Tuesday, 6 October 2015

YU: A place that doesn't exist


“Where do you come from?
From Yugoslavia.
Is there any such country?
No, but that’s still where I come from.”

Yu is for Yugoslavia; the country where the book's author (and my wife's parents), Dragana Jurisic was born. The problem is Yugoslavia doesn't exist anymore. It got split up into thousands of tiny pieces (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzogevnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and FYR Macedonia) following wars in which hundreds of thousands of people died, massacres on a scale that ISIS have come nowhere near matching were committed, and a flood of refugees appeared from Europe's own doorstep.

The problem for Jurisic is the place she comes from is now a country called Croatia. But Croatia is a very different place to that where Jurisic was born. Jurisic left Croatia in 1999 after she became disillusioned by the She was born in Yugoslavia. Yu is her search for the spirit of Yugoslavia, a book made on a journey 'originally conceived as a recreation of a homeland that  was lost, It was a journey in which I would somehow draw a magical circle around the country that was once mine, and in doing so, resurrect it...'

It was a journey Jurisic took after 10 years of exile from her place of birth. She had grown disillusioned with the new Croatia (especially after she discovered her phone was tapped and the police had a thick dossier on her) and left to live in Ireland.

But by 2009, it was time to return. Off Jurisic goes on her journey. But because she feels a stranger in her own land, because what was once home no longer exists, she needs a map of some sort. So she follows the trail taken by Rebecca West for her epic book on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, so adding a literary hook into the narrative pot. I haven't read the book so whether it adds anything I couldn't say.  There is an interweaving of texts but I did feel that the West elements added an unnecessary layer. The voice of Jurisic, smart and snappy and cynical, was enough for me.

The book starts with pictures of 'Yugoslavia'; a map, a sign, another map, and then we are off. It's pictures and text. The words of West in red, the words of Jurisic and the words of the people she meets.


Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The corner where Franz Ferdinand met his end.

The pictures are quiet and melancholic. The words bring death and tragedy. A man picks a dandelion near the spot where a boy is killed by a car, the 'corner where Franz Ferdinand met his end', and there is devastation everywhere. Burnt buildings, old army jackets and, in a muslim cemetery near Sarajevo the shaven heads of men who look like 'professional hitmen' (they're discussing how beautifully the birds are singing).

There are blood-soaked 'fertility stones' in Macedonia, border guards in Kosovo who are hostile to Jurisic's 'fine Serbian name' and a tourist from New Zealand who stuns Jurisic by telling her that 'she envies the Balkan history.'


Govedarov kamen, Macedonia.  It took a long time to find the fertility stone. Through the orchards and vineyards. And there it was. I mounted the rock, amazed to see blood in its crevasse. Last years’ sacrificial blood, with cigarette butts thrown in for good measure. I squatted over its bloody hole and watched the fertile landscape in the distance.

All through the book, Jurisic finds bad sculptures, bad shops and bad memories that linger through into the present. The pictures are  sometimes sunny but nearly always sad, infused by the words that weigh them down. It's a small book but a thoughtful one. Jurisic never rediscovers Yugoslavia, her country of birth, nor does she manage to find peace with what has taken its place. Instead she finds a corpse rotting by the roadside, one that will never be resurrected or buried or forgotten.

Buy the special edition of the book here

The regular edition is sold out.

I remember thinking it all must be some sort of a joke.
I remember being excited and scared at the same time.
I remember how I put all my LP’s into the hallway so they wouldn't get damaged by the crossfire.
I remember that my father and my brother were out that afternoon.
I remember bullets spraying the front door of our building.
I remember hearing what sounded like someone trying to get in.
I remember my mother thinking ‘it's them’ and running towards the door.
I remember grabbing onto her until all my nails broke.
I remember meeting my neighbours for the first time in the basement of our building.
I remember thinking 'pity I met them only now when we are all about to die'.
I remember the building burning above us.
I remember being sad about all those books my parents brought through the syndicate and never read... only consumed by me and the fire.
I remember being pissed off that I would die a virgin.
I remember when they came to pull us out.
I remember how I learned to zigzag run in order to escape sniper's bullets.
I remember taking shelter in the local supermarket.
I remember falling asleep on bags of washing powder, next to a boy I had a secret crush on (he was our local basketball star).
I remember him waking me up at 3 am and whispering: "What can I get you, Madam?”
I remember asking for ice cream and champagne.
I remember captured Yugoslav army soldiers sitting scared shitless opposite from us.
I remember Croatian soldiers handing them box of sweets.
I remember walking into our burned down apartment the following morning.
I remember feeling relief that all the mess was gone and I would not need to clean up my room.
I remember that everything melted except for a big orange gas bottle, laying in red
crackling 'coals', waiting to go off like some post-apocalyptic witches cauldron.
I remember the soles of my red converse shoes melting.
I remember walking out.  

