Review for Robbie Phoenix

Robbie Phoenix was hired as a sales and marketing professional on People Per Hour for a one day job to create a sponsorship plan for the London Photography Diary. Through this website, he did a decent job, completed the job in a reasonable amount of time, and seemed to put thought and effort into the work. So, I hired him for another job, another full day of work, this time to sell advertising on the sites. Instead of conducting this job through People Per Hour, Robbie asked  if we could do the job outside of the site, so that he wouldn’t incur the fee that People Per Hour charges. He asked me to pay him upfront, via paypal.  Normally I would not pay for a job before it was completed, nor would I hire someone outside of People Per Hour, because there is no recourse for the buyer. Part of the reason people do good work  through PPH is because the buyer posts a review of their work. Just like with Airbnb, etc. a bad review can affect future work. Though I hesitated to hire Robbie again under these conditions, he did seem trustworthy so I agreed. It seems that Robbie thought that because he was paid in advance and there was no review, that he could do a poor job (or no job at all) and have no repercussions. He, however, is wrong, as this review will prove. The quality of the jobs, from paid at the end plus a review vs. prepaid with no review, has been like night and day. With payment in hand, Robbie simply did not care about the second job he did.

 

What transpired after paying Robbie for this day of work is that he took 1.5 months to complete 7 hours of work, he failed to prove that the work was actually done, and rather tellingly, didn’t sell one single ad on the site.  I was as patient as one can be and ended up having to chase Robbie over, and over, and over again, to find out why he hadn’t started the job. His response was that he had work that was better paid that he had to concentrate on first. After chasing him for nearly a month he finally said he would start the work but that he was charging me 1.5 hours for all the time that he spent going back and forth on email.. I was being charged, for chasing him to start the job that he was so late on starting..?!

 

Part of the job was for Robbie to figure out how much we should sell advertising for. He touted himself as an expert and he should have been able to come up with this number. But he was unable to, after repeatedly asking him to come up with a number, based on his experience and knowledge in advertising… I mentioned there are different possible rates we could charge, like 60 pounds a month, and suggested a few more, but just as arbitrary numbers.. I am not the expert and this is why I hired him. He said that we should go with 60 pounds a month. Simply because I threw that number out there, he gave no reason as to why this is so.  There was no rhyme or reason to this choice, he simply didn’t care about making an educated decision, but rather just get the job over with. At this point he said he wouldn’t be available for future work on our site (not that I offered it) because it wasn’t paid well enough. He wanted an expert’s fee but he was not able to provide an expert’s level of service.

 

I also asked Robbie to show proof that he had made these sales calls and emails. Via skype records, emails. He never showed any of this. In the end, he didn’t sell one single ad on the site, and given that he refused to show proof that the work had been completed, I can only believe that he never did the work.

In addition to his poor work ethic, Robbie had quite an attitude on this 2nd job. The first job he was polite and prompt..this second one he couldn’t be bothered and actually said that working on this job was ‘an ordeal’. An ordeal to be paid a very good day rate, and paid before the job had even begun. It should be noted that I paid him a very good day rate of 120 GBP for one day.

This turned out to be one of the most disappointing experiences I have had with someone that I hired. I feel like I can’t trust anyone now and will absolutely conduct work through People Per Hour, so that I have some recourse from duplicitous contractors.

REVIEW: Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers @ the Barbican Centre

Curated by Magnum photographer Martin Parr and the Barbican’s Alona Pardo, Strange and Familiar is an impressive exhibition comprising 23 acclaimed international photographers, each documenting our nation’s changing social and psychic landscape. The iconography of our isles is omnipresent and familiar: bowler hats and London slums, aristocrats and bleary eyed hippies, rolling green hills and grim northern vistas. However, the majority of photographers manage to impose their own subjectivity onto these sometimes clichéd images, articulating something that goes beyond the stereotype.

The first floor is dedicated to humanistic works and photojournalism by greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Evelyn Hofer, focusing on the ordinary lives of working class people. One of the earliest photographers included, Edith Tudor-Hart saw the camera as “a political weapon” that would draw attention to the marginalised with an aim to instigate change. Her black and white photos of London focus on families in slum housing, socialist demonstrations and the unemployed, with one particularly evocative picture of deprivation showing a dirt besmirched young girl peering desirously through a bakery window. Similarly, Paul Strand documented the hard lives of the working classes, focusing on the communities of the Outer Hebrides in the 1950s. His photos show them worn and rugged like the stone houses they inhabit, hands gnarled by labour but exuding an unshakeable stoicism nonetheless. These early photographers, working between the 1930s and 1960s, all channel the touching dignity, empathy and solidarity of their subjects.

The austerity and hardship of these images give way to ‘flower power’ in Gian Butturini and Frank Habicht’s captivating images of London in the Swinging Sixties, the latter’s work conveying the optimism and relaxing moral attitudes of the time. The sense of liberation is palpable. We see it in a youth’s rapture at a Rolling Stones concert and the casual smiles of friends perched on a roof. The contradictions of the era are nicely exposed too. A shot of flamboyantly dressed youths in Chelsea is juxtaposed with that of a drably attired woman with a cart of old goods. Men and women pose coolly on Carnaby Street beside shots of anti-war protesters as the Vietnam War looms in the background.

As singular as many of the images are, their black and white profusion begets a sort of photographic ennui and their impact becomes muted. A much needed visceral kick comes however in the cold intensity of Akihiko Okamura’s work during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Focusing on the Battle of the Bogside, the “deathly static, quiet expression” characteristic of the Japanese Kompora group invests these blue hued images with latent violence; solemn faced women distribute cups of tea amid the conflict and milk bottles sit innocently on doorsteps, later to be used as petrol bombs.

Moving downstairs there is a perceptible shift from humanistic, documentary photography to more abstract, fragmented and self-reflexive work: photography as fine art. A gradual atomisation of society can be read into these later images as communal spheres start to disappear. Axel Hütte’s shots of London’s housing estates avoid “signs of civilization or narrative indication, so in [the] best case you are lost in time and space.” Built to house working class communities, he reduces these estates to a combination of shapes, textures and surfaces, abstracting them from their social purpose to intriguing aesthetic ends. Shinro Ohtake’s photographs are a surprise joy, finding tranquillity in the ordinary. Narrowly defined spaces take precedence over people; mood reigns over events. Documenting the textures and sights of everyday life (a row of garages, a parked car in a driveway, the light of the sun through the leaves), they arguably transcend nationhood to unveil the universal beauty of daily life.

