Kurt Tong

I will be discussing with photographer Kurt Tong his two series on show at Photofusion on Tuesday 21st September.

The two series of work on show in this exhibition, “In Case it Rains in Heaven” and “Memories, Dreams Interrupted”, are very different and raise a question in my mind of how we might distinguish between different photographic genres. I think it is  necessary to understand that not all photography is equally suited to gallery display. In Kurt’s work we find someone with a capacity to sit comfortably across art and documentary photography.

Tickets are £5/£3.50.

Call 020 7738 5774 (Photofusion) to book.

Photofusion’s details can be found here.

See Kurt’s images on his website.

New York Photo Festival

A trip to New York is generally easy to say yes to, a trip to New York plus a feast of photography is a no brainer: so it was with much alacrity that I booked my flight, rang a friend to check the spare room was still on offer and revelled in the idea of spending time in my favourite city and visiting the New York Photo Festival.

Upon arrival, much delayed due to the vagaries of the ash cloud, I pondered on the choices of heading straight to Dumbo, meeting up with some friends or going to the Picasso exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As this was a rare opportunity to see nearly the entirety of the Met’s collection of Picasso it seemed rude not to pay homage to the master and it was indeed a rewarding experience. With my head full of ideas about photography I had a completely different approach to Picasso’s early work. Here was an artist; painting around the time photography was invented, using the same subject matter that photojournalists and documentary photographers use today. His work based on visits to brothels, Saint Lazare’s prison, a blind man and his wine jug all had the same social concern many photographers use as their starting point. Yet as a painter Picasso was doing something different; reaching for a universal story rather than that of the individual.

Having filled up on a diet of Picasso I headed off to the photo festival with high expectations. Now in its third year, last year’s festival had received less than favourable reviews. But with an interesting line up of curators including the singer song writer Lou Reed, it seemed likely that this year the organisers would have raised their game.

The press night was well organised with a host taking us from venue to venue and the individual curators talking us through their shows. Most interesting was the exhibition by Erik Kessels: “Use Me and Abuse Me.” Kessels had looked at the processes of image making, in particular digital technology and collage.

Osang Gwon

Osang Gwon

Strikingly dramatic were giant statues brought to life with pasted photographs covering the entire surface by Osang Gwon. This show stood out for its coherence; both in the work shown and the way it was exhibited, which was visually led and often using the humour of the work to lead you round the exhibits.

We ended the tour with the celebrity highlight of the festival, a Lou Reed slide show “Hidden Books, Hidden Stories” in the presence of the great man himself. I should say straight away that as a songwriter and singer, Lou gets all my votes and he has written two of my all time favourite songs, Wild Things and Perfect Day. While it was clear that Lou had had a ball doing what ever it was he had done, as a curator his enigmatic monosyllabic talk [about three sentences long] and obvious discomfort in being asked to give us a few clues about what he had done, left me bewildered and just a little disappointed.

Morton Bartlet

Morton Bartlet

About half way through his slide show, having settled into the seemingly random mix of imagery being displayed I decided that there was no obvious connection between one image and another except perhaps a visual link. This was quite an exciting thought as the idea of a visual rather than content driven or linguistic link was potentially a refreshing approach and certainly one with which I had a great deal of sympathy. However Lou didn’t quite pull it off. While I am sure that the visual relationships between each image and sequence of images were clear to him, for the viewer it was often ambiguous or simply not apparent at all. This coupled with Lou’s refusal to engage with his eager and indeed supportive audience led me to think of the fable of the emperor’s new clothes.

The rest of Lou Reed show was a collection of photography books placed in display units, which the visitor could leaf through. There was no written explanation about why these books had been chosen; nor why, given the title of the exhibition, they were hidden; nor whether or not there was a relationship between them. Nor was there any information about the artists. It was a little bit like being in Waterstones on Piccadilly in their photography section. Although some of the books and their authors were fascinatingly weird, in particular Morton Bartlett and his collection of dolls.

Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf

The two other shows, “Object Lesson” curated by Vince Aletti and “Bodies in Question” by Fred Ritchin were familiar in their imagery and presentation. Neither curator had given much thought to the space they were given and it was difficult to separate them out from the satellite galleries who had as equally interesting work on show. Ritchin’s collective theme was “isms” as expressed by the motley collection of protest movements currently active on the left of politics. His stated intention was to look at the transformation our identities undergo when surveyed and the inclusion of Michael Wolf’s Paris streets as seen on Google earth was a stroke of genius and very apt. But the pictures of icebergs seemed to pander to some curious green agenda that diluted what could have been a more interesting show.

Richard Learoyd

Richard Learoyd

“Object Lesson” was exactly that, using the genre of the still life Aletti had brought together a series of artists working with various objects often to do with decay. It is always lovely to see Richard Learoyd’s sublimely delicate pictures of curious parts of dead things, in this case a fish heart suspended in black thread. So while a very traditional show and perhaps a little unambitious, a lot of the photography was exceptionally good.

There is much to say that was good about my trip to New York; the walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to Dumbo; a visit to the High Line in homage to Joel Sternfeld; the Picasso exhibition and of course the Cartier Bresson retrospective at MOMA. The city is fabulous and full of some of the most exciting sights in the world, but the claim that the New York Photo Festival is the ”American counterpart and thematic successor to the prestigious European photo festival” is a great ambition that has yet to be properly realised.

I do though wish them luck in reaching their stated goal and if my friend is still in New York and still has her spare room on offer I will try to go to next year’s festival.

I recently contributed an article about the photographer Anna Linderstam to 1000 Words Magazine. Anna is a young Swedish photographer fascinated by the moments of transformation that people pass through when under stress.

1000 Words

To read the article go to 1000 Words autumn/fall 2009 #06 issue (current at time of writing) and follow the links to Anna Linderstam.

In their latest major new exhibition The National Portrait Gallery asked ten prominent gay men and women to reveal the people who have inspired them?

And so I ask the question, with a degree, it must be said, of trepidation, whether or not one’s sexual orientation is relevant or indeed interesting to be used as a theme for an exhibition and what is it that the National Portrait Gallery is trying to say to us?

The ten people invited to contribute to the show include, a poet, two authors, a tennis player, a journalist, a rock star, an actor, a radio presenter, and two politicians. Their chosen icons span the worlds of entertainment, art music, literature, sports, politics and royalty. The photography is by a similarly disparate group. While Mary McCartney shot some [but not all] of the portraits of the selectors, the portraits of the icons are by a wide range of people, from family snap shots to Cecil Beaton. Something of a motley collection of people and portraits that seemingly have nothing bringing them together until the motif of Gay is superimposed.

Joe Orton

Joe Orton

The NPG has chosen themes before; leading people in the fields of science and medicine with a series of portraits shot by Julia Fullerton-Batten, people of faith with portraits by Don McCullin and most recently an exhibition of the private space of artists by Eamonn McCabe. In each of these shows there was a cohesiveness that underpinned the reason for making an exhibition. Discussions could be had as to the merits of the portraits, critical analysis of the photographers commissioned to make the work and interest in the people chosen to represent their professional, political, cultural or religious outlook.

Ray Shannon from the Yorkshire Ambulance Service

Ray Shannon from the Yorkshire Ambulance Service

But in Gay Icons there is no such rigour. The prominent citizens are not directly political or campaigning people who have made their name fighting for gay rights. Neither are the people selected all renowned for their contribution to the struggle to legalise homosexuality. So all we are left with is the fact that the ten people invited to make their selection are Gay. And this is simply not interesting in and of itself. The NPG have missed an opportunity with a lazy nod towards political correctness.

Virginia Wolf

Virginia Wolf

They could have had a fascinating show basing it on Gay Rights campaigners, or presented cutting edge work that is being produced in countries where homosexuality is still illegal.

So just what is the point of Gay Icons? Is it enough of a triumph for Gay Rights that the NPG have used GAY in the title of their exhibition?

Seen but Not Heard

24 April, 2009

Earlier this year I was asked to curate this year’s Hereford Photo Festival, and after much consideration I decided to tackle an issue which has concerned me for sometime; namely the increasing restrictions, both legal and moral, that society is placing upon photographers. Here is my introduction to the work I have selected.

