannah Starkey. The Richard Wilson Used Sump 1987 installation was stunning.

Usually I write a little about each photographer but that is when the visit is a little more recent and not quite so many to talk about? Instead I will just end on a conclusion.

In flicking through the exhibition guide and the Telegraph slideshow these were the artists that I can honestly say I remember seeing, I have excluded artists that I already was aware of. This is the power of imagery and messages, what remains after we walk away. I found it really interesting to note that I didn't remember Broomberg and Chanarin, I remember the red images under glass but their names didn't stick, likewise Elina Brotherus, all of which I have recently seen again. Guess what ...Elina was naked in a bath....

Monday, 28 October 2013

Project The photographic slideshow

Project: The photographic slideshow.

"Slideshows, in whatever form, are linear presentations, and enjoy both the benefits and drawbacks of one image following another." Benefits for the person setting it up is that you control the sequencing and manipulation to create associations. eg using similar shapes can link images that have nothing else in common.

The slideshow can be automated or not. How each image moves onto the next impacts upon the experience of the viewer, whether or not images dissolve into each other, fade in or out or just jump to the next shot. Drawbacks can be that viewers have no knowledge or preview of what is coming next. Depending on the topic matter music and effects can be added.

Exercise: Research and analyse web slideshows.

Bearing the above in mind I had to research the websites of magazines and newspapers, examine at least six and select two examples that I consider to be effective presentations. As a starting point the notes gave us some sites to consider.

On looking at these sites initial responses are:

The Guardian:

I quite liked this one as you could either watch it as an automated slideshow or manually click the "next arrow". As an automated slideshow it did play music which wasn't apt for all of the images and I couldn't find a mute button. However I guess that is what your speaker button is for! The images faded into each other with both options and captions could be seen or hidden. When switched on they appeared at the bottom and partially obscured the image. The option was also available to view in full screen. 22 images were included in this slideshow and thumbnail previews could be look at.

New York Times

This did not have an automated option you had to manually click. On doing so the screen seemed to "flick" white for a nano second before the next image appeared and this did so scrolling jumpily down from the top to the bottom. There was no option to view full screen however the captions were set to the right hand side and a link to the related news story. I didn't follow the links to discover how easy it was to navigate back as I was only interested in the slideshow itself, 13 images were available to view and as far as I could see no preview was on offer once at the end of the show it did not loop back to the beginning which was annoying.


Again this was not automated. 16 images had to be navigated by manual "next" arrow. The captions and arrows appeared obscuring the bottom of the image when you hovered over the photograph; without hovering the mouse you would not realise at first this was a slideshow. There was no option to view full screen. Images did not fade jumped straight away to the next image.

Paris Match

At first I found this one a bit difficult to navigate mainly as I wasn't sure about the translations to navigate to the slideshow! There is a link on their front page "en images" which yes I got lol, and when you click on it there isn't any indication that this is a slideshow with no obvious buttons. I rolled my mouse over the image but it wasn't until I got to the far right hand or left hand side that the arrows appeared.  These again obscure the image on display but you do get a small thumbnail preview of the next image. Not automated the images faded in and out.The captions are permanently displayed at the bottom, the photographs are large so don't need the option of full screen. Once finished the page automatically refreshes to give you the option of other slideshows to review.


Not automated, once you click a link to the selected story the navigation is obvious and straightforward, numbers below indicate how many images are in the set and you can jump ahead if you so wish. When you navigate forward a new page loads with information above and below this means the images do not fade into each other and there is a slight jump between pages. The images filling the page means a full screen option is not required.

The Telegraph

Following the initial link opens a large page which makes it obvious this is a slideshow. Once again it is not automated, you can navigate by either using the arrows or the numbered page links above. Large clear images mean a full screen option is not required. When moving forward the images do not fade just appear, I don't know if it is a regular occurrence or my internet connection but there was a slight delay between each image during which I got the Telegraph logo appear. This was only for a split second and didn't really impact too much on the viewing experience. Once at the end if you click the next button a new page opens to give you options to view other slideshows.

Just for fun and looking at a site dedicated to photography I investigated the Magnum site. As expected everything is really clear and easy to navigate and once on the photographers link I chose to have a peek at the work of Steve McCurry. On his page you have a selection of his work to review via a slide show. The images slide from right to left with a small selection of the last and previous images darkened at either side. These sections resize dependent on the image displayed being landscape or portrait.