We end with Hans Eijkleboom’s slideshow of shoppers at the Birmingham Bull Ring, where surreptitiously snapped individuals have been categorised in grids according to formal similarities in behaviour and dress. People of all races and creeds are shown similarly clothed, suggesting not only the homogenising effect of globalisation but prompting the question of how personal identity reconciles itself with a wider communal identity.

The exhibition is ambitious and the photographers’ work impressive, though a narrower scope and a less pre-defined idea of Britishness might have allowed greater space for contemplation. Like Martin Parr’s own output, social class is a central and structuring principle throughout Strange and Familiar. Even when the works become increasingly contemporary, they still obey the binary of either very rich or desperately poor. Despite this, it is possible to perceive in the temporal sweep of the exhibition the ever-evolving nature of British identity, and at its best our shared humanity.

– Daniel Pateman

Strange and Familiar @ Barbican Art Gallery. Showing until 19 June 2016

Image captions:

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers Curated by Martin Parr

Installation View, Barbican Art Gallery, London 16 February – 19 June 2016 © Tristan Fewings/ Getty Images

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers Curated by Martin Parr

Installation View, Barbican Art Gallery, London 16 February – 19 June 2016 © Tristan Fewings/ Getty Images

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers Curated by Martin Parr

Installation View, Barbican Art Gallery, London 16 February – 19 June 2016 © Tristan Fewings/ Getty Images


65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)Daniel Pateman
studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.

REVIEW: Martin Parr: Unseen City at the Guildhall Art Gallery

There is perhaps something ingenuous in Martin Parr’s words that “all I do is photograph ordinary things”.  While his work is based in ‘the everyday’, he is drawn to the singular and the bizarre, the colourful and the kitsch. Unseen City is no exception. Housed at Guildhall Art Gallery, two large rooms display his output as the City of London’s resident photographer, a post he has held since 2013. In documenting the centuries old traditions of The City of London Corporation he has been granted unprecedented access to a world of private ceremony and public parades. Such is the somewhat alien nature of these practices that a handy Glossary is available to explain the meaning behind practices like “Beating the Bounds”, “Swan Upping” and “The Trial of the Pyx” – phrases that would otherwise leave you scratching your head in confusion.

While his subject-matter tends to be idiosyncratic, his approach elucidates the real and the common. As exhibition curator Katty Pearce states, he is just as interested in “the unguarded […] banal and boring bits” as he is the extraordinary. He is the photographic equivalent of Andy Warhol. Both have a penchant for the trashy and mundane and both are fascinated by people. Showcasing this latter preoccupation, Parr captures his subjects’ unusual behaviour and expressions in incredible detail – employing a ring flash to remove obscuring shadows and a macro lens to highlight every follicle and pore – exposing them for our curious gaze.

In contrast with his earlier work (the rather lurid depiction of British holidaymakers in The Last Resort for example) Unseen City appears positively genteel. You will find no vomit-inducing banquets or Henry the VIII-style debauchery here. And while there is a lot of pomp on display, there is very little pomposity. Instead we have shots of well-presented, smiling school children lunching at Guildhall or an elderly man dozing off during Knollys Rose Ceremony. One endearing image depicts a member of The Company of Watermen focusing hard as he tries to do up the gold buttons on his uniform. There is a vulnerability and humanity in these shots – of real and ruddy faces caught unawares – that shines out above the fancy dress and ornate ephemera.

It is difficult to come to a definitive conclusion as to whether Parr intends to critique or merely document the peculiar rituals of the City. Is he playing the satirist or producing fodder for the historical archive? Unseen City does evidence his signature eye for the absurd; an unoccupied pair of Cavalry Boots in Guildhall Yard or musketeers marching past a Pret a Manger for example. The series also makes it clear that the social makeup of these organisations is, as Parr himself explicitly states, “very white [and] very middle class”. Not only are people of colour under-represented, but women appear somewhat side-lined too. This is directly addressed under the photo of Fiona Wolf when one reads that she is only the second female Lord Mayor of the last 800 years!  The curator of Unseen City understands Parr’s approach to be one without “malicious intent or critique” and his work of a “documentary, even anthropological sensibility.” To what extent such neutrality is feasible it is difficult to say.  It is clear however that the potency of his work comes from its openness to interpretation and the absence of a definitive reading.

One unifying thread throughout Parr’s work is his examination of a particularly British mentality. Unseen City depicts crowds of modern Britons lining the streets, looking on in amusement through their iPhones as elaborately adorned men execute some historical imperative. In gay apparel they march past grey-faced observers waiting with weary patience in the rain. There is something absurd, very British and incredibly Martin Parr about all of that.

– Daniel Pateman

Martin Parr: Unseen City @ Guildhall Art Gallery. Showing until 31 July 2016

Image captions:

St Matthew’s Day Parade, Mayoral Car, City of London, 2014. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
The Drapers’ Livery 650th Anniversary, TheQueen visiting the Drapers’ LiveryHall 2014. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
Lord Mayor’s Show, City of London, 2013. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos


65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)Daniel Pateman
studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.

 

REVIEW: Secret Agent: Between Invisibility and Hypervisibility at Guest Projects Space

Secret Agent: Between Invisibility and Hypervisibility

The ‘Secret Agent’ referred to in the title of Hemera’s show relates to the agency and activism in enabling feminist and post-feminist representational visibility under the patriarchal order. If “invisible” is the under or mis-represented subject in cultural production and “hyper-visible” is the sharp positioning of victimhood in relation to notions of ‘othering’ then Hemera’s show, to my mind, operates somewhere in between, where visibility is created through challenging the status quo self-reflexively, through its own visual paradigms and institutional frameworks.

The exhibition, held at Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Projects in January 2016, was shown last year in Helsinki at the Finnish Museum of Photography. It seems apt that Maud Sulter be included in this group show at Guest. Sulter, who recently passed away, offers an important departure point for thinking in art historical terms about where certain visual codes originate from, not unlike aspects of Shonibare’s own enquiry. Her photo-collages from the series Jeanne: A Melodrama (1994) draw together disparate visual forms from an image economy spanning an anonymous field of subjects, personalising them into imaginary incarnations of Jeanne Duval – Charles Baudelaire’s muse and Nadar’s anonymous sitter the Unknown Woman.