“Few questions are more contentious in modern day Britain than those involving children” wrote Simon Bainbridge, editor of the BJP, in June 2005.

As new technologies make taking photographs easier, so too the social constraints that limit what we can take pictures of are expanding. The freedom photographers such as Roger Mayne, Henri Cartier Bresson or Dorothea Lange had to document children, playing on the streets, at home or school has gone.

Boys on a Lorry, Cowcaddens, Glasgow 1958 by Roger Mayne

Boys on a Lorry, Cowcaddens, Glasgow 1958 by Roger Mayne

Now photographers, both amateur and professional, have to negotiate the minefield of obtaining permissions, run the risk of being branded a pervert and counter our increasing prudishness of what is thought to be an appropriate image of a child.

Pledging allegience to the United States flag by Dorothea Lange

Pledging allegience to the United States flag in 1942 by Dorothea Lange

Rue Mouffetard, 1954 by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Rue Mouffetard, 1954 by Henri Cartier-Bresson

For this year’s Hereford Photo Festival, I have selected the work of nine photographers, all of whom engage with this charged subject matter, each finding their own way to overcome an increasingly fearful sensibility that operates in our society.

Examples of the work of the photographers featuring in the Hereford festival 2009:

The Birthday Party by Vee Speers

Vee Speers - The Birthday Party

Don’t call me Urban by Simon Wheatley

Simon Wheatley - Don’t call me Urban

Harlemville by Clare Richardson

Clare Richardson - Harlemville

Hals über Kopf by Wiebke Leister

Wiebke Leister - Hals über Kopf

Interface by Michelle Sank

Michelle Sank - Interface

Playground by Ali Richards

Ali Richards - Playground

Julia Fullerton Batten – Teenage Stories

Julia Fullerton Batten – Teenage Stories

Jan Von Holleben – Dreams of Flying

Jan Von Holleben – Dreams of Flying

Edmund Clark – Baby Fathers

Edmund Clark – Baby Fathers

In making my decision about what to show I deliberately decided not to include anything that might cause controversy or be under threat of removal. My reason for this is simple. There have been many blank walls and empty galleries where work commissioned for exhibition has been taken down as a result of a complaint by a member of the public or an over anxious council worker. These removals are often covered in the media and we are made aware of the issues, but not the images.

For this show I want the work to be seen and for the discussion to broaden out into an understanding what our culture will allow to be seen. If we can permit ourselves to look at images of children, hanging on the walls of an art gallery, then perhaps we will also begin to discuss whether or not the act of taking a picture of a child is as dangerous as society seems to think it is.

Open all hours

9 April, 2009

So today I launched Troika Editions. Not quite single handedly it must be said.

Conceived of nine months ago, it has certainly felt at times like giving birth. A few hiccups in the last throws of labour have been overcome and today we made our first sale.

One of the most thrilling experiences I have had in the last few months has been meeting and talking to the photographers who have been brave and generous in agreeing to join in our adventure. Without any of them there would be no Troika Editions, so my very sincere thanks to them all.

The first week’s images come from Carolyn Lefley, Issa Randall and Hin Chua, all young photographers, who are quickly becoming established artists. Hin is due to have an exhibition this summer in Rochester New York State with his series After the Fall; Carolyn was awarded one of the coveted National Media Museum Photography bursaries in 2008 and Issa has just returned from showing his work at this year’s Quad Photo Festival.

Within #1 by Carolyn Lefley

Within #1 by Carolyn Lefley

Wild West by Issa Randall

Wild West by Issa Randall

A Mile from Zhang Jiang High Technology Park, Shanghai by Hin Chua

A Mile from Zhang Jiang High Technology Park, Shanghai by Hin Chua

It is not always the case that I agree with the judges of competitions but the recent announcement that Paul Graham has won this year’s Deutsche Borsche prize is very welcome news.

Lawnmower, Pittsburgh, 2004 © Paul Graham

Lawnmower, Pittsburgh, 2004 © Paul Graham

Paul Graham winner of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2009

From the book a shimmer of possibility, 2007 © Paul Graham/ Courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London

See here for more details from the Photographers’ Gallery.

