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Friday, 17 June 2011

Summer Break



Feels like it's time for a bit of a break. Have a lovely summer wherever you are.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Random Conversations #11 - Blind Prejudice

F: You don't like it do you?

Me: No, I don't.

F: Is it because you don't like the pictures or you don't like the fact that she's married to Gwyneth Paltrow's brother and is obviously minted.

Me: It's both, but I have to say that the fact that the opening was attended by all these celebrities, and they were celebrities, and that lent a veneer of glamour that helped with the publicity didn't help. Nor does the fact that she looks absolutely minted. I used to have a babysitter whose daughter went out with Rankin...

F: I know, you've said.

Me: ...well the only thing she could remember was that he was minted. Maybe the daughter remembers more. She went out with Jude Law as well. He was very nice apparently. But he wasn't called Jude back then.

F: Wasn't it Dave?

Me: Yeah, Celebrity Dave is what the paparazzi used to call him. Perhaps they still do.

F: So what about the Taryn Simon thing?

Me: I don't know, I haven't seen them. I saw some of the other ones, the Unfamiliar ones. They were very good.

F: But...

Me: They left me cold.

F: Why?

Me: They didn't say anything to me. I always felt they were fitting the world into a particular way of seeing and expressing oneself that is alien to me. And I think the same is happening with the Tate pictures. It's Taryn Simon expressing herself in a particular way and it feels kind of oppressive. It doesn't fit with the people or the things she photographs. And I hate the whole ideas of blood lines and the neatness with which she orders things into little boxes and squares - things that shouldn't be ordered, that isn't linear or square..

F: But what if that way of thinking fits Tate Modern and the London and New York art worlds.

Me: What if it does? Is that what matters?

F: I think so. Isn't that good practice. Aren't you always moaning about stuff that hasn't been researched, that just lets the pictures do the talking...

Me: ...where a little bit of information could add so much. Yes, it happens again and again. So Simon's done her research and from what I can see, it's all laid out beautifully.

L: Go on, tell me it's probably very good. Say something nice.

Me: It probably is very good. I haven't seen it.

.........................

One week later


Me: So what did you think of the Taryn Simon show?

Y: I felt that I should like it But I don't like it.

Me: Me too. It's very good isn't it?

Y: Wonderfully researched. But I don't like it.

Me: But you should like it.

Y: But I don't.

Me: Me neither.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

random conversations #10

Me: So what do you think? Do you have to be friends with the people you photograph?

L: Course not. You have to be neutral. If you end up being friends with the people you photograph, then it's just life style photography of you hanging out with your mates or your family or your child and you don't want to mess them up by showing them in a bad light. The end result is more of the same-old same-old.

Me: So what if you don't like the people you're photographing?

L: If you don't like the people you're photographing everything just becomes a pain and a drag. And you jeapordise your integrity in a different way.

Me: But loads of great pictures are made by people who don't like the people they're photographing.

L: Such as?

Me: I dunno. Robert Frank?

L: It's the other way round. The people Frank was photographing didn't like him. That's completely different. People like Frank and the good street photographers antagonised their subjects just because of who they where - that's why they got all those good pictures of people staring at them looking antagonised. The meaning of good street photography is people looking pissed off. Isn't that why you like Mark Cohen and Bruce Gilden so much. The whimsical shit with happy people is just whimsical shit. Unless it's Winogrand, then it's not whimsy.

Me: How about stuff like Larry Fink. He didn't like the rich people in Social Graces.

L: But it shows too much. He's bringing his own agenda to the table and lays it on a bit too thick for my liking.

Me: Not thick enough for mine. Don't you think that we need more photographers who are antagonistic to what they photograph, who crank it up?

L: It depends what they're being antagonistic towards. I don't see too much antagonism in anyone's photographs. Mostly I hear people trying to be respectful and not stereotype what they photograph. Or being neutral which is even worse. Nobody is bringing anything to the table except in a lame concerned photography kind of way - or there doing the hipster let's get as semi-naked as your exhibitionism allows shit. I see lots of people trying to be friendly to their subjects - you know, the homeless, the poor and the like. Trying to show how much they understand them, trying to put the positive spin on something that isn't really positive...

Me: And you think they shouldn't?