The continuation of anonymity and invisibility is played through Mathilde ter Heijne’s Women to Go (2005 – ongoing), an installation of a large retail-like display of postcards inviting viewers to browse, choose and keep. The face of each postcard depicts an anonymous woman photographed between the invention of the daguerreotype and the 1920s and inscribed on the reverse is a short biography of a woman of significant achievement, yet still not widely recognised. This disrupted photo-text concept incorporates both the negation and non-identification of the women as legitimate subjects and plays on the concealment of positive roles by those who canonise history.

A number of works in the exhibition re-address and re-configure history through the lens of the present. Aura Satz’s lightbox installation employs stills from Cecil B DeMille’s silent film Joan the Woman (1916), and through the embedded sound, creates an act of un-silencing Joan of Arc at the point of her execution. Satz’s layers of abstraction are further implicated through the predominant female labour involved in the hand-colouring of film in the movie industry of the early 20th century. Niina Vatanen’s re-working of Helvi Ahonen’s amateur photographic archive in Archival Studies/ A Portrait of an Invisible Woman, projects the potential of new narratives in photographic production with transposing and overlaying strategies onto print composition and form. Sarah Beddington’s plastic tube binoculars offer a distinct and intimate view of Palestinian processions from the early part of the 20th Century. These pieces also form an important entry point in which to consider her film, The Logic of Birds. It depicts a performative procession staged in Palestine based on an ancient Sufi poem where birds follow a migratory journey in order to seek a leader. The film acts as a strong metaphor for the exhibition, through its agency and through the possibility of the collective being empowered by looking within.

Around the peripheries of the exhibition’s more prominent themes sits the work of Ye Funa and Beth Collar. Funa’s satirical take on formal ethnic identities and projected ideologies of perfection, forms a vibrant entrance to the exhibition. A large grid of portraits in national costume encloses a centrally embedded plasma screen, statically showing an idealised landscape into which figures gently appear and disappear against the sound of a cascading waterfall. Beth Collar’s conceptual illustrations/sculptures on the other hand offer a mythical and symbolic play in perceiving an alternative visibility. Her drawings could be seen as an allegory of the ‘other side’ where mysterious cloaked figures are seen hidden from us. Collar’s presentation is framed by root vegetables signifying a past time, perhaps in pointing towards a pre-modern ritual or in emphasising the ambiguity of her ungendered representation.

Possibly throughout history, what fluctuates between invisibility and hyper-visibility is the way in which gendered discourse moves to and fro, into and out of cultural and political consciousness. This is perhaps most evident in the work of Aleksandra Domanovic. In The Future Was At Her Fingertips, she sets a chronology of technological and political change where women act as central agents or figures of influence, most notably in the development of computer technologies and media. Placed alongside this timeframe, her sculptures signify the importance of the symbolic order through cultural hand gestures, as monuments resisting male-dominated artifice in technology and embodying the power to transform.

– Sunil Shah

Secret Agent Group Show curated by Hemera Collective @ Guest Projects Space London 9 – 30 Jan, 2016

All installation shots by Ben Westoby

photo-8 Sunil Shah is an artist and curator based in Oxford, UK. He is interested in the politics of photographic representation and conceptual post-documentary practices with relation to history, memory and identity. He has undertaken several curatorial projects including Making Home at the Royal Geographic Society, London for the HLF funded Exiles Project and acted as co-curator for Brighton Photo Fringe Open ’13. He holds degrees from Coventry University and the University of Westminster. www.sunilshah.info

 

 

REVIEW: Masahisa Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens at Michael Hoppen Gallery

Masahisa Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens

Nestled in the warm, study-like space upstairs at the Michael Hoppen gallery, Masahisa Fukase’s forlorn, melancholic images of ravens encircle the room. Like Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock before him, the photographer did little to improve the reputation of these tar-black birds. In folklore and popular culture they are a sign of ill omen; the flag bearers of loss and death. In Japanese mythology particularly they are supernatural beings, disruptive and dangerous. Fukase’s own tragic narrative does little to dissuade these associations.

Born in 1934 in Hokkaido, Japan, he grew up part of a nation recovering from the psychological scars of defeat after World War II. His second marriage to his wife Yōko Wanibe was intense. While she became the subject of one of his first major successes, Yōko (1978), she was unable to cope with his controlling personality and eventually divorced him in 1976. Alone and broken-hearted, he suffered heavily from depression and found solace in drink. In 1992 he fell down the stairs of his favourite bar and into a coma, a state he remained in for 20 years until he passed away.

While Kill the Pigs (1961) reflected the photographer’s grim sensibilities, his separation from Yoko resulted in the bleak, icy output that became The Solitude of Ravens (1975-82). While the exhibition title is something of a misnomer – ravens being thought to mate for life and live in groups – it shows just how much Fukase came to identify himself with these gloomy-looking birds. The raven itself is not the subject of the series but a symbol; a site of myriad references and allusions. Most telling then are not the images of monochrome flocks of birds perched in trees, but those mysterious anomalies in which the bird is absent but its imagery is evident.

One such picture, suffusing both nostalgia and foreboding, consists of three young girls on a boat overlooking the ocean. Backs to the camera, their slick black hair is whipped into fluttering tufts by the wind, conjuring the raven’s figurative presence. Darkness dominates the foreground. The picture underexposed and their faces obscured, feelings of loss and remembrance predominate. Like Poe’s infamous poem The Raven, in which the narrator is visited by the titular bird while lamenting the death of his cherished Lenore, the photo is an ode to lost love, evoking the same mournful, somewhat animistic associations. Arguably, the raven of the series is a symbolic stand-in for Yōko; conjuring the memory of her and being the focus of Fukase’s photography until he remarried in 1982.