What have they got that I ain't got?

Oh dear, those last few posts (this one and this one) did exhaust me and I feel my courage is sapped a little. I think I need an operation, so I will take a break from this stressful topic and return to more basic photographic subjects for a while.

Perhaps somebody else would like to pursue this. Do be my guest.

But thank you for the support expressed by various people in various ways including Katya Anokhina, Joerg Colberg, Annakarin Quinto, Qianna Mestrich, Stan Banos, Jim Mortram, Lina Pallota, Lewis Bush, David Fathi, David Campbell, Delphine Bedel, Susan Bright, Andrea Copetti, Dayanita Singh, Sohrab Hura, Hester Keijser, Wasma Mansour, ICP, Duckrabbit and John Macpherson, @WomeninPhoto, and Alessia Glaviano.

(Actually that's quite a few people in positions of real, not imaginary power, in photography. It's quite an initial statement that says actually, no, your career won't be harmed by talking about this. )

In this piece for Duckrabbit, John Macpherson says that it is essential to at least try to do something. He mentions this initiative written up by John Edwin Mason at the University of Virginia.

He also says that 'If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.' I'm not sure that's entirely true, but what I do think is that very often we (that is people involved in photography) are more part of the problem than we imagine.

Photography is global, it works on social media, it operates on basic perceptions. When somebody clicks a like on Facebook, or retweets something, it sends a message - for me, it counts as support (hence the names mentioned above). Pathetic I know, but that is how social media works.

When somebody sees a photographer standing with a museum director or a magazine editor or a gallery owner, people assume they are best buddies. When they see people are friends on Facebook or they retweet each other, it does the same thing. That has an effect on their perceptions of how the world operates, the power structures within it, and the relationships that connect those power structures. It might not be an accurate perception but it is one that is difficult to get away from. I should know better, but it affects me in exactly that way.

And the problem is that people use that to their advantage. They build reputations based around social media. It creates an image that we believe in. We have a responsibility for who we appear with, who we like, who we say is great. And to a certain extent, if we say somebody is great and they're not, we have a responsibility for what they do that isn't great. That was made abundantly clear to me over the summer (hence this series of posts) by somebody who it had also been made abundantly clear to.

The problem is there is a like button on Facebook, it's all geared towards positivity. But what happens when you want to withdraw that like. It's difficult to do. I'm doing it now.

In these posts there are two things going on. One thing revolves around sexually infused communication on a global scale; a kind of sex spamming. A fair few people are urging me to name the person behind this.

My favourite urger is the anonymous one who posts comments on this blog saying 'name names'. Oh, the irony is too much.

But keeping things polite, you must be fucking joking. I'm not going to name names on this blog. There are hundreds of women who have experienced this man's approaches. There are plenty of institutions and festivals and workshops and magazines who have direct experience of what goes on. I will happily evade responsibility on this one.

The problem goes beyond him though. The problem is nobody feels able to talk about it. Photography is not an environment where the problem is recognised or where people want to recognise it. It is not addressed. I'm talking about the problem on this blog, which is some kind of a thing I guess. But am I addressing it? No.

The problem is addressed in other places however. Why is it that when I worked in Further Education, hugely vulnerable and unworldly 16-year-old Somali girls usually felt able to complain when somebody sexually harassed them. They weren't afraid for their education or their exams or  repurcussions. But in photography, highly educated, secure women don't feel able to. Maybe it's because in FE there is a structure, there are people who will listen, because there are basic codes of conduct and also because a lot of women work in FE who are committed to addressing this problem.

But in photography?

Nope. Barely a tinkle. So the first thing that needs to be done is to help make that environment more receptive to complaints, more open to listening to people, more open to helping people say that they have had a problem. That's a really difficult thing to do

One person who did do it was Katya Anokhina, a Russian photographer. She put her experiences down on Facebook. You can read them here.

Maybe if more women did the same, it might help overcome the sense of powerlessness.

Or maybe not. I will come back to this, but over and out for a while.

Here's some inspirational music.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Is Photography a Bit Cowardly

I put this post about sexual harassment up yesterday and my inbox started pinging which was rather distracting as I had work to do.

I'm rather naive, so what I thought might be a relatively isolated problem is far more widespread than I imagined - a statement which will leave half the readers of this blog snorting in derision.

But everybody who got in touch told me this is exactly what large numbers of young women photographers talk about when they get together. At Arles, at Paris Photo, at Unseen, at Houston and so on.

