Loading...

Follow Mick's Photo Blog | Documentary Photography on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook
or

Valid

About 5 years ago, I decided to take street photography a bit more seriously. I got involved with various groups (such as the Leica Meet), attending workshops (Alex Webb amongst others), met current leading UK-based practitioners (Matt Stuart, Nick Turpin, Stephen Leslie, David GibsonDougie Wallace), attending conferences (such as Street London) and generally got excited

About the same time, I also wanted my candid and environmental portrait work to develop, so it seemed natural to combine the two threads – in street portraits. Sarah Lee has been a particular inspiration in the environmental portrait arena, and a  source of good advice.

Yesterday, I met up with some friends in London, at the Portobello Market, for social time and a little street shooting.

As we talked, it became clear that, over time, I have become a little disillusioned with the rather ‘one off’ nature of street photographs. Of course, great practitioners such as Dougie Wallace use street to tell stories.

But I think too much of a ‘street meet’ is focused on getting that ‘one shot’, Cartier-Bresson style. And, the Leica religion (‘comparing sensors and lens resolution) not only powers that ethos but also frankly irritates the heck out of me.

So, I decided to shoot with a fairly long focal length lens, and not the normal 28mm or 35mm. I wanted to go for portraits.

And it seemed to work.

The light was fantastic in the morning.

I give street photography workshops these days, and people often ask ‘how to take the sneaky shots’. I do not do that, believing that if you are open and honest about what you are doing, people will either not care or, in fact, will actually engage.

What was of most interest yesterday, however was that we wandered through the social housing estate of Ladbroke Grove. I found this in many ways even more of a fascinating photography challenge than the street portraits. I had nothing planned, and just happened to be there.

Perhaps because I have become increasingly focused on story-telling in this first year of the MA, opportunities presented themselves. So, rather than

People’s loves were on display, just like in any other community. But this one clearly had some deeper story. Why is it partly closed off? Is the council refurbishing, or are people loosing their homes?

And, there was an ambulance, just arriving – although the driver seemed a little disoriented as to exactly he was looking for.

The interplay of light between the ambulance and the last caught my attention. The details of the scene could only be captured in colour.

And, the place was totally deserted. We did not see a single soul.

Yet, like all photographers hanging out with good friends, we still strive for the ‘happy snaps’. This, of Robert Huggins, by the graffiti at the estate.

Where does this all lead?

I think it underpins my determination to think of ‘street’ as another variant of my story-telling, documentary practice. I do not view it as a  rather Cartier-Bresson -esque obsession with creating a ‘decisive image’.

Here’s a gallery of street images from the meet.

And Ladbroke Grove estate.

Finally, the social side of the day.

………………………..

Cartier-Bresson, Henri.1952. The Decisive Moment. 2014 Ed. Göttingen: Steidl.

Turpin, Nick. 2017. On The Night Bus. London: Hoxton Mini Press.

Webb, Alex. 2011. The Suffering of Light: Thirty Years of Photographs of Alex Webb. London: Thames & Hudson.

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

In Phnom Penh last week, I met Youk Chhang for the first time. The visit including a lot of such networking activities, in order to start the process of getting my projects executed next year in Cambodia.

Youk is the Director of the Documentary Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), which was founded by Yale University in 1994/5. He has led the center ever since, and is founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute. A tireless advocate of the truth, always using data, Youk was both welcoming and knowledgeable. I was impressed by how objective he was on the motivations and current perceptions of all the actors in this decades old drama.

DC-Cam has been independent of Yale since 1997, and is a Cambodian NGO. The Center has the world’s largest collection of archival material of all kinds on the Khmer Rouge Genocide.

DC-Cam was instrumental in providing essential data to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which pursued criminal charges against the KR leaders. I will not dwell on that Tribunal’s success or failure at this point.

In talking with Youk, we explored many areas of common interest, including my plans for an Installation and book in Phnom Penh, and his plans for the Sleuk Rith Insitute, a new Global center of learning on Genocide (and Genocide prevention).