It has been suggested that Fukase’s work is social as well as personal, embodying the turbulences of post-war Japan. The final shot of the exhibition – a flock of the birds with their wings outstretched against a dark sky like a squadron of warplanes – certainly fits this reading of invasion and the final defeat of the nation. That Fukase might also be interested in drawing attention to environmental issues is evident in a shot of a bare branch lying across a backdrop of smoke-belching chimneys. But, as Michael Hoppen argues, the series is first and foremost “a personal lament reflecting the darkened vision of the photographer.” His worldview had become increasingly pessimistic and doom-laden and the stark imagery of Ravens is testament to that. As you view his images you can perceive his sense of self disintegrating. On finishing the series, he even stated that he had now “become a raven.”
– Daniel Pateman

Masahisa Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens @ Michael Hoppen Gallery until 23 April

Image captions:

Seikan Ferryboat, 1976 © Masahisa Fukase Archives
Nayoro, 1976 © Masahisa Fukase Archives
Dream Island, Tokyo, 1980 © Masahisa Fukase Archives
Erimo Cape, 1976 © Masahisa Fukase Archives

65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)
Daniel Pateman
studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.

REVIEW: Lee Miller: A Woman’s War at the Imperial War Museum

The photographer who had her images of Buchenwald published in Vogue is the subject of a new retrospective.

A woman sits in the bath and washes her back with a flannel, looking up and over the camera at an unseen observer. On the edge of the bath sits a black and white photo of the man who owns the flat: a middle-aged German man in military uniform, with a now unmistakable toothbrush moustache.

Lee Miller began her artistic career as a surrealist, and her abiding interest in surrealism is a strong theme running through this exhibition staged at the Imperial War Museum, London.

From the painting she posed for at the start of her career, to the dark eyes of rafters in snow that are pictured in her post-war photos of the Balkans, her images marry the bizarre and the banal.

Miller was one of four photographers to be accredited as an official photographer for the US Army and had unrivaled access to record the lives of troops and civilians in the Second World War.

A Woman’s War opens with a traumatic event from Miller’s early childhood that will, for some visitors, frame the rest of the exhibition. It also opens with Miller’s career as a model and subject which had a huge influence on her work. For example, the exhibition opens with a shot Miller took of a model wearing a sabre guard over her shoulder like a couture sleeve. According to notes, it was a re-imagining of a Man Ray image that pictured Miller wearing the guard as a mask, posing nude.

During the war, Miller photographed fashion models, posing them in front of blitzed buildings and on the threshold of bomb shelters. Even in these images, there are still touches of surrealism: photos of blast marks shaped like the British Gas mascot Mr Therm, and models’ pretty faces hidden behind gas masks.

Miller’s post-war women dominate this exhibition. One photograph shows a Parisian woman, also a resistance fighter, who wears an impressive pompadour hairdo. The caption informs us that British Vogue readers reacted strongly upon seeing it – mistaking the style statement against occupying Nazis as a slur on the way fashion had been rationed in Britain.

In Paris Miller also shot Salon Gervais. It was the first salon in the city to regain power. (Its hairdryers ran on electricity generated by men riding a static tandem in the basement). But defiance was not limited to the Allies. One image Miller took after the war shows a German woman on a compulsory visit to the camps wearing national dress.

Miller’s images like this feel like faint echoes of the story about lipsticks handed out after Bergen-Belsen was liberated: of the surreal, uncomfortable nature of survival.

At the end of the exhibition hangs a lightbox with a picture of Miller in later life. After the war, she suffered from depression and alcoholism, and appearances in Vogue featured her as a chef and homemaker. (Miller was apparently the first woman in Britain to own a microwave). In the image, the only lightbox in the exhibition, the kitchen glows with the terracotta tiles and butter-yellow curtains. But the warmth of the setting stands in stark contrast to the cold emptiness of the picture, and of Miller’s own styling and pose

After last year’s brilliant Conflict, Time, Photography at the Tate, it feels imperative that London’s museums and galleries continue to exhibit the work of artists like Miller who whose work speaks across decades. The Imperial War Museum has very much achieved this with ‘A Woman’s War’.

Lee Miller: A Woman’s War at IWM London until 24 April 2016

ellie broughtonEllie Broughton is an arts writer from London. She has previously been published by 3AM, Litro, and Elsewhere Journal as well as The Debrief, Metro and Independent Voices.

 

Some shows to see.. and some to avoid.

January Photography Roundup

It’s nearing the end of January when 2016 really begins.  All those half-hearted resolutions left on simmer through the gloomiest month of the year (apparently it still counts as chocolate if it’s been melted!) start to come to a bubbling crescendo.  The seasonal sugar coma has passed and I emerge from my frost-covered cocoon certain that this time next year I’ll be lighter, brighter, and better than ever.  Well, at least until BBQ season comes and spoils everything.  Embarking on one of my lesser delusions, I spring out into London’s lively streets to educate myself with some of the many cultural offerings available (becoming a GQ cover model will just have to wait).

IMG_4889The first of my photographic forays is Alec Soth’s Gathered Leaves at the Science Museum.  The exhibition, consisting of four large rooms, leads me in chronological order through 10 years of his work, from 2004-14.  Each image is striking, given room to speak and breathe against the plain white walls.  We start with images from Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004) series.  His shots, suffused with a subtle yearning, suggest the potency of dreams and an admiration for visionaries.  The homes and birthplaces of American men who would come to leave their mark on the world, like Johnny Cash and Charles Lindbergh, are photographed along with less renowned men and women.  The presentation of such humble beginnings, especially when considering the accomplishments of some of these men, is a testament to the transformative power of dreams.

Niagara (2006) retains the same sense of longing, suggesting the beauty and compassion nestled among sometimes torn and tawdry lives.  One of Soth’s talents is his effortless ability to sidestep our modern penchant for fatalism.  He subtly depicts the intertwining of our desires and hopes with less than perfect realities, discovering love and tenderness in spite of sometimes tumultuous circumstances.  Shots of motels recur frequently in his work, in this context suggesting cheap, discreet, anonymous places where passion or love might bloom.  Continuing into the next, dimly-lit room is Broken Manual (2010), a series documenting survivalists and hermits who decide to escape into barren wilderness.  The title, a play on words, suggests a discontented masculinity in modern society; a desire to live away from enforced roles and expectations, as well as presenting an opportunity for self-discovery.  A glass cabin in the centre of the room displays the profusion of survivalist literature available and reiterates what appears a singularly male need to escape societal bonds.