If you get a chance go online and watch Guardian art critic Adrian Searle’s review of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize currently on show at the Photographer’s Gallery.

Searle is always eloquent in his reviews and what I admire most is that he doesn’t pull his punches. In this respect he immediately questions the legitimacy of an archive being included within a photography show. Searle is speaking about Emily Jacir’s work Material for a Film. His criticism is not that the work isn’t interesting and indeed there is a lot to recommend it, but Searle rightly questions whether or not it should be classified as photography and whether it should be short-listed for one of the art world’s most prestigious photography prizes. Jacir tells the story of the assassination of Palestinian intellectual Wael Zuwaiter by Israeli agents in Rome in 1972. She uses photographs, objects, texts and interviews to piece the story together, re-presenting found images and texts written at the time. There is no doubt that this is a moving and for Jacir a deeply political tale that needs to told. Zuwaiter was assassinated for what Israeli agents believed was a key role in the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Summer Olympics 1972.

Installation shot of Emily Jacir’s Material for a film

Installation shot of Emily Jacir’s Material for a film

But this is an archival story rather than visual narrative. It is the collection of the whole, somewhat like a magazine pasted to the wall, that brings the story alive and this representation, whilst it uses photography to record the objects in order to display the story, does not have any visual language within itself.

The other three artists are more straightforward in their use of photography in their art. Taryn Simon in her work An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar offers us a view of an unseen America. On the surface the imagery is familiar. It has the feel of an advertising campaign. High-end production values and the large format brings an almost relentless detail to her pictures. It is her choice of subject that makes this work more interesting and here I part company with Searle who says he finds it rather dull. The photograph of a woman in a surgery about to or having just undergone an operation to repair her broken hymen is both shocking and beautiful. The composition, lighting and concise presentation of the content drag the viewer in closer, making us wonder what precisely is going on in this clean and clinical environment. We want to look but are made to feel uncomfortable as this is obviously such a private and personal scene. It is this tension that Simon invokes in her work that is its strength.

Taryn Simon

from Taryn Simon's An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar

Paul Graham has been nominated for his publication A Shimmer of Possibility. Large format scenes of America have become almost ubiquitous since we all rediscovered Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld. But Graham brings a different sensibility to his work. This isn’t road movie material. Rather his work is less about him and more about what he sees and what he sees as a common humanity. He has been described as poetic, quiet without hubris. All of which is true, but for me it is the humanity he brings to his work and fills his subjects with. You can see his work on his website. But it is this picture below that I think in itself is worthy of the prize.

Lawnmower, Pittsburgh, 2004 © Paul Graham

Lawnmower, Pittsburgh, 2004 © Paul Graham

The fourth artist is Tod Papageorge who has been short listed for his exhibition Passing Through Eden – Photographs of Central Park and Searle is in no doubt that this is the work that should win the 2009 prize..

Central Park, New York, 1991 © Tod Papageorge

Central Park, New York, 1991 © Tod Papageorge

Papageorge is a veteran, producing work that is easy to recognise as photography. There I agree that it should be applauded for its skill. Having been brought up on a diet of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Don McCullin and Diane Arbus, it is clear that Papageorge should be acclaimed and that his work fits within the canon of documentary photography. Shot between 1962 and 1996, Papageorge steadfastly observed people enjoying their decisive moment in the park. There is humour and as with Paul Graham there is a humanity shown in Papageorge’s subjects.

I think it is worthy of the prize, but I think Graham should get it.

Deutsche Börse Photography prize is at the Photographer’s Gallery from 20 February to 12 April 2009.

As the Internet increasingly delivers our every cultural need, I am more and more turning to the web for photographic magazines. I still get the printed word and image via the BJP, PDN, foto8, Next Level and Portfolio, but there are some very engaging sites in cyberspace that showcase interesting and diverse work.

Here are three of my current favourites:

Purpose is a French site that takes themes and presents us with a curated show. The current issue is on childhood and is rich in its inclusion of fairy stories, superheroes, family snaps and old archive black and white images from the Musee Carnavalet.