One woman mentioned her experience of the curator's casting couch, something that doesn't feature in any professional development how-to-get-a-show features that you periodically see. She didn't visit the couch. She didn't get the show.

Another woman extended it and told me that when she's with her artist friends, they play The Curator's Game. This is where they tell their curator stories through role play. It's a bit more creative than your basic casting couch scenario; one where Performance, Installation, Action is all part of the game and pig's heads and clogs completely relate as a normal part of growing up. We're talking major museums here as well.

Then there's the Sex Spammer. I used to think that the screenings were the best attended events at Arles, but it seems that the Sex Spammers Correspondents' Club is even bigger. It starts 'Hello Sexy, let's hook up..' and then never stops until you tell him where to go. And if you don't, then it's 'I imagine fucking you by a river' and it's screen-grab time. Not nice.

The problem is nobody wants to talk about it in public for several reason. One reason is they don't want to be seen as 'difficult'. And the other reason is the possibility it will close off career opportunities. One person said, when you consider that '60% of men in some kind of position of power has engaged in this kind of behaviour, you will understand why people don't want to complain. You'll never work in photography again.'

It is difficult. And it's ironic that in photography, in the arts, where the rhetoric of telling the truth, effecting change, and being honest and raw is so prevalent, that we're not honest enough to recognise this problem or talk about it. There are no structures in place that help women to complain or talk about what happens not just to a few, to the vast majority of young photographers.

And if we can't talk about this, then it renders all that talk about truth, change, honesty, rawness for what it is; empty bullshit. We talk about things that we are comfortable being raw about, but not those that really matter. Which isn't really raw or honest at all.

It's a bit like all those debates about ethics in photography. We can discuss at length the amount of dodging in a shadow, or worry our fingernails to bits about Bruce Gilden or Boris Mikhailov, but when we are faced with something that really matters, it becomes something we simply ignore.

Bullshit to that!Dare I say it, but is photography just a little bit cowardly. Are we all yeller?

My question is what little step can help make it easier to talk about and act against the kind of behaviour mentioned above.

Something really basic might be a simple Equal Opportunities Statement of the kind all major educational establishments have in the UK.

It could be something led by the major organisations (I mentioned World Press Photo, Arles, Aperture, Deutsche Borse, Magnum, National Geographic, VII, Paris Photo, and lets throw all the major museums and galleries in there as well), with an opportunity to complain. As I mentioned, I'm sure many of these organisations already have something in place because they must all be very aware of the dangers of people offering access for sex. That's what it boils down to.

That would be a start.

And given that so, so many women photographers (like 100%) have experienced the things mentioned above, it would good if they could somehow speak out. I'm not sure how though.

But I've worked in various educational establishments over the years, with young people, with vulnerable people, and they've all managed to have policies in place. And many people (not all) who have experienced sexual harassment, racism, or discrimination have been able to complain about it and give others powers to act against it. It's difficult, but it's not that difficult.

This, for example, is lifted from Bath University (I don't work there) equality statement.

Equality principles 

Our equality principles are:- 

1. To maintain an organisational culture and environment in which all staff and students understand fairness, inclusive language, positive attitudes, and the value of equality and diversity, 

2. To remove barriers which may be experienced by members of protected groups including tackling unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation, 

3. To continue to foster good relations between staff, students, contractors, visitors and service users by promoting an inclusive work/study/leisure environment, 

4. To assist staff and students to achieve their potential at work and in their education through relevant policies, practices, equality analyses and monitoring. 

So it's a cut and paste job. And then you add a contact email for complaints.

The alternative is easier of course; just ignore the problem. We've got by so far by ignoring it. But if you do that, can we all please drop the language about photography and the arts being raw and difficult and challenging and effecting change. And drop all talk of ethics and values.

Because if you can't change something as simple as this, even in some little way, if people stay scared of talking about their experiences in public (while talking about them at great length in private) it really is all just so much hypocritical hot air.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Sexual Harassment in Photography

One of the problems mentioned by Sohrab Hura in the previous post was the difficulties experienced by women photographers.

I think one thing it is very easy for men to forget about is how difficult this can be, not just on a financial level, or a being-taken-seriously by editors, or getting paid less because you're a woman, but also how general everyday harassment can affect women photographers - or indeed women everywhere (there was an item on the radio about the effect of sexism and harassment of female surgeons in the UK this morning - it's everywhere and even when it sounds relatively harmless, it's not. It's insidious and damaging for so many reasons).

Photography isn't just a local business anymore. It's international. There are prizes, festivals, and workshops all around the world. And harassment does take place at these events and especially in meetings and communications leading up or coming after these events.