IMG_4911

After slipping away myself to scoff an overpriced croissant I head across the road to the V&A’s current presentation of work by the 19th Century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.  Like Soth, Cameron’s purpose and method was a poetic one, aiming to combine “the real and the ideal [while] sacrificing nothing of truth.”  Though her work may lack the jarring imagery and drama our modern eye is accustomed to, comprising of straight-forward portrait shots or recreations of works from antiquity, its strength lies in an intangible, subtle beauty that arrests the eye.  It reminds you with its plain vitality why some civilisations view photography suspiciously, capable of stealing the subject’s soul.  Photography makes a person appear more alive than they would in either the classical paintings or sculptures Cameron references.  It captures not just an incredible likeness but expresses a subjective inner world as well, something beyond the material.

Passing through the exhibition the works are grouped by Cameron’s favourite topics of photography (‘Portraiture’, ‘Madonna Groups’, ‘Fancy Subjects for Pictorial Effects’) but laid out in a somewhat awkward way which makes it hard to navigate without jumping between themes.  One particular section that stood out however, entitled “Defected Unmounted Impressions” and highlighting Cameron’s status as an innovator, was a selection of ‘imperfect’ shots displaying signs of aging, interference or manipulation.  Photography, which in its infancy was prized for its ability to provide a factual report on reality, was popularly expected to consist of “clear, hard outlines”, detailing people as a whole and in context (rather than reduced into pieces in close up), with all visual details sharply defined.  Cameron subverted these standards with her fondness for soft focus and a penchant for manipulating certain frames; building additional layers of meaning (scratching out an image to suggest a halo, for example) to provide a viewing experience more ‘divine’ – something closer to art than photography was thought capable of.


IMG_4957

I get my own portrait taken ‘Cameron style’ with the aid of the iPhone, and promptly catapult myself out of the 19th Century up towards Angel, landing firmly back in the modern day.  Before I put my eyes on ice I venture to the London Art Fair, with the intention of procuring booze (free drinks served Thursday Lates!) and more seriously of looking at the contemporaneous work of Photo50.  This years’ offering is the exhibition Feminine Masculine, guest-curated by Federica Chiocchetti, whose intention is to “explore the challenge of representing the mysterious, at times ineffable and immaterial, dynamics that occur or do not occur between a woman and a man.”  By the sound of this diffuse logic it’s a win-win; the show a success even by attempting to articulate the purportedly inexpressible.

As some of the photography indicates, the relations between the sexes can be captured by the camera in tangible, tender ways.  For example, the large prints from the series Closer by Elinor Carucci express a deep, almost mundane intimacy, in which a couple’s bodies can lie exposed side by side without the need to be sexualised, indicating a closeness of being.  Across from these shots and taking a less subtle approach are six separate photos from the series At First Sight (2014-15).  On the left are three individuals, flailing backwards wide-eyed and illuminated by a flash of light, literally ‘falling in love’, while on the right are three pictures of couples embracing.  While a clichéd depiction already, a picture of a bolt of lightning is included in the centre to spell out the meaning.

Although the title of the project is inspired by Godard’s 1966 film Masculin Féminin, very little else seems to be.  While this is acknowledged, it almost seems detrimental to the whole to make the tenuous comparison between the exhibition and the intentions of the aforementioned film.  The reference serves only to highlight what is lacking – any sort of engagement with socio-political themes.  While the collection proudly illustrates its diverse and contemporary methods – utilising a mix of media such as film, including postcards with responses from strangers, mocked up magazines ironically commenting on bourgeois relationships, as well as moving away from traditional modes of photographic display into the realm of art installation – it seems an oversight not to have responded to now out-dated gender stereotypes, especially those in Godard’s movie, of the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” variety.

The individual intentions of the artists can be compelling in their own right.  Jo Broughton’s series Empty Porn Sets (2010) captures the aftermath of a number of adult film shoots, the now unpopulated sexual arenas appearing weirdly child-like and fantastical in the absence of performers.  Remnants of underwear and the odd vibrator sit still and incongruous on stages arranged like a classroom or an icy wonderland.  Sans actors, the sets now look cold and empty, their artifice obvious, serving to bring home the oddly dispassionate nature of the enterprise.

As a whole, however, the exhibition doesn’t appear to communicate any overall message.  It says little new about human relationships and declines to articulate anything progressive about gender, which is odd given the shows title.  In the end it’s rather too conceptual (but without a strong unifying concept) and rather superficial, suggesting a lack of deep intellectual thought on behalf of the curator.  Unless of course it was intended as a modern elegy to the state of human relationships today –somewhat hollow, glib, and desperate for attention.

– Daniel Pateman

65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)Daniel Pateman  studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.

REVIEW: Magnus Arrevad’s Boy Story, by Daniel Pateman

Needling through the disparate throng of tourists and sight-seers on Great Russell Street, splashing in grey puddles and sopping wet at the edges, I go round in dizzying circles trying to find my destination.  I peer in the rain at my iPhone, instructed that I have arrived, and look up to see a cordoned off, peeling façade where A Beautiful World should be situated, an exhibition I’ve come to visit.  Damp and starting to chafe in innumerable ways, I wheel around a few more times to see if I can find alternative entry, but pass only stony faced doors refusing to yield.  I’m about to leave when I spot a pink neon sign jutting out into a rather drab street, and I approach intrigued.  A doorway looms, leading into a bright cavernous room.  I step inside, and enter a different world to that I had anticipated.

This I discover is the home of Boy Story, an exhibition of photographs the culmination of 5 years work by Magnus Arrevad.  They vividly document the international, subterranean scene of male performance, taken in cities ranging from New York to London, Copenhagen, Berlin and Paris, with cabaret performers, drag queens, strippers and go-go dancers all forming part of his eclectic tapestry.  His shots strike a perceptive balance between realism, fetishism and subjectivity; refreshing given his approach could have so easily been sensationalist.  Shot in black and white, rich with detail and displaying a striking, expressionistic use of light and shadow, Arrevad’s style bestows a solemn dignity on the performers.  His work underlines the seriousness of their personal transformations, depicting not only the creation of a new external self, but documenting an internal journey.  In Arrevad’s words, he captures them bringing “the dream of oneself into being.”