Links are provided to read photo information and the images can be viewed full screen. Back to the main artists page, links to photo essays are given below. On opening a photo essay there are options to share the image via various social media, change the viewing background from light to dark and view further information. The arrows navigate backwards and forwards on either side. All in all a most satisfying experience as you would hope from Magnum.

Having looked at these sites I can see that there are many similarities as well as differences. In response to the questions I had to ask:

Do the different websites present slideshows in essentially the same way, or are there subtle or substantial differences between them? I think the question itself could be rewritten as I take essentially the same way and having subtle differences to mean the same thing? Essentially they all present their slide shows as a series of still images within a news story or as part of a feature about photographs ie Photograph of the month, Nature Photographs etc. but not one was the same. They varied in position on the page, size of images, navigation control, audio soundtrack, how they transitioned from one image to the next, social media options and colour of background.

Are there any features that all the slideshows have in common? Again no two slideshows were the same but they did have common features such as navigation arrows in whichever form they chose, crediting the photographer and having captions.

How do the slideshows differ in the amount of choice that they offer the viewer for playing them? Is the viewer choice a good thing? Here there was quite a bit of variety depending on whether the slideshow was part of a news story/ photo essay or a roundup of non related images. On the technical side I am guessing it depends on where you live and what browser you use impacts upon a viewer's experience. Taking it as read that there is no issue upon accessing the web pages there is a difference in options offered. None apart from Magnum gave the option to alter the viewing background. On the whole most sites seemed to have black or grey, others such as The Times and Stern De had white, The Times mainly as the slideshow was embedded in the news page. Other options available on some but not others were the ability to view full screen, view thumbnails of the next images and being able too advance by skipping images (via the numbered links) or having to progress one at a time. Some ran on a loop whereas some did not. Is viewer choice a good thing? Everybody has their own preferences on how they wish to view their news or how they like to have images presented. In that respect I think it is good to offer some option of choice. If you only want to view one particular image within a set thumbnails are handy, being able to leapfrog ahead when doing reseach can save time. I understand fully that having too many options makes the programming more complicated and would possibly make for a messier webpage and these are constraints that web builders have to work on but I can see that if you don't enjoy the online experience you may decide to use different websites for information.

What are the most obvious failings, in your opinion, of these slideshows? The most obvious failings that I would pick up on are the transitions. Some work seamlessly, such as The Guardian but others are jerky or too quick, such as the NY Times or Stern De. Not obviously appearing to be a slideshow seems a ridiculous issue but one encountered a few times. Information partially covering the images to a lesser or greater degree was also an irritation. How they were positioned within a page seemed to be an issue as well, for example with Paris Match the proximity to advertising links meant I inadvertently rolled my mouse over other links which would then open up over the images; I hate it when that happens. I think it is a shame that you could not alter the background or resize in some instances.

If you were constructing a slideshow for one of these sites, list the features you would include, based on your experience so far? Based on my research and the experience of the websites I have looked at there are a few basic features that I would include:

Obvious yet unobtrusive navigation arrows
The option to alter background colour
The choice for an automated slideshow or manual navigation
Thumbnail previews
Captions/credits/information which did not cover the image
Large images to begin with or if not possible due to the webpage setting an option to view large screen
The choice of skipping ahead, eg numbered page links and an indication of how many images are contained within that slideshow
Smooth transition from one image to the next, fade seems to work really well.
Ease of navigation away from and back to the slideshow and other linked pages
Links to share via social media

What features set your two chosen sites apart from the rest? From the 6 news paper/ magazine sites looked at I think that the two I would choose as particularly effective are The Guardian and Paris Match. I liked The Guardian due to the array of options it offered: either to watch it as an automated slideshow or manually click the "next arrow". The fade transition was smooth and effective and captions could be hidden. I thought that the thumbnail previews were also a good idea. The initial images were of a good size but there was an option to view full screen. When viewed full screen the captions appear below the image and don't partially obscure it as when viewed within the news page. It was a close choice between Paris Match and The Telegraph but the transition of the Telegraph, for me, let it down. There were some niggles with both of my top two but this was more to do with the background colour for the Guardian and the red links on Paris Match. However the exercise was to do with the efficiency of the slideshow rather than its environs. For Paris Match the images were large and clear so you did not need a large screen option, the navigation to the next image was easy once found, and despite partially covering the image, which isn't that important if you have finished and navigating away, a small thumbnail for the next image was given. The information was below the image. Both webpages had good clear links to share via social media.

Having said all of the above I think Magnum wins hands down over all!

