Friday, 15 May 2009

"A photograph is not created by a photographer. What they do is just to open a little window and capture it. The world then writes itself on the film. The act of the photographer is closer to reading than it is to writing. They are the readers of the world."

Ferdinando Scianna Magnum member

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Paul Graham wins the 2009 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize

Now in its thirteenth year, this annual Prize of £30,000 rewards a living photographer, of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution to photography in Europe, through either an exhibition or publication, over the past year. Paul Graham was selected by the Jury for his publication, a shimmer of possibility (steidlMACK, October 2007). This publication comprises 12 books of the same size but with different coloured covers. I think it is unfortunate that the photographers Gallery could not display the books in such a way that the viewer could leaf through them because the prints on the gallery wall did not do Graham or his books justice.

A shimmer of possibility is based on Chekhov's short stories which I have never read but are known for Chekhov's economy of writing. His writing is sparse and a few words develop a character or scene and this is what Paul has done with his books. He calls them 'filmic haikus'. The twelve books are all alike but vary in length and the number of photographs included. Each presents a different implied ‘short story’ with the less is more approach. Some do so with many images over the course of a book, and one book suffices with only the inclusion of one single image. I heard Graham talk about his work at the Photographer's Gallery last week. The images of individuals he showed in his talk and which appear in the books are about the flow of their life for small amounts of time which are not defined by a neat and tidy beginning, middle and an end. They are open ended moments where we pause to notice and experience these subjects, and as they move on in their own direction and continuum, we move on our way too. In some way his work relates to what I am trying to achieve with my work.

I had not thought of it before but the last 3 major works he has done define the three principle variables of photography: Focus, Aperture and Shutter. End of an Age used focus - sharp/blurry. American Night used exposure - light/dark, and the new one Shimmer of Possibility uses time - fixed/flowing.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Zurbaran - Saint Francis in Meditation (1635-1639)

I find this painting of a Saint lost in his devotional ritual utterly captivating. The contrast of light and shadow both reveals and hides elements of the portrait. You cannot quite make out all of his features and I feel drawn towards the depths of the blackness of his cowl. The austere and reclusive monastic life is in an instant overshadowed by the powerful and overriding emotion of divine ecstasy. What I find particularly effective about this painting is that it is so contemporary. Replace the Saint with a hooded youth and you have a snapshot of modern inner city culture.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Mythologies at Haunch of Venison
Mat Collishaw 'Insectisides' 2009

The Haunch Of Venison has moved to the old Museum of Mankind building and fittingly the opening show references ethnographic collections. Over 16 years ago my ex-husband took me on our second or third date to see an extraordinary and unforgettable exhibition here on the
Mexican Day of the Dead. As the current exhibition heavily alludes to it I am won over despite some bizarre exhibits and unexpected and disappointing artist pairings. Mythologies explores the stories we tell about the world in order to understand it. It addresses a set of themes which were the subject of exhibitions at the Museum of Mankind: beginnings and endings, rites and ritual, religion, magic and material culture.

The image above is of an exploding butterfly
by Matt Collishaw. His images of exploding insects are impossible to eradicate from my mind because they are fascinating in their shocking beauty. His juxtaposition of cruelty and beauty creates a visual experience that tests the viewer's resolve and sensibility. I am seduced but equally repulsed by the hyper-realistic large scale images of such alluring beauty. Mat writes of his work: "I'm interested in the way imagery hits me subliminally... Whether I like it or not, there are mechanisms within us that are primed to respond to all kinds of visual material, leaving us with no real say over what we happen to find stimulating".

Video is not my preferred form of art but Bill Viola is the exception to this rule. His 2008 video piece 'Incarnations' is one of my favourites.

The video evokes Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is a cyclical progession of Adam & Eve walking towards and discovering paradise only to realise that it is not all that it is set out to be and hastily retreating. It points also to the intersection between life and death and between awareness and unconsiousness. The grainy monotone hue of the footage is hypnotic and contrasted with the clarity of the moment when Adam & Eve pass through the wall of water in full glorious saturated colour and detail.