Phony connections, photographs (look how much I can help you - here's a picture of me with this person) and exaggerated influence (I can help you win this prize) might be dangled in front of people, accompanied by a sleazebag 'I scratch your back, you scratch my you-know' vibe. It's a photographic perving and it happens more frequently than we like to imagine, done by more people than we like to imagine.

And of course, it is most often to those who are less confident or powerful in places that might be off the photographic beaten track in some ways. This is especially true in more conservative places where the very act of a woman even wanting to be a photographer is a challenge.

Very often, women don't want to speak up because they think it will bring shame to themself, to  their family or threaten their career or make the rest of the photographic community angry (because if you look at photographs, or on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, we're all friends with each other and support each other).

Speaking out won't make me or most of the people I know angry, even if the person they speak out against is friends on Facebook or whatever. Being friends on Facebook or wherever is  a superficial thing. Being friendly with somebody on social media doesn't mean we would forgive our co-writers/photographers/editors/judges their concealed sleaziness, Similarly just because somebody appears in a photograph with somebody (as in the picture above) doesn't mean they sanction their behaviour or are even that particularly close. But unfortunately, we don't see the world that way.

The problem is women photographers in many places have no outlet for their complaints. They feel like they can't complain themselves; it's too embarrasing, it's career threatening. There's the idea that it might be just 'cultural differences? (no - it wasn't),  and of course there's the family. And at the end of the day, who can you complain to? Especially if the harassment consists of something that isn't illegal, that might appear quite trivial, that is joking or banter or just part of normal human communciation. Except of course it's not.

I'm writing this post because I've had complaints passed on to me from distant lands and I don't really know what to do about them. Maybe just staying quiet is the best thing. Except it's not.

But at the same time, I don't think having trials by internet is the best thing. Trial by internet is a not a good way to do anything for so many reasons.

But there is a problem that exists and it needs to be addressed, especially in a niche of photography that likes to think of itself as so right-minded (we're not in Terry World). There should be some kind of outlet for complaints, a code of conduct if you like -  a little equal opportunities section to tag on to the special events that take place across the globe.

Maybe it's time that photography festivals, awards, workshops, agencies had a basic code of conduct with accessible contacts for complaint so that grievances could be addressed when they happened. So there is at least some kind of forum for complaint.

Maybe it could start with the big guns who run workshops and events as part of their overall profile, all of whom I'm sure have some code of practice in place already; World Press Photo, Arles, Aperture, Deutsche Borse, Magnum, National Geographic, VII, Paris Photo, and filter down?

It might not be much, but it would be a start.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A Guide to Contemporary Indian Photography

Mother and Elsa: from Life is Elsewhere by Sohrab Hura

I've always wondered about what new photography is happening in India but never really knew quite how dynamic Indian photography is until I asked Sohrab Hura (Magnum member and author of the truly fantastic Life is Elsewhere) about it. Sohrab is helping to run the Delhi Photo-Festival - which takes place at the beginning of November and doubles up with Photo Kathmandu if you're thinking of an India/Nepal Photo-Festival double-header. 

I asked Sohrab a few questions about the festivals and Indian photography and this is what he said. It's long but it's worth it - especially for the links and the searches that take you into new and undiscovered places (by me at least).

How did the festival start?
The Delhi Photo Festival was started in 2011 by two photographers, Prashant Panjiar and Dinesh Khanna at a time when nothing of that sort existed in India. At the time it was started, there were only a handful of galleries showing photography. Most photographers would go across either to Chobimela in Bangladesh or to Angkor Photo Festival in Cambodia. 
I think there was a sense of longing for a community amongst photographers here which was till then nourished by these two festivals. That was one of the main reasons Prashant and Dinesh started the festival and for that they started the non profit Nazar Foundation.
The festival is run primarily by photographers who come together to put in time and work voluntarily and hopefully the roster of people working for the festival will change each year so that as many people can be a part of it as possible. The idea is to make bridges in the region so it's great that we get to have photographers and students not just from all over India but also from some of the neighbouring countries. 
 from Life is e Elsewhere by Sohrab Hura
Immediately after the first week of the festival people will go to Nepal to support the new festival in Kathmandu which is being started by Photocircle who've been doing some really great work there. This sort of a flow has been quite fantastic for me personally because I've ended up finding some of my closest friends in the photo world in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal and even in Indian cities other than Delhi and perhaps if those opportunities to meet them hadn't existed then life would not have been as rich for me as it is thanks to them. 
Now I see more and more dialogues forming across the border/s amongst the new generation of photographers and it's beautiful. It is sometimes not as easy for us to negotiate geographical, political and socio economic boundaries as it may be for example, for people within Europe or at least within a certain part of Europe and such little events just make it just a little easier for us experience something more human that goes beyond photography. For me, this is the most take away from all of the festivals in this region.