As with most things research and analysis always takes longer than anticipated. I can't believe the amount of hours I have just spent looking at navigation buttons! A really interesting exercise which has opened my eyes to the variation of these slideshows. I know that when investigating photographers I inwardly groan at some of their webpages and can't believe how complicated some make them. If I ever make one for me (highly unlikely) I now know what pitfalls to avoid when including a slideshow. Technically I don't know how to do any of it but know what I don't want to find out about!

PwDP Part 5 Professional standards

Although excited that I am finally getting to the end of this course after a torrid 18 months I am also dreading the final part, yet another essay to analyse (which I did with the others) but this has been ticked off, research and review photographic slideshows (god more research and analysis :oP)  planning coverage of an event, produce a written plan, look at marketing and develop a publishing plan, shooting and processing and finally Assignment 5 covering an event.

I am not so keen on covering event, the time pressure is there, the lack of opportunity to reshoot if images don't work. If outside the weather will have an enormous impact on people attending and the atmosphere, too bright and the contrast in shadows will be too great, rain and no-one will be there, very overcast and although you have lovely diffused lighting images can look too flat and dull.

Added to that you possibly need to gain permission to be there, possibly get permission from the subjects to publish the images when done. If necessary release forms to get completed. I always have doubt, I never think my images are clear enough or interesting enough and the idea of actually having to approach someone to suggest they PAY for them makes me feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Not sure where I want to head with my photography in this respect I don't think that photojournalism is a route I would take based on all of my hangups. I should be more confident I guess, go and take more photographs and become more comfortable with my camera and photographing strangers. Onwards and upwards......

Assignment Four - Critical Review - Essay and Feedback

As promised here is my essay, I don't mind if people read it now I have had my feedback which was positive. If anyone pinches it then they are only cheating themselves, as only you know what you really think/feel about a certain topic and by actually doing the research discover if you feel the same way about it after and also get to understand the topic itself a little more.


Thanks for submitting your ‘Critical Review’ Jan, which I thought offered an interesting debate from start to finish, including some great quotes and references in support of your argument.

In depth feedback on quotes/points and other areas of expertise included:-

Made - An interesting title - many would argue 'made' - especially the likes of Cartier-Bresson etc

JS Quote -  Excellent quote to start with !

JS quote -  An accurate observation - even many landscape photographers of the time, had a selection of 'sky's' that could easily be double-exposed over a dull / plain backdrop etc.

Have a look also at the comments Paul Delaroche (French portrait painter) made on first sight of a Daguerreotype in 1839 ... 'From this day, painting is dead!'  He was of course wrong, but the levels certainly shifted, as they tend to always do with the introduction of new technology.

This is really useful in terms of setting your stall out at the beginning of the text.

Have you already read Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay - 'The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction'   It is work looking at.

This is a good example - This show was excellent from that respect ... the scale was incredible, but also the use of additional media really demonstrated Klein's understanding of graphic representation.

Excellent reference - 'Within an archive, meaning exists in a state that is both residual and potential'

Have a look at Charles Merewether also - He states 'the archive functions as the means by which historical knowledge and forms of remembrance are accumulated, stored and recovered.'

Agreed look at the work of Joachim Schmid - Very Miscellaneous.  This is also interesting when considered in relation to the fact more images were taken in 2012 than in the history of photography since 1837 !

I'm not sure about this, single images of conflict for example still hold power.  Look at the shot of Kim Phuc taken by Nick Ut in Vietnam in 1972 - This event was also filmed, but the footage doesn't hold anywhere near as much power as the single frame.

and in general comments...

I think you have responded very well to feedback offered to date Jan and have noticed your blog reflects much of this advice now – which is excellent to see.

So onto my essay

Photography – Made or Taken?- (is the single photograph dead?)

“The history of photography has been less a journey than a growth” 
– John Szarkowski
A Critical Review
by Jan Fairburn

Photography - Made or Taken? – (is the single photograph dead?)

Photography has been through many incarnations, from the first Daguerreotype, Henry Fox Talbot’s Calotype, the Kodak Brownie to eventually today’s digital camera. Not only has the technology changed but also the way photography is perceived, especially as it begins to incorporate mixed media and find new ways to disseminate. John Szarkowski in the introduction to The Photographers Eye comments on the difference between paintings and art being a basic one: paintings were made but photographs were taken (2003).  On the topic of detail he suggests a photographer shows only a fragment of a scene, but with the frame being extended by video footage, sound clips, drawings and physical objects is this fragmentation being lessened? With the current trend for contemporary photographers to create installation pieces, employ digital manipulation, borrow imagery and use mixed media to create their work, this argument possibly no longer stands. More and more we are questioning, what is photography? This essay sets out to examine some of the issues surrounding the use of mixed media – are photographs made or taken, is the single photograph dead?

