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.

Just about to open, The Hereford Photography Festival has a long overdue retrospective of John Bulmer. I spent three very delightful days with John, going through his archive selecting the work for the show. If you get a chance to visit it is well worth the trip as this is a rare opportunity to see the 1960s in colour. If you can’t get there then we have posted the show up on the festival site where you can also read a transcript of an interview Carey Gough made and there will shortly be a video of John talking about his work on YouTube.

The mill town of Elland, Yorkshire

The mill town of Elland, Yorkshire

A pioneer of colour photography in the 1960s, photographer John Bulmer began his photographic career in Cambridge, where along with Peter Laurie Brendan Lehane and Adrian Bridgewater they founded Image. The magazine’s aim was to provide its photographers with experience to work as professional photographers in London and Bulmer duly joined the Daily Express in 1960.

Bulmer was a devotee of the new photographic technology and quickly embraced the 35mm format. This enabled him to work with greater flexibility and faster than his other Fleet Street colleagues who were still shooting on Rollei cameras.

From the Express, Bulmer started freelancing for Man about Town, later renamed Town, working alongside Terence Donovan, David Bailey and Don McCullin and it was here that he shot one of his most celebrated works on the North of England and in particular his documentary of the town, Nelson.

A pub in the northern town of Nelson

A pub in the northern town of Nelson

When in 1962 the Sunday Times became the first British Newspaper to produce a colour supplement, Bulmer was an obvious choice as a contributor to its first issue. Having experimented with colour early in his career, he was recognised for understanding and thinking in colour. This was in direct contrast to his peers who, dismissing colour as garish and cheap, argued that black and white produced images that had more truth and integrity.

Bulmer worked for the Sunday Times for the next 10 years and during his time at the magazine was one its most prolific contributors covering stories both in the UK and abroad.

Spread from the feature White Tribes, Sunday Times Magazine

Spread from the feature White Tribes, Sunday Times Magazine

With an end to post war austerity and the beginning of the swinging 60s Britain was a place of extremes. While Carnaby Street fashions, The Beatles and the Mini quickly became symbols of modern Britain, a divide was opening up between the north and south of the country. Novels such as a Room at the Top, and the film Saturday Night Sunday Morning highlighted a romanticism of the north, where life was hard but real. For Bulmer this industrial landscape, with its gritty cobbled streets and back to back terraces was exotic and although he found the voyeuristic nature of photojournalism increasingly problematic it is his extended project on The North, shot for both the Sunday Times and Town magazine that he has earned his reputation as a photojournalist.

Pit ponies and miners from the series The North

Pit ponies and miners from the series The North

In 1971 Bulmer was given a visa to travel to Burma, one of the first issued to a foreign journalist since the end of the Second World War. With The Sunday Times more interested in crime at home, than military juntas abroad, he went to the BBC where he was handed some money and told to go off and make a film and so his career shifted from photojournalism to film making.

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.

Rock Art at Pangolin London

25 September, 2008

Marcel Berlins, in the Guardian G2 section, has a salutary note for all bloggers, arguing that although only a minority of the comments posted on his column have been hysterical rantings or even abusive, he has been minded to consider suing one respondent for libel. So it is with not a little trepidation that I start my blog, hoping that my comments and opinions will not incur the wrath of any litigious reader or indeed elicit any unpleasant responses. Although it would be true to say that knowing that anyone out there is bothering to read what I have to say may become rather reassuring, regardless of their thoughts on it, when there are millions of blogs sent out into the ether every day.

So to begin. Somewhat fortuitously, given that I am starting an arts blog, I went to the opening of Pangolin London at Kings Place, King Cross, London. The brainchild of Rungwe Kingdom and Claude Koenig, Pangolin London is their second sculpture gallery, drawing on the expertise and artists they work with at Pangolin Editions, the UK’s leading sculpture foundry in Gloucestershire.

The inaugural exhibition entitled Rock Music Rock Art is a mixed media show with work by sculptor Peter Randall-Page, photographer Steve Russell and music from members of the London Sinfonietta and is inspired by the natural phenomena of the ancient rock gongs of Lolui Island, Uganda. As a picture editor I went straight to the photography. Russell’s work falls into two parts, beautiful close ups of snakes and lizards and a documentary series based on the project. To my mind the two parts do not go together to make a complete whole. The documentary images are simply that and don’t offer a sense of interpretation or impression of the project or the environment. The reptile skins are however very beautiful and in some ways compliment the Randall-Page’s detailed linocuts of simple lines and bold use of dense colour. It may have been better to separate off the more documentary style work to another area, so we could understand its value as a record rather than present it within an art forum.


Monitor Lizard Skin by Steve Russell

Peter Randall-Page’s work is intriguing. The catalogue offers an understanding of the work in terms of “a study of organic form, its geometry and its subjective impact on our emotions.” The main work [Theme and Variation] is made up of three large bronzes inlaid with hundreds of ping pong balls with a coating that renders the work white. It is quietly sublime. I like simple forms and while the colour made it a little clinical, I did want to touch it, to see just how organic it was. Visually bumpy, the surface is smooth and there is something reassuring about its regularity of form. Along side the bronzes are series of linocuts, which like the sculptures, pare down complex shapes into simple direct lines of colour, echoing the repetitive symmetry found in nature.

Some images of the sculptures can be seen on the website below.

If you are in the neighbourhood, it is worth a visit.

1st October – 9th November 2008, www.pangolinlondon.com