What are the Main Events this year?
The programming for the talks is looking good.  Naoya Hatakeyama, Ram Rahman, Vivan Sundaram, Olivia Arthur, Philipp Ebeling, Rob Hornstra, Altaf Qadri, Aradhana Seth, Chien-Chi Chang, Sarker Protick, Olivier Culmann, Anne Golaz, Nandan Ghiya and Roger Ballen are few of the confirmed speakers for now. 
Fishbar - Olivia Arthur and Philipp Ebeling - will do a masterclass where besides working with the two of them, the participants will also interact with some of the above mentioned people giving artist talks. Priority will be given to photographers from South Asia though all are invited to apply.

This year the festival has invited David Campany to be the keynote speaker to open the festival.
An idea for the future is to have retrospective exhibitions by Indian photographers of an older generation and this year being the first time it's being done, we're showing both Raghu Rai and Kishor Parekh. There will be unseen work by Raghu Rai, photos he's taken over the years of his friends and family, and for Kishor Parekh, his son Swapan Parekh is helping put together work from his book on the 1971 war. They both were good friends and which is having both their exhibitions together is special for the festival.
Regina Anzenberger will be doing a special book exhibition and in addition there will also be an exhibition by BIND a collective formed by young Indian photographers who already produced a fantastic exhibition on photo books earlier this year at FOCUS, a festival in Mumbai. Goa Photo, a festival in Goa will help bring Angela Ferreira from Encontros De Imagem to do a projection of work by portugese photographers
The festival is also keen on experimenting with the collaboration of photography with live performances and for that Sahil Vasudeva, a young pianist is working with Igor Posner and is composing a piece especially for his photos. 

page spread from Ballet by Alexey Brodovitch

In addition he will also play a piece in response to the book on ballet by Alexey Brodovitch.  Jeet Thayil, the writer and poet known for his booker prize nominated book Narcopolis is also a musician and he and his band will play a set accompanying projections of works that were chosen along with him keeping the energy of of music and words in mind. There are a few other similar performances lined up for the end of each evening.
And of course there will be lots of exhibitions and projections including many young Indian photographers.

And there are will be partner exhibitions happening all over the city timed with the festival, the first them being Prabuddha Dasgupta's retrospective at the National gallery of Modern Art starting on the 19th of September 2015 where his retrospective book will also be launched. The exhibitions will carry on till after the festival and walks are being arranged as a part of the festival.

What are the main photographic drives in India (South Asia)?
To save time and space maybe I'll have to generalise a bit and that means that I'm just scratching the surface here. For many years there was a big influence of both Raghu Rai and Raghubir Singh, which is not to negate the importance of the works of people before them, but the two of them had a powerful influence on photographers in India in the last many decades. 

Dayanita Singh opened a new window for subsequent generations with her dogged support of photobooks at a time when it was being talked about the way it is today. To say that her stand to support photo books all these years has been vindicated is a bit of an understatement.
Umrao Shergill: After a Bath (Self-Portrait) 1904
There are people like Pushpamala N, Tejal Shah, Annu Mathew, Nandini Valli who've looked at self portraiture and performance. While this was not something new in photography here - there was also Umrao Shergill who did it about a 100 years ago - in the last couple of decades or so this approach has gained more importance.
Pablo Bartholomew was known mainly for his photo journalistic work during the years he was active as a reportage photographer, but he actually did very beautiful work autobiographical in nature while he was in his 20's. Also his father Richard Bartholomew who was one of the most known art critics was a very good photographer himself
Today the archive has a big presence in photography in this part of the world. TheAlkazi Foundation is famous for its archive that is supposedly larger than that held by the government of India and i think they are also the current caretakers of Homai Vyarwalla's archive. 
Anusha Yadav started the Indian Memory Project some years ago, which was a collaboration with people who sent in old photos and stories from their family albums. 
The Nepal Picture Library next door in Kathmandu is also doing something similar and they also preserve digitized records of large bodies of work by individual Nepalese photographers of an older generation. 
There is also the very beautiful archive with photos from Kashmir, The Country Without a Post Office, named after the poem by Aga Shahid Ali and not too long ago P. Sainath a journalist with some of the most important writings on rural India started the People's Archive of Rural India. In 1997 Satish Sharma, with the help of Anna Fox and Val Williams, published his collection of  studio photography in India and made a book out of it much before looking at archives and collection and studio photography was in vogue. There are also younger photographers like Kapil Das who besides being a good photographer himself with a very unique way of looking at things, also finds and gives shape to really funny and surprising collections of photos.
Documentary and photojournalism have had a strong roots here and since the mid 2000's Bharat Sikka, apart from being a very important figure in the fashion/commercial world has also made some really good work that has pushed the limits of what documentary photography used to be in this region. Besides him there are people like Gauri Gill, Ketaki Sheth, Poulomi Basu, Dileep Prakash, Sumit Dayal, Vidura Jang Bahadur, Ryan Lobo who’ve been around for a bit.