Controversy has always surrounded photography with regards to reality and truth; Szarkowski believed photographers “learned that photography dealt with the actual” (2003, p. 99). Yet manipulation and additions were being carried out as early as the mid 1800’s with two distinct camps arising; those who felt that images should be left untouched and those who preferred to add an artistic flourish and hand tint photographs (Farkas & Raleigh, 2013). Then there were surrealists such as Man Ray, Hans Bellmer and Maurice Tabard who used processes such as double exposure, combination printing, montage, solarization and techniques such as rotation or distortion to create ethereal imagery (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013). Therefore, it could be argued that photographers from the outset were experimenting with reality and exploring beyond that which filled the view-finder. The photograph Two Ways of Life (1857) by Oscar Rejlander is described as a combination print which was assembled from thirty individual negatives printed onto one large piece of paper (National Media Museum, 2012).  Much later John Baldessari, (b1931) described as a conceptual artist rather than photographer, developed his style to incorporate letters, words and photographs in his works.  In the early 1970’s he was working in printmaking, film, video, installation, sculpture and photography (Roark, 2013).

Farkas & Raleigh acknowledged several exhibitions in America where a group of artists could be identified as “photo mixed media artists”: “Persistence of Vision” at the George Eastman House (Rochester NY) in 1967, “Photography into Sculpture” at the Museum of Modern Art (New York City, NY) in 1970 and “Photo-media” at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (New York City NY) in 1971-1972. They separated the works into three distinct categories, machine reproductions, soft packaged and assemblages (2013, p. 129). They cited several artists who met these criterions, notably photographer Ken Josephson, a pioneering conceptual photographer who experimented with illusion to explore and question his chosen medium of photography - known as a printmaker; he has diversified as a street photographer, professor of photography and filmmaker (Gerstheimer, 2013). His piece Anissa a child’s dress, 1978 is an assemblage (a child’s dress on a small hanger, with a framed cropped image of a little girl wearing the same dress displayed prominently on the front) which provides a physical, personal link to the subject. It gives the audience an accurate impression of perspective, colour and “the thing itself” (Szarkowski, 2003, p. 99).

Unlike René Magritte's The Treachery of Images, 1928-29 "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" which only represents the image of a pipe, the implementation of mixed media assemblage means that a single piece or whole body of work, no longer has to be a merely an illusion, it becomes three dimensional and can better express a given narrative. Most recently the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, “an international award in contemporary photography, awarded to a contemporary photographer making a significant contribution, either by exhibition or publication – to the medium of photography in Europe,” (Deutsche Börse Group, n.d.)  has recognised photographers who employ mixed media, explore beyond the frame and push the boundaries of what is traditionally accepted as photography.

Photography and creativity go hand in hand, from the initial decision of subject matter, the process of taking the image, the choices of post-production to means of display, whether that be in a frame, album or public exhibition. Marcel Duchamp acknowledged the importance of the audience in conveying the meaning of a piece of work, he stated:

“…the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.” 
(Duchamp 1957, Cited in Brain Pickings, n.d.)

So therefore it can be considered that the audience helps to make an image, and possibly more pertinent to the topic of borrowed pictures, appropriation can restore forgotten artists.

Contemporary bodies of work are combining new images with old , constructing elaborate displays and discovering new outlets for photography; specifically exploring the new age of digital/electronic reproducibility. These bodies of work open old debates about are photographs taken or made, is it photography or art? By visiting exhibitions, examining the work and methods of delivery the opportunity is there to decide if photography is taken, made or if the distinction matters.

At his retrospective at London’s Tate Modern (November 2012 – January 2013) William Klein had on display several reworked older images. Reworked in ways that are best described as artfully vandalised; mural sized prints of contact sheets, altered by the liberal application of enamel paint, using wide brush strokes in bold, mainly primary colours. The original photographs were taken, the second made. The meaning of the original print is still there beneath the paint but the creation of a new art object makes the image polysemous. The audience may see it as a tribute to film photography and contact sheets yet Klein explains that for him it was a celebration of the physicality of taking the photograph (Klein, 2012).