Burlington Gardens is a large exhibition space and I find myself racing through some of the galleries, not in an attempt to get round it but because some of the galleries are impenetrable. I particularly loath Damien Hirst's crystal skull which appears here as a gigantic double painting spanning one whole wall of a gallery. Fittingly, a gaggle of Chinese tourists snap each other in front of the paintings. A move on smugly to encounter Christian Boltanski's theatre of quivering shadows which dance menacingly on the walls and remind me of my visit to the Mexican Day of the Dead show many years ago. His work also makes me wonder why I bother with photography at all when a light projector, the object itself and a shadow can say far more than a flat 2-dimensional fixed surface ever can.

Roni Horn aka Roni Horn at Tate Modern

Roni Horn's exhibition at Tate Modern is a masterpiece. The meaning of her work is founded on the viewer's experience of it and for the viewer to play an active role as their experiences unfold. The complexity of her work only really sinks in on a second or even third visit. The layout is generous with two to three artworks per gallery. Her paintings, photographs and sculptures are frequently paired or doubled. As you wander through the rooms you see a couple of identical drawings or photographs appearing side by side or you might see a drawing coupled with another artwork only to then chance upon the same drawing in a later gallery. She uses this sense of pairing throughout and it is particularly evident with her sculpture. It heightens the encounter with her works because it creates a sense of space and flowing movement through which the viewer passes and interacts. You are unable to see them both at once but recognise the second whist recalling the first. It also reminds me of Barthes' concept of punctum as time in that a photograph for example can capture many tenses. It seems to me that Roni's use of pairing and doubling has a similar effect. I am reminded of the first drawing or sculpture I saw minutes earlier in a previus gallery whilst simultaneously appreciating the identical artwork in the present gallery.

Roni says daylight is important to her and this could not be more evident in this show with the huge Tate windows for once uncharacteristically allowing sunlight to pour and filter through the gallery space. In particular, the 'Paired Gold Mats for Ross and Relix" shimmer with a warm glow from the reflected light bouncing off the Thames. It comprises two sheets of gold foil placed one above the other and the interior space between the two sheets glistens alien-like with a golden aura as sunlight passes over the sheets. I find myself wanting to get down on my hands and knees in order to poke my finger between the sheets and check whether Roni has furtively placed an arteficial light between them. But no the exhibition guide says that the glowing light is entirely natural. The pairing of the mats is also a metaphor for intimacy, eroticism, splendour and mythology of gold.

Her early drawings are a mesmerising example of deconstructionism as she slices and reconfigures her drawings. I have, since seeing these drawings, started reading Deleuze and Guattari's ' A Thousand Plateaus' in which they advocate a non-hierarchical and non-linear way of thought and organisation. Her drawings fill my mind as a read the introductory text on rhizome. The drawings are non-linear, fragmented, shifting and indeterminate allowing for endless permutations of possibilities and improbabilities. She says drawing is important to her, her daily activity, her primary force. Drawing has no edges you can go anywhere with it. It is not idiom or material specific and is never right or wrong. You are just moving in with drawing, focusing, registering, and recognising. A gradual effort towards a final position. Her photography and sculpture flow from her drawing.

Her photographic portraiture such as the 'Cabinet of 2001' offers a series of blurred close up portraits of a clown's face performing different emotions. The blurriness of the head shots prevents any detailed analysis of the face. This in turn prevents any proper comparison of one emotion against another. It is unsettling as you scan the multiple repetitive features for visual clues and find none.

This is the first time I have encountered Roni Horn's work and it has changed the way I think and feel about conceptual art and the use of multiple media to achieve a common goal.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Paul Graham writes in the Guardian that the traditional definition of 'a great shot' is the antithesis of what this image is about. This photograph is about appreciating the flow of the moment, the rhythm and currents and eddies of life, rather than neatly packaging the world into perfectly formed little jewels. This photo was taken in Pittsburg and is one of a sequence of photos of this man mowing a lawn outside the motel where Graham was staying. Graham selected this image as his 'best shot' because if confers a nobility and dignity to what the man is doing. He continues to say: "Many moments are mundane and seem worthless but they shape our lives. They are quite different from the Herculean labours and extraordinary moments that photographers are addicted to."