Street Photography is still extremely popular and is perhaps what people take to when they start taking photographs. People like Swapan Parekh and Dhruv Malhotra are two people who've made work that has been quite different from the traditional ways of looking at the street. Two young photographers who have been photographing the street traditionally but very beautifully in my opinion are Saurabh Prasad and Monica Tiwari.

Of late of course the photo book has also gained interest. Raghubir Singh was always known for his books, A Way Into India, being the last one to be published posthumously. Dayanita Singh has been a very strong and vocal of the photo book much before all the hype around this medium came into existence. I had mentioned BIND earlier. 
Mahesh Shantaram and his wife Vidya Rao regularly open their collection to the public every month and they're quite active in getting people to look at photobooks, what's nice is that their events proactively also encourage people who are not photographers to come and look at photo books. Besides that a photo book exhibition is now becoming a regular part of many of the festivals in this region.

picture by Mahesh Shantaram
What are the difficulties Indian photography faces?
I think in the last few years the internet has given many of the photographers a certain independence that had not really existed before, But despite the proliferation of this new found freedom, the photo scene in India remains quite scattered unlike say for example in Bangladesh where a lot of the current photography is specific to the students and alumni of two institutions i.e. Pathshala and Counterfoto. Personally speaking, this is not a problem for me but it does make a difference if someone from outside was to look for work in a specific country/region/space. 

There is also a certain degree of expectation, from outside, of what Indian Photography should be or should not be and I’m sure the same exists across other mediums and other similar non-occidental regions as well.
As in every field and every place, it is a little more difficult for women here too.  There is a huge part of photography that may require one to be out and about quite a lot and given the lack of safety for women it is at times not easy for photographers who happen to be women.  

Add to it competing with male egos, trying to do what you want to do while dealing with other social pressures, dealing with unwanted and unsolicited advances by men, sometimes from within photography itself and finally there existing this underlying current that far from acknowledges any of these obstacles. It’s not the easiest world out there and kudos to the photographers who happen to be women and who’ve pulled through.

Is there an Indian photographic voice? 
Thankfully no. 
Sometimes there may be a particular sensibility that may dominate over others, but there is a coexistence of different voices and opinions in general.

 Who are some of the Indian photographers we should look at?

 picture by Avani Tanya

I often feel that Swapan Parekh and Ketaki Sheth are very overlooked and underrated. There is also Kushal Ray whose work is very nice.

There are nice young scenes bubbling in Calcutta and Chennai. Karthik Subramanian, Ronny Sen, Arko Datto, Soham Gupta are making great work quite passionately. 

In Bangalore there is Avani Tanya who is a very intelligent photographer who started photography with the photo book itself and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does in the future.  

picture by Akshay Mahajan (from New Delhi Modern)

In addition I've had a glimpse of the works being done by Vivek Manek, Akshay Bhoan, Gayatri Ganju, Priyanka ChhariaSoumya Sankar Bose, Krishna Tummalapalli, Senthil Kumaran, Jai Singh Nageswaram, Andrea Fernandes and Sushant Chhabria and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do in the coming years. 

Many of the photographers in India don't have websites so you'll need to dig a bit to see their works and I’m sure I’ve missed out on quite a few other names as well.

from Where we Live by Avani Tanya

Delhi Photo Festival - http://www.delhiphotofestival.com/

Angkor photo festival - http://angkor-photo.com/

Ram Rahman - http://www.ramrahman.com/

Karan Vaid
rob hornstra - http://www.borotov.com/

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Jem Southam: Making the World Richer, Grander, and Better

Jem Southam

Jem Southam will be speaking at Beyond  Beyond the Visual: Music, Word and Landscape at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:00 

Buy Tickets here

History is embedded deep within all of Jem Southam's photography, but one of the pictures  that most resonated most with me is the one above, of a dew pond. Indeed, the very idea of what a dew pond is struck me as something rather beautiful.

These are man-made ponds in the middles of fields that fill with water (not the dew that gathers on the grass in the morning, but rainwater) for cows to drink.