Making the conscious decision not to photograph his subjects as their final incarnation but instead during quiet moments off stage (in contemplation, preparing for a routine) Arrevad is able to explore something more psychologically incisive; the delicate journey of ‘becoming’.  This is deftly expressed in a number of shots.  Through the motif of mirrors to reflect back the idealised self, the camera captures a tension between the objective and the subjective.  The picture of Felicity Carmichaels for example, his back to the camera, juxtaposes his short hair in the right hand side of the frame with the image of his arched eyebrows, focused gaze and mascara-clad lashes in a small round mirror, channelling the look of the drag queens pictured in front of him.  In another shot blurring ‘being’ and ‘becoming’, a man in a mask, out of focus in close up, stands on the left hand side of the frame.  On the right is a reflection of an identically dressed man.  Set further back, he is in clear focus, a chiselled torso on display with leather straps snaking around it.  It could almost be the same person, picturing an imagined, phantasy version of himself in the mirror.  Through a blurring of subject and object, reality and phantasy, Arrevad articulates this process of ‘becoming’ an idealised self.

For many performers their transformations are a process of liberating themselves “from the roles they observe through the daylight hours.”  This resultant sense of freedom is visible in one of Arrevad’s shots of a Marie Antoinette styled drag-queen, with large wig and elaborate gown, kicking his heel up on a rooftop overlooking New York.  His subjects are shown bringing their idealised selves to life through their physicality, make-up or costume, allowing them to live the fantasy of themselves.  Rather than understanding their self-created identities as personas, Arrevad describes how “the application of make up each night was [a process] in which a mask was taken off, not put on.”  Similarly, his own personal journey, chronicled in more depth in his book Boy Story: A Picture Book For Boys, was equally transformative; taking him from being a “sheltered Danish photographer” to a fully immersed participant in the world of ‘Boylesque’, which he says “became my idea of being myself.  I was learning, and I felt free.”

– Daniel Pateman

Boy Story is open at weekends and runs until the 31st January 2016.

5 Willoughby Street,

London,

WC1A 1JD

Image Captions

1 – Felicity Carmichaels at Darcelle XV Showplace, Portland, Oregon © Michael Arrevad

2 – Copenhagen # 1 © Michael Arrevad

3 – Faux Pas on a rooftop in New York © Michael Arrevad

65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1) Daniel Pateman  studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.

Urban Photo Festival

SAM_7073

Looking back on this year’s Urban Photo Festival (UPF), it appears that the genre known as Street Photography has been given something of a shakeup.  The festival’s packed out and wide-ranging events came to a close at the end of October (including but not limited to numerous London based exhibitions, a two day Tate Britain conference, guided walks, seminars, discussions and photography master classes), with debates about the purpose and potential of the genre resonating with many who attended.  While an expansive, forward looking conception of Street Photography caused a few people some consternation, others found their perceptions positively challenged, leaving them inspired to further reflect on the topic of Urbanism and their own output.  As Paul Halliday (the creative director of UPF) stated, the intention of the festival was to “push the boundaries beyond traditional notions of what counts as ‘street photography’” and “explore how artists, photographers and urbanists might rethink how they approach the street.”

For many the term ‘Street Photography’ conjures up pictures of strangers caught in chance altercations; the spectacle of the busy street with its fleeting joys, frustrations and absurdities.  Nick Turpin is one such photographer adopting this more conventional approach to his work.  His shooting method is instinctive, unplanned and revelatory: “there is no specific subject matter and only the issue of ‘life’ in general” he says.  “[The photographer] does not leave the house in the morning with an agenda and he doesn’t visualise his photographs in advance of taking them.”  However, despite the fascination of the public spectacle and the insights it can provide, it seems that this singular concept of Street Photography now runs the risk of becoming irrelevant.  As Michael Sweet despairs, the practice is now inundated by “hundreds of thousands of dull, hackneyed images of random strangers”.  The genre, he argues, tends to lack a critical eye, with social media encouraging the notion that each picture taken is a potential piece of art worthy of attention.

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The Bunker © Carlo Navato 2015

Responding to the current challenges facing the practice of Street Photography today, UPF15 was inspired to rigorously investigate and expand its significance beyond a single methodology or philosophy.  The Drift exhibition was one example of such an attempt, located at the Truman Brewery just off busy Brick Lane.  Here a stunning variety of works were on display, all in their different ways responding to the notion of the urban environment; how we shape it, how it shapes us, how it is experienced and represented.  Carlo Navato’s series Spaces of Otherness was mysterious, sparse and beguiling; images at the crossroads of past, present and future.  Engaging with Michel Foucault’s idea of ‘heterotopia’, these places can be described as being ‘neither here nor there’, and of having a psychological as well as a spatial dimension.  Navato describes the series as shot in “a classic ‘edgeland’ – a space outside the confines of town or city, but urban in that man has had a significant hand in its development.”  His photos, rural land with remains of human influence, illustrated in their referents (a road sign, a wind sock, an entrance to an ex-military site) the way spaces change over time; how the rural slowly succeeds to the urban and how sometimes nature gets its sovereignty back.

Beatrice Tura’s series Terra Firma also challenged the conception of the city as a fixed, un-yielding concrete colossus.  Like Navato, she sees the urban environment as transitional, in dialogue with its inhabitants; pavements as altered by the thousands of tramping feet as we are shepherded by its streets.  Tura demonstrates an abstract, unconventional approach to the urban by taking extreme close up shots of anonymous streets; gum and paint marked pavements; the edges of new tarmacked paths rising up against old concrete ones; change, erosion, “the constant movement of the urban soil.”

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© Kevin Fitzgerald 2015

A lot of the work of the festival challenged me to consider that, while it is difficult to think of photography as providing more than a visual experience, urban life itself is not dominated by one single sense.  Remove the plethora of smells from the streetfood stalls and curry houses along Brick Lane, the bustle of the crowds and sounds of street musicians, and you become blind to at least half the experience.  It is this fact that Kevin Fitzgerald seeks to elucidate in his series Audiographies.  As well as questioning our visiocentric society, he encourages the viewer “to not only reconsider the relationship between the aural and visual but the relationship between all the senses.”  Sound, it is easy to forget, helps shape our understanding of what we perceive; informing us further about a thing’s quality or nature.  Photography as a representational tool can imply sound but it cannot embody it.  Fitzgerald highlights the aural by drawing our attention to its absence; abstracting his images from a wider context and de-engaging our visual sense.  His photos ask the viewer to fill in the blanks, “to see with their ears.”  You wonder, looking at his images, where you are, what you are seeing.  He challenges us for example with a close up of the corner of a room; a shot of a window indoors with no view and few discerning features.  Sound, you realise, is the sense missing which would allow you to ‘see’ your environment; filing in the gaps of your awareness vision cannot grasp alone (the sound of cars on the busy street below your window, for example).  It is our metaphorical blindness to the images which forces us to acknowledge this.

