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!

Let Me Tell You a Secret

19 November, 2008

One of the inspirations behind our new business project is the annual Royal College of Art (RCA) Secret Exhibition.

Founded in 1994 by a Royal College of Art student, this most unique art event raises money for the RCA Fine Art Student Award Fund by selling art works by famous and not so famous artists for just £40. There are only two rules, firstly the artwork must be produced on a postcard and secondly the artists’ identity must be a secret, only revealed to the purchaser when they can look on the back of the card.

Postcard 223

postcard 223, is it or isn't it?

What makes this event such a success is the wonderfully affordable price and the joy of deciding on the art for its own worth, rather than because it is by Damien or Peter or Tracey. There is also of course the delicious game of seeing if you can work out the identity of the artist and thereby snaring a potentially priceless work of art. My only guess at the moment is 223 which I thought looked a lot like Howard Hodgkin but then maybe a student has painted it in his style……

postcard 82

postcard 82

This year you can view the work online. The site is a bit cumbersome to use. To see each card as a larger image you have to keep returning to the thumbnails where I would have preferred a next button, but what the online site does give you is the time to dip in and out when you get a spare few minutes, rather than visiting the RCA in Kensington and getting visual indigestion as you try and look at all the art works of which there are 2700!

2491

postcard 249

postcard 284

postcard 284

The online site also gives you an option to create a favourites basket and I have been busily gathering all the art works I would like a second look at. This is as far as I have got from browsing the first 500 postcards. No surprise that my selection is mainly photography.

The sale begins at 8.00am 22nd November 2008 and you are only allowed to buy four postcards. See you there.

The Winner Takes All

5 November, 2008

Hurrah, at last a judging decision I can understand and agree with. This year’s National Portrait Gallery photographic portrait award [sponsored by Taylor Wessing] has been awarded to Lottie Davis for her work entitled Dream of Quintuplets Birth shown below:Lottie Davies' winning picture

Quintuplets is from an ongoing project called Memories and Nightmares. Drawing on her own childhood dreams and those of her friends, she refigures the stories within a studio setting, employing carefully choreographed props and models. Using digital technology, in this case to re-present the same baby as a quintet, Davies creates a fantasy scene.

Quintuplets has been likened to the work of Manet, specifically Olympia, and it is easy to see the visual references. The position of the nude, lying seductively on a bed, her gaze directed towards the viewer inviting us to look upon her and her nakedness, the casual nod to the maid through the black faced figurine are direct correlations to Manet’s painting. But there are also other references, the deep red fabrics of the brothel, the religious iconography of the Madonna and Child give a depth to this photograph that speak of an intelligence and deliberate reworking of our visual vocabulary. There is an integrity here, the composition, lighting and narrative all lead the viewer to consider what is within the frame and not what isn’t there.

Second prize went to Hendrik Kerstens for Bag (below), a wonderfully comic and beautifully realised portrait of Kerstens’s daughter wearing a plastic bag on her head, shot in a style again reminiscent of a famous painter, in this case Vermeer.Hendrik Kerstens' Bag (click to see larger)

In contrast to the complexity of Davies’ work, Kerstens gives us a portrait of calm and serenity. Through the use of carefully crafted lighting and a deep black background he enables us to almost imagine the plastic bag as a piece of lace and cotton. Once we have seen beyond the surreal headgear, our view is taken to the intensity of the sitter’s gaze upon us, her piecing eyes are slightly unnerving but not so intimidating that we can’t look back at her.

What thrills me about these two images and the fact that they have been recognised through the NPG award is that they are about the act of looking. They are both clever works, evoking our memories of previous art works, but even so, they have gone beyond mere homage. Like any good piece of art, they reward the viewer by giving us more, the more we look at them.

For further reading and reviews go to:

The Independent Review

The Times Review

How Limiting is Limited?

20 October, 2008

For our new art project I have been doing some research into the rules of producing and pricing limited editions and I am quickly discovering that there seem to be no rules.

I started delving into the murky waters by looking at how an authoritative source such as Aperture sold their prints. A quick survey revealed that edition sizes can fluctuate wildly as can price and that the size of the print run did not necessarily have any bearing on the price. Sebastian Salgado’s photograph of coal miners in India is in an edition of 300 and sells at $10,000, while Annie Leibovitz’s photograph of Merce Cunningham is in a smaller run of 100 and is quoted at $500.

Edward Steichen’s The Pond – Moonlight sold at Sotheby’s New York in February 2006 for $2,928,000, yet the same image, although not printed during Steichen’s lifetime or printed as the original was – a platinum and ferroprussiate print, is issued by Aperture in a print run of 500 with a $650 price tag.