Some of them are very old (Oxenmere  in Wiltshire dates back to Saxon times) so there is a sense of something ancient about them. They look old and they feel old.

That's why they featured as the wormhole through which Catweazle travelled from the 12th to the 20th century in the, er, phenomenally popular 1970s TV series of the same name.

Seeing Southam's pictures of dew ponds was for me like hearing a new word. It gave me a realisation of how the banal curves and contours of the land contain a profound history. And because of that suddenly I started becoming a bit more observant, and began looking for those curves and contours and what lies beneath them in the world around me.

And once I started looking for them, the signs of the past became more apparent. The obvious ones are easy to see, but then new ones start creeping in and the land becomes a far less benevolent or pretty place. It seethes with venality and menace.

In his work, Southam focusses on rockfalls, rivers, and ponds, places where the signs of geological, seasonal, and waterborne change are apparent. But this doesn't stand in isolation from human change and as you look at his pictures, this change starts to creep in too. The land begins to live and we become part of it.

It changes the way you see things too. John Davies does the same thing with his more urban pictures. I always love seeing this picture of Mersey Square in Stockport. It always touched me because the warehouse with the chimney coming out behind it used to house a skateboard park. It wasn't a very good one, but it brings back fond memories for me.

I showed this picture to a class one day and instantly one of the students dated it - 1986. He didn't get that from the captions, but from the number plates of the cars going up the A4.  That's how he sees this urban environment, through the cars that drive through it.

And then if I show it my dad, he sees a hat museum. Because Stockport has a long hat-making history and he was involved in that.

Now I live on the edge of Bath, with the Avon Valley stretching before me to the south, Solsbury Hill to the east and Bath to the west.

It's not the most dynamic of places but if I stand outside my house and look out, I can see a landscape that includes the following sites and histories.

Stone Age Settlements
Roman remains
The foundations of medieval farming terraces
The valley Jane Austen used to walk down
Georgian stone mines
Brunel's rubbish heap
The grave of the man who founded New South Wales
The grave of Jack the Ripper, depending on who you believe
An underground train and tunnel network
A second world war explosive dump
a Genesis song
A past road protest site
A murder site
The Australian Rugby Team
The world's second oldest bat
A future road protest site

The simple pastoral landscapes of the Avon Valley are anything but simply pastoral. They live and breathe human intervention, they are man-made, messed with by man, they contain corruption and violence, conquest and spite. These landscapes don't have the  isolation which we sometimes assume to be the case with pastoral landscape photography. They are connected to the past, the future, to faraway lands that we pillaged and conquered, to murder, romanticism, and short-sighted stupidity and greed,

But the problem is how to photograph this history. You don't embed that history into a landscape just by snapping a picture or two. It is more difficult than that. What Jem Southam does looks incredibly easy, but there is something in the process that adds depth and ties the image to the lay of the land, that puts you in the place in a manner where the folds of the land, the geology, the history, the sensation comes through.

I don't know how he does it. I believe Jem Southam's work is beyond something formal, and that there is a sense of mystery in there, that it is to do with his process of walking and being in and part of a place and the way in which that inhabits you in a non-photographic way. I like the idea that his photographic practice somehow mirrors the sensation of being in a place and of a place and connected to a place. And by being connected you connect others and you make the world grander and richer than it otherwise might be.

And that is why Jem Southam's work is important and why he's talking at Beyond the Visual: Music, Word, and Landscape.

Exactly what he'll be talking about is still a mystery however because Southam's talks are always different and always made in response to the when and the where of the occasion which makes things even more exciting. So there's another draw for you .

Susan Derges will be speaking at Beyond  Beyond the Visual: Music, Word and Landscape at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:00 

Buy Tickets here

Monday, 28 September 2015

Susan Derges: Water, Life and Photography

 all images by Susan Derges

About a year ago I spoke to Susan Derges for an article for the RPS journal. It was fascinating to hear about experience, opportunity, chance and a singular appetite for experimentation led to a career path in which each project follows on from the other with common themes that are both personal and universal in nature, where water is a driving force both in Derges' life-history and the prints that she makes in very physical ways.

Susan Derges will be speaking at Beyond  Beyond the Visual: Music, Word and Landscape at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:00 

Buy Tickets here

This is what she said.

Susan Derges is best-known for her large scale photograms that combine simplicity with a reverence for the element in which they are made. An almost personal involvement with water has been a hallmark of her work, and the lush but minimal way in which she examines its actions on the world around us can be traced back both to her schooldays in rural Hampshire and the time she spent working in Japan in the early 1980s.