Another compelling exhibition over in south London which investigated the effect of the aural sense in urban life was Retention, by artists Anne Zeitz and David Boureau.  This immersive piece was installed at the Old Police Station in Deptford and was a contemporaneous work replicating the soundscape of the Mesnil Amelot 2 detention centre.  Based in Paris just north of the Charles de Gaulle airport, it currently holds hundreds of illegal immigrants.  Using a quadriphonic speaker setup, the soundscape of the detention centre filled the room, consisting of the all-consuming roar of the airplanes that pass daily over the detainees’ heads, interspersed with radio communications between pilots and the control tower.  In a visceral way, it reflected the oppressed state of the immigrants inside the centre.  Not only are they aurally subjugated by the noise of the passing planes, but they are reminded of their lack of physical autonomy as other people pass freely overhead.  Reinforcing their plight was the visual exploration Cartographies of Fear #1, which portrayed the different ways in which migrants interpret and experience their new (often hostile) urban surroundings.

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Graffiti, Harlem, 2015 © Rebecca Locke

Moving on to the 71a Gallery in Shoreditch, the exhibition Streetopolis consisted of a range of work from across the globe, providing examples of the urban from Russia to New York, Copenhagen to Jakarta, and Atlanta to Paris.  The artists’ responses to the idea of “streets of the world” were varied, creative and incisive.  Rather than simply documenting the urban environment, they sought in their different ways to draw out its contradictions and complexities.  Rebecca Locke’s series We Are Paper, We Are Celluloid, We Are Digital, showed her wandering New York City in the guise of Princess Leia, her fantastical appearance contrasting with the banal realities of the city.  With New York being synonymous with film, these images raised questions about how the urban environment helps to shape identity, as well as asking how our media-induced fantasies might isolate us from the real world in front of us.

A number of other artists’ work explored the clash between the natural world and the urban milieu.  Michael Frank’s photographs from his series Tiger Schmiger responded to the rise in sightings of strange beasts and big cats in our increasingly urbanised world.  These sightings, often imaginings, are what Frank believes to be the result of “ecological boredom”; our secret yearning for the wild in our over-developed, insulated modern landscape.  These still night-time shots evoke an apprehension, as if waiting for something to crawl into our city streets at any moment.  Peter Coles riffs on similar themes in Urban Forrest, Paris, with his moody monochrome photos of enclosed lone trees, fenced off and isolated amidst the concrete jungle.  They appear forced into submission by the city, dominated over by the surrounding buildings as if the urban had gained ascendency over the natural world.

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© Michael Frank 2015

The festival rounded off its 6 day photographic odyssey at The Greenwich Gallery, with a private view of Framing Urban Narratives, the last exhibition of the festival.  Showcasing the work of 10 recent graduates from Goldsmiths University, it expounded on contemporary urban topics such as homelessness, regeneration, the environment and community.  The gallery also hosted the closing reception, and everyone was left to toast their collective hard work with drinks and a (stoically optimistic) BBQ.   Having covered an extraordinary breadth of work and engaging with a host of critical approaches, the festival resulted in some challenging and fascinating debate, as well as producing a slew of striking photography.  Deconstructing assumptions about what Street Photography is ‘supposed’ to be, it re-evaluated the practices importance in our changing modern world, as well as suggesting the genre’s potentialities.  Reiterating what was clearly demonstrated in the numerous exhibitions was Paul Halliday’s comment that “people can interpret what the street means to them.  They can come at it from a range of perspectives and approaches.”  Which they indeed did, intelligently and with aplomb.

– Daniel Pateman

INTERVIEW: In conversation with Kate Bush of Media Space

Earlier this month, the first UK solo exhibition of Magnum photographer Alec Soth opened at Media Space, a still relatively new and highly innovative gallery space dedicated to photography and located within the Science Museum, London. The London Photography Diary, in collaboration with Hemera, had an opportunity to get a first glimpse of the exhibition and speak to head of photography Kate Bush about her thoughts on Soth’s work and methods for curating this impressive mid-career survey entitled Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth.

The exhibition forms a dynamic experience, progressing chronologically through lyrical displays of Soth’s four main series to date, Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2014, seen here for the first time in a UK show). Photographs in book and newspaper format and those framed and hung in a variety of sizes are in ready dialogue with the array of conceptual materials that informed Soth’s projects. The set-up reflects a combination Kate Bush’s non-invasive but no less creative curatorial approach and Soth’s restless experimentation across the many forms that photography can take, from prints and books to zines and digital media.

Fangfei Chen:
Could you please introduce your role as the head of photography for the Science Museum Group? Why did you choose to exhibit Alec Soth’s work in this museum specifically?

Kate Bush:
I serve as head of photography at the Science Museum Group and I work across the museums in the group – so I have a role at the National Media Museum in Bradford, in addition to my responsibility for the programming at these beautiful new galleries called Media Space on the second floor of the Science Museum.

The intention behind Media Space is to create a new destination for national and international visitors, lovers of photography, and we’re going to do that in two ways. Firstly, we are going to work to bring to public attention the fantastic, incredible collection that belongs to the Science Museum. It’s one of the best collections in the world, particularly in the early period of photography and from the beginnings of photography up to the First World War, an absolutely exceptional collection.

We also have a very strong British documentary collection – but the idea behind the Media Space programme is that we are both profiling and allowing people to share this marvellous collection alongside exhibitions that are being made by international photographers, living and dead. So we have two gallery spaces and the idea is to continually juxtapose historical projects with contemporary projects.

We’re pleased at present to be opening a major new exhibition by Alec Soth, who is one of the most significant mid-career photographers in America working today.

Elizabeth Breiner:
Soth speaks about not being a big believer in documentary truth, and in his work explicitly tries to experiment with this as a concept, test its limits, even undermine it… As with the Fontcuberta exhibition earlier this year, it seems as though the Science Museum has a particular interest in toying with or even revealing the fallacy of the idea of any real documentary truth, and I wondered if you think there’s a deliberate irony in displaying these types of work within a science museum or if it says something about the unconventional nature of the space itself?

KB:
I don’t think we’re intending to be ironic in the programming at Media Space – what we want to do is represent the breadth of photographic practice. Sometimes those projects will have particular emphasis on science and technology, but equally they may not, and I think it’s sort of a question of creating an identity for a new photography programme that is located in a science museum but isn’t necessarily just about science.