Thursday, 26 February 2009


Medici Gallery in London have chosen the above image of mine for publication as a greeting card for worldwide distribution. This image was taken in Hyde Park on a foggy morning in January 2008.

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24 Hours: 24 Photos

The 6th annual 24 Photography exhibition comes to Greenwich with a series of photographs from the first day of the year.

24:2009 Exhibition at Greenwich Park

24:2009 Exhibition at Greenwich Park

Since 2004, 24 photographers have been capturing the New Year in 24 hours between midnight New Year's Eve and midnight New Year's Day.

The project, this year entitled 24:2009, aims to run for 24 years and marks reaching its quarter milestone by staging two exhibitions at the home of world time and the Prime Meridian - Greenwich.

24 Photography is hosting an outdoor installation in Greenwich Park itself featuring all 24 photos from New Year's Day. At the nearby Viewfinder Photography Gallery all 144 images since the start of the project will be on display.

You can view all of the images from 2009 by using the link below.

History

Claire Spreadbury, at the time a photography student at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, came up with the idea to capture the first day of the new year in 2004 as part of a photography project. Claire, and 23 fellow postgraduate students, were each allocated one hour to capture one photo.

24:2009 Exhibition at Greenwich Park

24:2009 Photographs, Pavillion Cafe

Claire told BBC London: “24 was devised when we were studying photography at Central Saint Martins. We wanted to put on a group show that allowed us complete creative freedom whilst having a theme to hold it all together. There were 24 of us in our class and so I came up with the idea of documenting 24 hours in a day and New Year's Eve/Day made it more interesting."

"After the success of the first show we decided that we all wanted to continue with the project and so agreed to do it for 24 years. Even after just six years it is interesting to see how the photographer's work has changed and how the accumulating body of work is becoming a fascinating document of social history.”

The idea has evolved and will now span 24 years in total. Nearly half the original group are still involved in the project with new photographers joining each year.

It will be interesting to see how the group, project and society itself has changed from one new year until the next. The project will end in 2027.

24:2009

Outdoor Installation
Greenwich Park
Adjacent to The Pavilion Tea House, near the Royal Observatory.
Use the Greenwich Park map link for the location

Viewfinder Photography Gallery
Linear House
Peyton Place
Greenwich
London, SE10 8RS

24:2009 is open to the public from 24 February 2009 until 19 March 2009

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Paul Graham from the series 'A Shimmer of Possibility'
Deutsche Borse Photography Prize - The Photographers Gallery

The Deutsche Borse Photography Prize opened this week. The four shortlisted artists are: Paul Graham nominated for his publication, A Shimmer of Possibility; Emily Jacir nominated for her installation, Material for a Film, presented at the 2007 Venice Biennale; Tod Papageorge nominated for the exhibition Passing Through Eden - Photographs of Central Park at Michael Hoppen Gallery; and Taryn Simon nominated for her exhibition An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar at The Photographers' Gallery.

So who is going to win? My money is on Papageorge, however, my personal favourite is Paul Graham. His work comprises images from his volume of books entitled Shimmer of Possibility. The hanging mirrors the layout of the book and so the frames vary in size and shape. You draw near and then stand back as you pass around his exhibition space. He describes his work as 'filmic haikus' - ad hoc characters captured in rivulets of time. He also extends the concept of Cartier Bresson's 'Decisive Moment". The moments before and after are just as valuable and this is what he tries to convey. The images slide into each other capturing moments of nothingness, ordinariness and moments to be forgotten.

Taryn Simon, on the other hand, was the person I was most expecting to be my overall winner, given that her show at the Photographers Gallery last year blew me away. Her subject matter is fascinating and the access she gained to these unusual places is what make her images so memorable and riveting. However, her work rests on the extraordinary subject matter whereas Graham's images stand for themselves they create a dialogue of their own and it is this that speaks to me.

Emily Jacir I just don't get. It is not photography exactly but rather an archival record of one man, a Palestinian Intellectual murdered by Mossad. Papageorge's black and white photographs from Passing Through Eden were shot in Central Park in the 60's through to the 90's. They capture a playful setting that belies the Central Park's true character. The gestures and poses of the individuals caught by his voyeuristic lens are wonderful.