“I grew up in Fleet by the Basingstoke Canal and was very interested in what was going on in the waterway in all seasons,” she says. “It was a regular place of reference and it started in early childhood. I was mesmerised by it. You’d get barges go by and you’d get these wave patterns with interference or a duck would land and the droplets would ripple across each other. And in the seasons everything would change; shiny and still in summer, frozen in winter and moody and dripping in Autumn.”

The fascination with water was filtered through an organic minimalism that emerged from Derges’ experience of living in Japan in the early 1980s. “I  went to live in Japan for a period of five years,” she says. “And Japan reflected that fascination as well because water is venerated there; in the temples, in the gardens, even in modern office buildings you’ll go in and there will be a quiet place with a small pond of water where you can sit and contemplate. Japan is completely watery,” says Derges with a laugh.

After returning from Japan, Derges continued researching new ways to portray the physical world. “I was reading a lot about physics and the observer and the observed and was really interested in finding ways to visually articulate that. I was exploring the invisible world and appropriating things from early science.”

This curiosity with how to make the sensory and emotional visible has been a hallmark of her career. She has experimented with process, symbolism and the environment to create one of the most distinctive bodies of work in photography today. It’s a curiosity that has continued to this day. From environmentally based photograms to digitally produced constructed environments, Susan Derges’ work bridges the past and the present.

1. Observer and Observed no 6.

“I had a marvellous book from the 1950s called Soap Bubbles and the Forces that Mould them. It was a beautiful gem of a book and it had an experiment called musical fountains. You charged the fountains with a tuning fork and then lit it with a strobe light so it seemed as though the water wasn’t moving. I set this experiment up in my darkroom with a transducer, a jet of water and a frequency generator for the sound and it was amazing. You had these water droplets hanging in space and they looked so still, as though you could reach out and touch them, but of course if you did that your hand got wet because they weren’t still at all.”

Derges says she “…took lots of boring Harold Egerton like images…” and then her camera jammed. She went in front of the lens to unjam it, the film apparently ruined. “When I developed the film I was about to throw it away, but then I looked more closely and I thought, ah, there’s something going on here. Then I saw the information in the water droplets. They were like little fish eye lenses reflecting multiple images of me. So there was that Man Ray teardrop element and it started having connections with surrealism. It was a fortuitous accident but one that I was looking for.”

2. Full Circle

“When I was making the previous work I was in a flat in Notting Hill Gate using the flat as a studio and doing very science based work. But I moved to Devon in 1991 and suddenly found the landscape of Devon enormously rich. I saw this pond on Dartmoor and the sun was hitting this frogspawn and the shadow from the sun looked just like a photogram. I thought I can do that in the studio. So I did.”

3. River Bovey

“After that I got more interested in what I was looking at rather than how to represent it. I got interested in life cycles, the cycles of frogs and bees, and the processes of what was going on in the landscape.”
“I thought I could go outside at night with big sheets of paper and go into the place and be led by the place and the situation. That was what I experienced with the River Taw and Bovey. I wanted to get as close as possible to a process that is also our process. Our bodies, our mental processes work in a way that is very similar to what happens in a river. There are streams and flows and blockages, so I was dabbling in reading complexity and chaos and considering myself a participant rather than an author.”

4. Shorelines

“I was processing my own prints by the time I made Shoreline. These prints were made on the South Devon Coast around Sidmouth and Dawlish. I’d go there and wait for high tide and then let the waters flow over them. They were 3 ½  feet x 8 feet long and I got quite adept at reading the patterns of the water and the moon and the effect it would have on the paper.”

“There was such an investment in taking these big prints and you could lose so many prints in one night and end up with nothing if the waves went the wrong way. But I started to get headaches and eye strain from spending hours and hours in the dark room . It was physically taxing.”

5. Full Moon

“I had got very tired of being dictated to by a process but I got really interested in the moons, the clouds and the star fields so I started to do a lot of night photography of moons and star fields. Then I used an enlarger head on a rail to make a tracking device and put in the transparency of the moon or stars and projected that onto the Cibachrome in the tank with the leaves and branches laid on top of it.”

6. Canal Bridge

“That’s made with constructed silhouettes. It’s a reference back to growing up. It’s an imaginary place with the branches brought in. It’s a digital print made with a digital camera.”

“In a way it’s about death. There’s this symbol of crossing the river and there’s the symbol of the fading moon but I wasn’t thinking about these things when I made it. I made it just after my mother’s death and I had a strong sense of the transience of life. It refers back to my childhood and the canal I used to play at, but I’ll probably never go to that place again because the person associated with it is gone.”

Susan Derges will be speaking at Beyond  Beyond the Visual: Music, Word and Landscape 

at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:00 

Buy Tickets here