And of course, at the heart of photography there’s always been this historical mixed identity, or double identity if you like, whereby it’s always been a form of technology; and, indeed, when it was collected by the Science Museum it was treated as chemistry. So it is a technology but it’s also become an art form.

Next door, we have a display by Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the incredibly influential pioneers who really worked to establish photography as an expressive art form in its own right. So I’d say we’re not programmatically going down a particular route, I think the intention is really to represent the photographic medium today in as wide and varied a form as it takes.

FC:
Where does the exhibition’s title Gathered Leaves come from? The idea of gathering leaves is interesting – in a sense, like the process of preparing a book and gathering materials page by page. How does this idea relate to Soth’s photographic practice?

KB:
The title of the exhibition is Gathered Leaves, and that title came from Alec at an early point in the process when we were working out how to give the show its very particular identity. And one of the early ideas, which we express in this show, is the relationship to the books, the books that Alec is very well known for, and the printed photograph in a framed form, in an exhibition form. In every room we create a conversation between the project in printed form and as a framed print on the wall.

So in one sense Gathered Leaves simply means the gathering up together of sheets of paper, which essentially is what photography is – apart from when it’s in a digital format, of course. At the same time it’s a direct reference, a quote from Walt Whitman’s American epic poem ‘Song of Myself’, which he wrote in 1855 as America was on the eve of civil war. In that poem, Walt Whitman wanders through the nation and notes many different facets of people in society and so on. There’s also a very important idea in that poem about the relationship of the self with the world and the cosmos.

I don’t think Alec would want to compare himself to Walt Whitman because he’s far too unpretentious to do that, but I think it’s sort of a guiding theme that evokes a little bit of what I think he’s setting out to do. I think this is a photographer who is making a very big body of work, it’s an epic body of work, and it’s a body of work in which he himself is very much part of the thought process of it – sometimes he appears literally in the work – but I think he’s always very conscious of his subjectivity in the world when he’s photographing, in the way that Walt Whitman was with that poem.

FC:
Was the publication for Gathered Leaves created in conjunction with the curatorial process?

KB:
The publication for Gathered Leaves is not a traditional exhibition catalogue by any means, and in fact it was a project that Alec and Michael Mack, his publisher, embarked on in tandem, but also, in a way, to complement this exhibition. Basically, in the show we are doing a mid-career survey, even though we’re not calling it that, because we’re showing the four major bodies of work that Alec has made over the last ten years – and essentially, the Gathered Leaves book does the same thing. It does it, I think, in a really joyous and generous way.

What they’ve done, rather miraculously, is to shrink the four books. Only one of those, Songbook, is still in print, and it’s very, very difficult to get Sleeping by the Mississippi and Niagara, and Broken Manual was only ever published in a very, very small edition, so what Michael and Alec have done is create miniature versions of each of the four books; and they arrive in a box, rather like a beautiful box of chocolates that you open, and you can literally read everything and see everything that was in the original books. So it’s like a kind of mini survey in a box, just as an exhibition is a type of survey in a box.

FC:
During the artist tour [given by Soth during the press view of the exhibition], Soth suggests that the three-dimensional exhibition space creates certain challenges for interpreting and presenting his work. How have you taken advantage of this exhibition space – this three-dimensional format – to alter and enhance the relationship between the audience and these photographs?

KB:
I think one of the things to me that is very tricky about photography is the different forms and formats in which it exists, and the different relationships you have with it as a viewer. So whereas a painting is really only experienced in a gallery, where you are physically in front of it, a photograph can live in many places – and principally, of course, the book is the format that most great photographers want to work in.

And what we try to get at in this show is that all these different methods or media are valid in different ways. So in this exhibition, we’ve tried to dramatise the difference between a large framed print on the wall and the relationship you have with a book or a periodical or a zine. Obviously they are related, but still different, and I think you have a quite different physical relationship with a large, beautifully printed photograph that’s lit perfectly, that’s luminous on the wall, than you do with a book when you’re sitting down and experiencing a sequence and a narrative that the photographer intended. So they are different but related media, I would say.

EB:
To piggyback off these ideas you’ve mentioned about the viewer’s relation to the work, Soth has expressed often this interest in creating actual distance between himself and his subjects – especially in Broken Manual, where he deliberately elongated that distance between photographer and subject – and I wondered where you think the viewer comes into that dynamic, and if this disconnect between photographer and subject is something that you feel comes across, especially in a physical space such as this.

KB:
Well I think in a sense, the viewer is always the photographer’s proxy. I mean, you’re always in the position in relation to the image that the photographer has taken in relationship to that image. And I think Alec worked very carefully to create particular underlying structures and associative mechanisms to catalyse the kind of empathy or feeling that he had for the subject in front of him. And you can see him do that in all sorts of interesting ways. You know, in Songbook it’s about extrapolating lyrics from these very famous popular songs so that when you read that, it’ll trigger a memory or associative response.

In Niagara, there’s often a very repeated motif that sometimes you can barely see or only notice if it is pointed out, but there are hearts, that sort of swim through those pictures in different places. And I think Alec is very conscious of the way that he works with his subjects… he says of the men in Broken Manual that he felt great tenderness towards them, because he can identify in a way with this desire to withdraw and this desire to find a very intense introspective space. As an artist, I think he identifies very strongly with that.

But then there’s another moment in Songbook that he’s very much in the world like a photojournalist going after that story, and he’s photographing it in a slightly more objective register, so you’re not quite as aware of his emotions in front of that subject. But nevertheless, I think there is always a movement between something that is joyful and full of humanity and something that is more of a romantic or sort of despairing or introspective position in the world. And that’s what I enjoy about his work, I think it has a very wide emotional range to it.


Exhibition information:

6 October 2015 – 28 March 2016, Media Space, Science Museum, London
Admission £8, Seniors £7, Concessions £6 (prices include donation)
22 April – 26 June 2016, National Media Museum, Bradford

Supported by: People’s Postcode Lottery
Principal Founding Sponsor: Virgin Media
Principal Founding Donor: Michael and Jane Wilson
Founding Donor: Dana and Albert R Broccoli Foundation
More info


Interview conducted by Fangfei Chen of Hemera and Elizabeth Breiner of London Photography Diary.