Jim Goldberg, 2011 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize winner, was nominated for his exhibition Open See at The Photographers’ Gallery, London (16 October 2009 – 31 January 2010). Using Polaroids, video, text and ephemera Goldberg took four years detailing the experiences of refugee, immigrant and trafficked populations. Feeling that their perceptions were not being observed and considered (Goldberg, 2011) he allowed them to speak for themselves, writing on the images to express themselves and tell their stories, explaining that the photographs were proof of meeting his subjects, of their lives and worth. The exhibition also included video footage and a free poster which itemized various objects, such as food, lost wallets and official documentation. This helped provide a much fuller picture than one fragmented, still image. Once more this particular body of work can be both described as taken and made. The Open See project has been printed in book form and supporting the electronic age of communication is partially available online.

When discussing archives Allan Sekula wrote about the meaning of pictures being “up for grabs…(and) new interpretations are promised” (2011, p. 444).  John Stezaker, nominee and winner of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2012, for his exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (29 January – 18 March 2011) espoused a novel approach to found images, with the original uses definitely avoided and invisible (Sekula, 2011). Entertainingly, sometimes creepily, combining appropriated images he confesses to being a vandal and a thief and likens himself to a foster parent to these adopted images, but one who inflicts abuse due to the slicing and cutting he employs to create his work (Stezaker, 2011).

“Photographs, which package the world, seem to invite packaging” (Sontag, 1977, p. 4). Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin winners of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2013 certainly seem to have taken this to heart when they packaged or rather completely repackaged Bertolt Brecht’s War Primer. Their inspiration was not only taken from Brecht’s book and his lesson on the semiology of war photography, hence the titles War Primer and War Primer 2, but also the Brecht quote “Don’t start with the good old things but the bad new ones.” This is prominently displayed on the front page of War Primer 2 (Broomberg & Chanarin, 2011) Taking bad or poor news images from the internet Broomberg and Chanarin parallel his actions of taking newspaper clippings on the subject of conflict. Originally published in 1955 Broomberg and Chanarin obtained 100 copies of a 1998 edition (Libris London) on which they based their own limited edition book War Primer 2. The simple explanation of how this body of work was created belies the controversy and debate that then arose with regards to their contribution to photography, the use of appropriated images and the distribution/availability of the book. Firstly they obtained the copies; secondly they downloaded a large selection of low- resolution photographs from the Internet dealing with the War on Terror. Next they whittled down the selection to eighty-five images which complemented Brecht’s eighty-five clippings and poetry, and then eight thousand five hundred screen prints were generated. War Primer 2 was then produced with the help of unpaid interns applying the resized silkscreen and offset prints (pasted by hand) into the one hundred copies of War Primer (Evans, 2013).

Once produced the pair picked up and ran with the educational idea. When displayed at the Photographers Gallery for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize exhibition their creativity shone through. A series of vitrines, the proportions of a small school desk were set out in orderly rows facing in one direction. In each desk a copy of War Primer 2 was open to a different page with information for these images projected onto a blank wall, suggesting the Smart Boards used in educational establishments today. Embracing a multiplicity of channels of communication they explored various means to disseminate their work; War Primer 2 is a limited edition book, an exhibition and is also available as a free download to mobile devices via an application.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all these means of communication; an eBook can reach a much wider non-specialised audience, a book has the physicality that a mobile device lacks, whilst the book is limited to the message on the page. However in this instance the book has the scope to spread beyond the frame, become an installation piece and press home the play on words of the book being a primer and the educational set up of the exhibition. With such a range of distribution Broomberg and Chanarin have rehabilitated/introduced Brecht to more spectators, who when adding their creative act, can be in no doubt that as a body of work and installation piece War Primer 2 has been both taken and made.

Despite the discomfort of some with regards to the use of borrowed images, which is a well-established technique in terms of fine art, and the almost complete appropriation of Brecht’s book, this is an extremely clever body of work which tells its narrative well, sets new boundaries for the displaying of photography and has opened a healthy debate on the direction that some areas of contemporary photography are headed.

Marcel Duchamp, interviewed by Joan Bakewell, voiced an opinion that the word art should be done away with, that society created artificial distinctions. (Duchamp 1966, The Late Show Line Up)  Maybe this should be the way forward, concentrating on the narrative rather than the method of creation or delivery. Barthes (1968) believed the author was dead but so too may be the single photograph; more and more it is becoming apparent that the single image no longer has the potency that it did, multidimensional bodies of work are coming to the fore, experimenting with mixed and multi-media. The arguments about radical photography have raged from its beginning and will no doubt continue to do so. Does it matter if photographs are taken or made? It would appear they are both. The narrative, the multi-layered view of life is what is important rather than the distinction.


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*update feedback Here
*update reworked essay to be in assessment folder but can be viewed on my external website Here