As you turn the page you can choose to hear music picked to accompany each work, making this a very multimedia site.

Here are some photographs from the Childhood Issue:

Doug Dubois:

My sister’s bedroom, Ithaca, NY, 2004 by Doug Dubois

My sister’s bedroom, Ithaca, NY, 2004 by Doug Dubois

Samantha Contis:

Bathroom 2005 by Samantha Contis

Bathroom, 2005 by Samantha Contis

Wolfram Hahn:

Untitled, 2006 by Wolfram Hahn

Untitled, 2006 by Wolfram Hahn

Amy Stein:

Watering Hole, by Amy Stein

Watering Hole, by Amy Stein

Joakim Eskildsen:

Seraphin and the Rainbow, 2008 by Joakim Eskildsen

Seraphin and the Rainbow, 2008 by Joakim Eskildsen

Thekla Ehling:

From Sommerherz, by Thekla Ehling

From Sommerherz, by Thekla Ehling

Dulce Pinzon:

Bernabe Mendez, from the real story of Superheroes, by Dulce Pinzon

Bernabe Mendez, from The Real Story of the Superheroes, by Dulce Pinzon

Musee Carnaualet:

Anonymous circa 1900

Anonymous circa 1900

Seesaw magazine is an inspirational site edited by Aaron Schuman. Schuman is a lecturer at the University of Brighton and also a freelance writer. I am impressed by the fact that he finds time to make this site so interesting alongside his other occupations. Schuman has a keen eye and great contacts; it is worth delving into his archive to find interviews with many of the superstars of the photography world such as Alex Soth, Roger Ballen and Tod Papageorge.

The current issue has a fabulous set of drawings found by Suzanne Mooney that illustrate how to take porn stills.

Take a peek into the back issues and there is a wealth of great photography from both established and emerging photographers. Some that I liked include:

Claire Richardson:

Sylvan, 2002-6 by Claire Richardson

Sylvan, 2002-6 by Claire Richardson

Iveta Vaivode:

Terminus, Riga, 2007-8 by Iveta Vaivode

Terminus Riga, 2007-8 by Iveta Vaivode

Reiner Riedler:

Artificial Holidays, 2004-8 by Reiner Riedler

Artificial Holidays, 2004-8 by Reiner Riedler

Jason Oddy:

Seat of Power, 2000-4 by Jason Oddy

Seat of Power, 2000-4 by Jason Oddy

Jan von Holleben:

Adventures in Neverland, by Jan von Holleben

Adventures in Neverland, by Jan von Holleben

Esther Teichmann:

Viscosity, 2003-4 by Esther Teichmann

Viscosity, 2003-4 by Esther Teichmann

A new magazine on the scene, now into their third issue, is 1000 Words. It launched last year and is the brainchild of Tim Clark. Clark is not new to the photography world and as a freelance writer he has contributed to a number of high profile publications including Next Level. With an impressive array of photographers and good solid writing this is a site worth bookmarking.

Here are some highlights from the three issues so far:

Richard Learoyd:

From The Ghost in the Machine by Richard Learoyd

From The Ghost in the Machine by Richard Learoyd

Indre Serpytyte:

From State of Silence by Indre Serpytyte

From State of Silence by Indre Serpytyte

Li Wei:

Li Wei falls to earth, 2002

Li Wei falls to earth, 2002

Mathieu Bernard Reynard:

From TV by Mathieu Bernard Reynard

From TV by Mathieu Bernard Reynard

Thomas Demand:

Kitchen, 2004 by Thomas Demand

Kitchen, 2004 by Thomas Demand

So after months of debate and sleepless nights we have finally settled on the name of our new business and it is Troika Editions. We had been slightly concerned that we were just keeping to the same old same old, but in fact it is more like wearing that favourite black dress to a party which makes you feel confident and comfortable.

So it is thrilling to have made the decision on the name and we have celebrated this by launching our holding page. Equally as thrilling is the momentum our venture is gaining with the artists, some of whom you can see on the site and we will be updating as more photographers join us.

So watch this space!