In fact, subsequently we have been able to provide each other with several networked connections – ironically, mine in Cambodia and Youk’s in the USA.

For now, I want to note two specifics.

First, Youk showed me the one of the Rolleiflex cameras used to take the Tuol Sleng ‘mug shots’ in 1975-1979.

As noted in Michelle Caswell’s book, Archiving the Unspeakable, once a photograph was taken, the inexorable bureaucratic process of torture, confession and execution took place. Nhem En, the leader of the photography group, was trained in China, and is on record as being pleased with the technical quality of the images.

I picked up the camera, and pondered. How extraordinary to hold it, an instrument of death – not just philosophically but practically. It was a central part of the apparatus of killing.

Secondly, I shared my work on Traces of Genocide, as in the landings Exhibition.

I was shooting more for the series last week – not least against Krishna’s brief to explore the inclusion of humanity in the work, and Gary’s suggestion of ‘thicker’ images.

Youk was very complimentary and encouraged me to continue. He had seen so many approaches to and records of the Genocide, and wrote:

‘This is extraordinary! Wow!! 

I am very picky with photos in general. But this one is different in approaching the genocide topic. It really conveys how difficult it is to describe the crimes of genocide.

And traces also look like a Prayer from Hell‘.

A Prayer from Hell. With Youk’s permission, I am going to consider using that title for the work, both in WIP and potentially in the final project.

………………………………………………….

Caswell, Michelle. 2014. Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia. Madison: Univ Wisconsin.

En, Nhem & Duong, Dara. 2014. The Khmer Rouge’s Photographer at S21. Phnom Penh: Nhem En.

Flusser, Vilém. 1983 (Trans. 2000). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books

Riley, Chris & Niven, Douglas. 1996. The Killing Fields. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers.

Trouillot, Michel-Ralph. 1995. Silencing the Past. Boston: Beacon Press.

Tagg, John. 1988. The Burden of Representation. Amherst: Univ of Massachusetts.

………………………………………………….

All images featured here are all from my latest visit to Cambodia

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

As some of you know, in my MA I am working on Cambodian ‘Unfinished Stories”. The impact of the Genocide of 1975-1979 is still, in many ways, hidden. It is visible only in traces, both physical and psychological.

My project is not about the Genocide per-se, but it does need to contextualise that terrible event as it sits in the background of the personal stories that I am exploring and documenting. It is a part of my personal narrative about Cambodia.

In earlier work, I created images some of which, frankly, fell foul of being ‘dark tourist’ photographs – rather literal records of the museums and mass graves associated with the Genocide. Some were more successful, I feel.

Since that time, I have been exploring the idea of aftermath, shown by traces.

This work is influenced by that of Sophie Ristelhueber, Lukas Birk and others.

Partly through the exploratory work on Cyanotypes, I became intrigued by the notion of using negatives to portray these traces. I am acutely aware that there are lines of caution between effective and respectful documentary imagery, and over-done, crass, dark tourist photographs, and I began to see negatives as a way to both challenge the viewer and avoid some of these bear traps.

In researching the idea, I was intrigued by the work of artists such as Jennifer West, who uses projected filmstrips in interactive installations. West is, of course, taking the idea of using film way past my simple ‘traces’ exploratory. But her use of the negatives images inherent in the medium both as an artefact and as an apparatus is fascinating. She uses the images in overtly spiritual ways.

And the work of photographers like Daniel Nyblin (1856–1923) using glass plate negatives, has been shown to advantage alongside printed copies of the same images. In fact, I personally find the negatives more interesting, and more engaging, than the printed images.

Neither are directly applicable to my use of negatives, but both show possibilities.

For ‘Landings’, I have decided to show only ‘traces’ images, which frankly is a very narrow slice of my overall Cambodian work. Bluntly, I want to get feedback on the idea, and this seemed  way to do just that. Cemre and others have noted that this approach has some merit, though clearly much needs to be does to develop the work. For example, I have experimented with the idea of using semi-transparent ‘traces’ as interleaves in a  dummy book.

I think it is worth looking at how I got to this point.