I wonder what the judges will decide? The winner is announced on 25 March so watch this space ...
Bettina von Zwehl gave a talk at College this week and this is one of her slides which she gave me. As it was the last slide show she would present (powerpoint beckons) she handed out her slides at the end of the talk. My 'lucky dip' slide belongs to one of her earlier projects, Profiles Two 2002. At this point in her career she was still focusing on the profiles of older people. Bettina street casts and approaches a stranger if she feels he or she has the right look for that particular project. As with all her projects, she asks her subjects to perform very specific tasks. On this occasion she asked him and the others in this series to close his eyes and adopt a Tai Chi pose for 10 minutes. She captures him lost in his own private world of concentration. His profile and lank body are visually striking and there is a tension in the air as if he might topple over at any minute. I love this image and cannot believe my luck that this was the one I pulled from the slide projector. Although her work requires the sitter to perform designated tasks she says it is unimportant as to whether the viewer is aware of the process however, I disagree because my enjoyment of the image is enhanced by the knowledge that this man is potentially going through a range of emotions, is it discomfort in maintining the pose or is it inner peace? This is what intrigues me about the image. I know something is going on in his head but I don't know what it is.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

'Untitled', from Material, 2002

Peter Fraser gave a talk at college today. He was inspirational. Several points that he made really struck a chord. One thing he mentioned was that he uses a different camera for a new project so he might go from to 6x7 to 645 to 35mm because it alters the way in which he sees which in turn directs the format and content of the image. This is something I should think about more. When I shoot with Polaroid film be it SX70, 669 or 55, I consider its format, the space around the object and between the object and the edges of the frame. When I shoot with digital I think about composition and framing in a different way. My choice of camera clearly changes the way in which I work and I should use this more consciously to direct my work.

Peter sees the sublime in the detail of an ordinary functional everyday object. He sees what we see but don't really see because we don't take time to look or understand the functional purpose of that object. He says of his work: 'all material is equal'. He defines dirt as 'material in the wrong place'. I love this idea and his transformative use of shallow depth of field.

Another thing that Peter mentioned was that last year he made the switch from film to digital and having used film for 30+ years will not be using it again. His confidence in the quality of his digital work was refreshing. I asked if using digital had changed the way in which people responded to his work. His response was that he had an exhibition and publication coming out later this year of purely digital work. I found his self-confidence uplifting. I love digital and have no desire to use film but I hear constantly at college, in galleries and from art critics that fine art photography can only be shot in film. From now on I will stick with what I know and love and that is digital. Confidence and self-belief is key. Anyway back to Peter Fraser. Thank you for your stimulating talk.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Los Angeles Times reports that, on Friday, a wide majority of the US Senate passed an amendment "to ensure that taxpayer money is not lost on wasteful and nonstimulative projects" such as museums, theaters, and art centers.

Is this America's definition of art today?

Monday, 9 February 2009


I went to see Axel Hütte at the Waddington Galleries. The exhibition includes photographs taken in France, La Gomera, Canada, New Mexico, New Zealand and Borneo. Photographs taken in Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina stem from Hütte’s recent expedition along the route of the Conquistadors, tracing the path of the earliest explorers in their discovery of South America. Monumental in scale but meticulous in detail, each work portrays both a topographical and metaphysical terrain.

His work is devoid of people and narrative and explores a heightened, atmospheric observation of landscape and its four elements; air in ‘Fox Glacier, New Zealand’, earth in ‘Underworld-1, Mexico’, fire in ‘Capulin Fire-1, New Mexico’ and water in ‘Aonda Camp-2, Venezuela’.

Hütte uses a large format camera and his monumental sized images transport the viewer into the landscape. Given that I have been to and photographed several of the locations, his photographs have a particular resonance. His landscapes are reminiscent of Casper David Friedrich as the viewer gazes out over the landscape.

For him part of the process of capturing the image is the choosing of the locations, the protracted physical journey to find an image and the uncontrollable weather and lighting conditions. He states that he is drawn to the subject of geological phenomena that has required a residue of time to achieve its formation. For me these images serve to remind me of the power and grandeur of nature but also that the photographer is very much at the mercy of the landscape.