L: It's not that I think they shouldn't, it's just that it's really rather tiresome. I wish people wouldn't try to be friends with the people they photographed, because then all you're going to do is get out there and go to people who are friendly and kind and don't do any harm - so the poor, disenfranchised victims of the world. And it becomes victim photography with a big Evil Wrongdoer who is never shown but is always there. The Concerned Photographer Bogeyman. Well if there is a bogeyman, why not go out and photograph him. I wish photographers would have fewer social skills and rub people up the wrong way more.

Me: Fewer social skills? You pulling my chain?

L: No. Photographers should be searching out the bullies, the thieves, the liars and the powerful and showing them up for what they are.

Me: What, like the paparazzi.

L: Yes, but with different subjects. Less of the celebrity on the bread and circuses ride, more the hidden power.

Me: People do that already.

L: Mmm, so they say, but I mean really hit the spot of getting at the evil and powerful. If only to offset the constant demonisation of the poor, the fair and the just.

Me: But what if photographers are the rich and powerful.

L: That's part of the problem.

Me: So it's back to street photographers antagonising the passers by.

L: That's it. What do you think anyway?

Me: I don't know. I've forgotten. What were we talking about?

L: Your favourite biscuits. Top 5. Jaffa Cakes not allowed.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Random Conversations #9 - Positive Depictions

D: I want to show the positive side of asylum seekers..

Me: The positive side?

D: It's important to have positive depictions - to show that they aren't all sitting around on benefits being depressed and watching tv..

Me: And what happened?

D: Well, it was disheartening. There weren't many positive depictions to show.

Me: What do you mean by positive depictions?

D: Well, I wanted to show them doing normal things and being being happyand not just sitting at home watching TV and being depressed.

Me: But...

D: The problem was they weren't doing normal things or being happy. They just sat at home watching TV being depressed.And smoking. When they had the money.

Me: So who did you photograph?

D: Asylum seekers.

Me: Yes, but who are they? What are their stories?

D: There's all sorts. Most of them are lovely, but another problem is I don't really like some of them.

Me: Why's that a problem?

D: Because I think that I should. If I was compassionate I would like them all. Don't get me wrong, I like most of them but I just can't get on with everybody. Some of the guys  are just horrible.

Me: As with everybody.

D: I suppose so, but it doesn't feel that way. The other problem is that some of them shouldn't really be here. They are the ones who got out of their country because of connections and money. They drive around in cars their uncles bought them.

Me: You're sounding like the Daily Mail here.

D: It's true for some of them. They're never going to contribute anything.

Me: Same as with everyone.

D: Maybe and I suppose that's just a few of them. But the biggest problem is it's just so depressing most of the time. The ones who should be here are depressed beyond belief and have experienced all these terrible things that defy human understanding. It's hard to see anything positive in that.

Me: What are their stories?

D: Well, there was one guy from Iraq. All his immediate family  had been killed, he thought he was going to be next, so he came to England overland. So now he's in this flat getting £40 a week to live on, half of which he spends on fags. And all he does is sit there depressed, worrying about what's going to happen to him.

Me: What is going to happen to him?

D: I don't know. He's waiting for his claim to go through. He's in this limbo where nothing is happening. He's got stomach ulcers from the stress of it all. He thinks he's going to get sent back and he doesn't trust anyone. He can't sleep at night and he's on all these antidepressants.And he will get sent back and he shouldn't be sent back.

Me: Why don't you photograph that?

D: Because it's not positive.

Me: Why does it have to be positive? There's nothing positive about what he's going through.

D: But I want the project to be positive. There are loads of negative portrayals of asylum seekers.

Me: Truthful can be positive and I think you have to be truthful about what these people are going through, you have to look at the good and the bad. And if it's all bad, then that's part of the story. And it sounds to me like it's all bad.

 D: Oh it's not all bad. He's actually a really nice guy.

Me: So isn't that positive?

D: I don't know. Is it? Do you have to be positive to be positive?

Monday, 6 June 2011

Random Conversations #8 - The Man

I: Is Jack Black the Man?


Me: Definitely not?

I: Does he work for the man?

Me: Sometimes, yes.

I: Is David Cameron the Man?