What this has highlighted for me is that the practise of pricing and editioning art is open ended and has no agreed conventions.

In a special report Diane Smyth in the 10 Oct 2007 issue of the BJP asks what’s a photographic print worth? Smyth goes on to say that the value of photographic prints is “quite a lot” and it is certainly the case that art photography is undergoing a meteoric rise in the art world, both in the primary source of galleries and on the secondary market of auctions. While the credit crunch may see cut backs in investment funds, big corporations, such as Deutsche Borse, who have a long tradition of buying and investing in art, have in the last ten years included photography in their collections. Zelda Cheatle’s role as advisor to the Wealth Management Group, who launched a fund in 2007 to invest purely in photography is further evidence of this maturing of photography as an art medium. This patronage by the large art buyers, gives support to the high prices currently being set for some vintage and contemporary photography.

Art photography has borrowed its concept of editioning from traditional print makers and has made it its own. Whether using a hand print process or digital output, photographs are easily repeatable. While the potential to mass produce photography could be seen as the Achilles Heel of any attempt to legitimise photography as a limited art form, many artists have embraced limited edition print runs. Thereby creating the idea of rarity and mimicking the traditional short print runs of etchings and engravings, which were a consequence of the simple wearing out of the plate during the printing process.

Position in the edition adds another layer of rarity and contributes to the price of a print. As a print run moves towards the sell out point so the price rises, apparently reflecting its collectability and how the market determines its value. Where a print run of 20 may start at $5,000 the last five prints may end up selling for $15,000.

It would seem that size has begun to matter as well. There is a tendency in the gallery world towards the very large print, produced in editions of 3 or 5 and a smaller print of the same artwork produced in a bigger print run of perhaps 15 or 20.

So we have size of the print, size of the run, gallery exposure, being held in private and publicly funded archives and how many prints in an edition run have sold. All of these factors plus the reputation of the artist will influence the price tag of a photograph.

It has come as no surprise to me that when I meet up with photographers to talk about our new venture that one of the first things we talk about is this lack of ground rules and their concern about how the editioning of photography works and how best to do it.

For the moment my thinking is don’t worry. Work out a price that you feel comfortable with and if it reflects the amount of work you have undertaken to produce it then I would argue you are probably in the right ballpark. Also don’t worry about issuing an artwork in varied print dimensions as long as they are significantly different. What matters more than anything is keeping to what you decide. So if you make two or three sizes of prints in stated print runs, be open about it and stick to it.

Once your career has gone stratospheric then leave the black art of pricing artwork to the galleries, who probably have a better idea of the market and which way the wind is blowing.

What’s in a Name?

8 October, 2008

I have spent the last few days trying to settle on a name for our new business venture. Names are difficult things. What do they say about us?

Our new venture is an art photography online gallery, selling work by established artists at accessible prices. Art for everyone is where we are headed. Our current business, a photography agency working in editorial and documentary photography is called Troika. We liked the Russian graphics that went on the business card and perhaps as importantly it didn’t have any reference to photography, which we thought marked us out from the crowd.

Our logo

We still like the name Troika, but will it work for a different type of business? Therein lies our dilemma. To get a handle on this naming process I have been rummaging around on the web. The choice for art galleries seems to fall into two areas. Many chose a name that has some personal meaning, the owner’s name, or the name of the road or building where the gallery is located can often be a successful solution. I particularly like Paradise Row and Riflemaker. An alternative naming process is to use a word that references art, or in our case photography, such as Lensculture, newbloodart, aperture. This is more about using a name that describes what the business does. But in the end how much does it matter what you choose? If a business is successful its name will take on a life of its own. Magnum is a famous photography agency and also a bottle of champagne yet in the photography world, the fame and success of Magnum has banished all thoughts of champagne and we just associate the word Magnum with legendary photographers. Foto8 has used an association with the photographic process, yet the success of the magazine has enabled it to rise above a mere descriptive label and foto8 has taken on its own identity. And that is what you need from a name, a marriage between a word or a phrase that will be memorable and its connection to a specific business.

So, will Troika do it? Can Troika become synonymous with an art photography site? We have been thrashing this out in our offices on Farringdon Road for days now. [We have rejected Farringdon Road as too long]. We have sought advice from friends and family. It is the very thing that attracted us to the word in the first place, its foreign derivation, which is now proving to be our stumbling block. Will people think that we are selling Russian paintings?

We have tried out the enigmatic. Dazzle Ships, Dover Beach, Saffron Cross and Watling Street have all been thrown into the ring and thrown out again. We have tried art and photography word association. None of our ideas have had that eureka moment. Until from out of nowhere came Litmus Paper. We like it. For now anyway.