Axel Hutte
Axel Hutte

Waddington Galleries , 11 Cork Street, London W1S 3LT


Ultimately spanning a quarter of a century, 24photography has reached its first major milestone.
24:2009 is our sixth annual show, and fittingly resides this year in Greenwich – home of GMT itself, and the benchmark for our visual exploration of the passing of each year. Every year since 2004, between the hours of midnight New Years Eve and midnight New Years Day, 24 photographers each sought to capture the essence of one hour; economic, social, environmental, political and the very personal reflections on a moment in their lives. To mark this special year, 24photography is staging two exhibitions. In Greenwich Park itself the 24 images of this year’s project are displayed as an outdoor installation, allowing the images, their metaphor and contextual meaning to become tangible and accessible to all. In the nearby Viewfinder Photography Gallery, an interim retrospective is housed showcasing all 144 images created by the 24 movement so far.

The images from this year particularly, with its major political and economic changes, hopes and fears, catalogue a record of our time and raise questions, debate and dreams of where we are and where we might be by 24:2010. This is my third year of participating. Assigned to the 9am slot I chose to record my family waking up and embarking on the first day of the new year.

The exhibition runs from 24 February to 19 March 2009.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

On Monday it snowed all day and London stopped to play. Everyone was out with their camera recording the extraordinary scene. What is it that compells us to record our lives in this way? Why do we need to verify our experiences though the sharing of photos online? Do we worry that our memory or perception of the event will lack authenticity without a visual record?

Monday, 26 January 2009


It was over 170 years ago that Henry Fox Talbot created permanent images using paper soaked in silver chloride and fixed with a salt solution, shortly afterwards patenting his process as a "calotype". In a similar time-frame, Louis Daguerre created images on silver-plated copper, coated with silver iodide and ‘develop’ with warmed mercury – the Daguerreotype process.
The excitement to have been able to create an image without using paint or canvas, this new extraordinary mix of science and alchemy, might well have seemed to many all that time ago that both Talbot and Daguerre were dabbling in magic. They may well have been the magicians of yesteryear, but who are the magicians of today?

Photography is no longer the pastime of the few, nor is it the travail of the lone enthusiast in his darkroom breathing the dull fumes of harsh chemicals. It is now within everybody’s compass to create an image of depth, an image of significance and an image of beauty.

Thursday, 22 January 2009


As I struggle with my tax return and listen to the news of ongoing economic gloom, I see a light on the horizon.

Friday, 16 January 2009

I am a member of the Chelsea Physic Garden. I visit often but not often enough. My favourite time is in the Winter when it is closed to the public. The focus of the Garden changes. It is more peaceful. It is less about colour, smell and life and more about shape, form and death. The stark silhouette of the decaying plants have an ephemeral beauty of their own.

I thought I would start my my blog by posing the question. Do we really need another blog about photography and image making?

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the wealth of fantastic work produced by my contemporaries and predecessors. It can cause camera shutter paralysis. This sense that there is no point. It has all been done before and done superbly to boot. I go to as many exhibitions as time permits, collect photography books and browse the internet constantly. I do wonder whether I would be better off shutting myself away for a while. Working in splendid isolation with nothing but my own thoughts for company.

In an interview Chris Buck said:

"I believe there are two kinds of photographers. There are those who look at other peoples work and there are those who don't. I'm not one to look at someone else's work. I find it more distracting than helpful. I tend to be generous with young photographers and I'm open to meeting with people but I don't really look at my competitors work."

Alec Soth picks up on this in his blog:

"Though I wouldn't use the word 'competitor', I also wonder if seeing too much contemporary work is problematic. I once had an assistant, Phillip Carpenter, who said something I'll never forget. Phil started off as a musician in Nashville. He was surrounded by a ton of talent and learned about everything going on. But this knowledge, he said, was eventually damaging. Phil explained that the best musicians often come from nowhere. They are in their parent's basement in Idaho, don't really know how to hold the guitar, and consequently develop their own peculiar sound. So here is the question: If limitation spawns creativity, is the limitless resource of the Internet a good thing? Does it do more harm than good to read all these blogs?"

Is it time to switch off?