Me: He wants to be the Man and sometimes he thinks he's the Man, but he's not. But he does work for the Man. He is a slave to the Man. The thing is the Man doesn't really exist, but just thinking of him kind of makes him exist. Some people think they're the Man...

I: Like Simon Cowell.

Me: Exactly like Simon Cowell.

I: But he's not the Man, is he?

Me: Not even close..

I: He's not important enough to be the Man. Does Wayne Rooney work for the Man?

Me: Yes, but he doesn't know it.

I: How about you? Do you work for the Man?

Me: Depends on the job. When I'm teaching I kind of half work for the Man. All teachers have to work for the Man a bit, especially when filling in forms

I: How about when you're taking pictures? Do photographers work for the Man?

Me: Depends on how much money they make? The more money they make, the more they work for the Man. The less they make, the less they work for the Man - but the more they want to work for the Man. Most of the time anyway. On the sly.

I: So you don't work for the Man?

Me: No.

I: Good for you, dad. I'm not going to work for the Man when I grow up.

Me: No, no, no!

(conversation continues for another 20 minutes)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Random Conversations #7 - Exotic England

K: Sure I like it, but I want to know why you like it.

Me: Because the pictures don't look like other people's pictures of England. They don't even look like other pictures from the early eighties which was when they were taken. They don't really look like poor people pictures either. They look different.

K: Is looking different enough though?

Me: No, not really. It's more than that. The backstory of how Killip came to do the project is brilliant for a start - a kind of case study in documentary photography chickens coming home to roost in a good way. He went down to the beach where all these people were collecting coal from the sea - hence the title of the book, Seacoal - and and was just blown away by how medieval it all was. But when the coal collectors saw him, they told him to fuck off. They thought he was from the DHSS and was spying on them. So he fucked off and thought I'm not going there again.

Then a couple of years later he thought, what the heck, let's give it another go. And they told him to fuck off again - and charged him with the horse and carts they used to carry the coal. So he decided to go to where they drank and ask them again. So he went to the pub where they drank, walked through the door and the pub fell silent. Everyone stared at him. Then he told them what he wanted to do. Then they told him to fuck off. so he was just about to fuck off again, when a man walked in and said, hold on, do you remember me. Killip didn't remember him but the man, who was called Brian, remembered Killip taking his picture at a horse fair a few years before. And that's how the Seacoal pictures started. Killip stayed in a caravan on the beach for 14 months on and off and made his Seacoal photographs. .

K: Great back story but what about the pictures.

Me: They just look so bleak and raw, bleak in a way that no other pictures look bleak. And nobody is even noticing Killip half the time so everything is quiet and natural but with this harsh edge. Even when people are noticing him and posing, there is something very human about the faces. Not downtrodden even though the life looks tough. And not noble either. And the faces are kind of hard and soft at the same time, but always, always set against this beach where the pebbles are coal and you can almost see the wind and the cold, you can almost smell the salt blowing in from the east.

K: Sounds kind of exotic to me.

Me: No it's not.


K: But it doesn't exist anymore, this landscape and this community.

Me: No. Perhaps that's part of what makes it so good.

K: That it's rare, that it can't be photographed again.

Me: Yes. It's more than that but that's a part of it.

K: Sounds exotic to me.

Me: Well it's not.

K: But it's rare.

Me: Yes.

K: Does something have to be rare to be good?

Me: Uh?

K: I mean in photography, if something common and anybody can photograph it, then it can't really be anything special, can it? It becomes generic then.

Me: The way you're putting it, yes..

K: So something good has to have a rarity value. Like those giant pinhole pictures or the ones made with the massive camera.

Me: Up to a point yes,

K: Or Chris Killip's Seacoal because nobody else photographed it and it doesn't exist anymore?

Me: Maybe?

K: Which is rare. And so exotic.

Me: No, I don't think so. They're different.

K: Alright then. I suppose everybody loves Killip, don't they.

Me: Pretty much, yes.

K: You sure it's not a case of you liking him because everybody likes him.

Me: Absolutely not. He's properly good. And Seacoal is properly good.

K: I'll believe you. Let's watch some telly. What's on?

Me: Ooh, second part of the new Adam Curtis thing is on at 9. Excellent!