First, a Photograph taken last week at Choeung Ek, known as the Killing Fields. Shallow, mass graves are visible. I am deliberately choosing a rather ‘generic’ landscape view, to see what is possible.

This was taken as part of a rephotography exercise. I first visited Choeung Ek in 1994, so here is an image from that time, in situ today.

Whilst I occasionally use black and white, my ‘photographic heart’ is in colour.

Still, I have experimented with black and white interpretations of the scene as I pursue traces.

I find this interesting, as it does provide more focus on the shallow graves, yet, bluntly, is lacking impact.

On the other extreme, I experimented with digitally creating ‘colour negatives’. Whilst the colour here is not exactly Kodachrome, I think it serves to illustrate what is possible.

Mmm.

More focus on the graves, but I feel it is falling into the ‘too arty’ category. I would greatly value the opinions of anyone reading this post. Overall, it is not really the kind of documentary image that I believe will sit alongside my story telling, colour  work.

I might, however, pursue Infra Red next time.

I have also done a very quick scan of some of my old negatives.

I do not yet feel convinced on the colour treatment.

So, I have experimented and created presets in Lightroom to manufacture ‘digital negatives’. Of course, if I pursue this approach further, I should actually take film shots in black and white, and use the negatives directly. Right now, though, I feel this is a good proxy.

I feel that is is beginning to get some power, focused a little attention on the graves, and begging some questions in the viewer’s mind as to what they are seeing.

When I go back to the very first image, above, this is the equivalent.

It seems to me that different details are being highlighted – the chain, for example, and the shapes of the flowers and bone shards.

In an allegorical sense, I do think this approach potentially has the power to highlight the negatives of human atrocity, the negatives of personal tragedy.

And, from an audience perspective, such negatives require interpretation. They are just not our normal way of seeing. Instead, these negatives are a step in the process of seeing, not seeing itself.

I could see these traces working alongside other images, videos and artefacts in a multi-media installation, and they would also be good to usewith light boxes.

Here’s the ‘Landings’ work.

…………………

Birk, Lukas & Foley, Sean. 2008. Kafkanistan. Austria: ?Fraglich.

Herschdorfer, Natalie. 2011. Afterwards. London: Thames & Hudson.

Ristelhueber, Sophie & Mayer, Marc & Ladd, Jeffrey. 2009. Sophie Ristelhueber: Fait (Books on Books). New York: Errata.

Daniel Nybin, at Public Domain review. https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/daniel-nyblins-glass-negatives-of-artworks/ (Accessed July 14, 2018).

Jennifer West, at Vilma Gold. http://vilmagold.com/artist/jennifer-west/ (Accessed July 14, 2018).

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Moises Saman is an American / Spanish photojournalist, and a member of Magnum. I just got a copy of his 2016 book, Discordia.

It is perhaps the most beautiful and inspiring book that I have bought this year. Thank you to Paul Clements for pointing me towards the book.

Saman’s book is an extended photo-easy, about the Arab Spring. It is a heavy book, on lovely art paper, and printed by the specialist Italian firm Grafiche Antiga. I am lucky enough to have a signed copy. It covers the period 2011-2014, and Discordia won the 2016 Anamorphosis Prize.

BOOK COVER. “Discordia”, 2016.

The book mixes colour and black and white images, although the muted colour allows the blend to work well. It also includes photo collages, created by the Dutch-Iranian artist Daria Birang from Saman’s photographs. These are grainy cut-outs.

EGYPT. Birqash. April 22, 2011. Camels at a camel market located inside a school in the village of Birqash, on the outskirts of Cairo.

There is a series of short essays by Saman at the end of the book, portraying snippets of his 4 years working across Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Each is an intensely personal story, meticulously detailed. Yet each is quite short.

EGYPT. Cairo. November, 2011. A young man holds the head of a slaughtered sheep during Eid celebrations in the Shobra district of Cairo.

There is also an index of the images, with captions, at the end of the book.

Studying these pages is a bit like looking at a series of contact sheets, except, of course, it is a carefully edited sequence.

LIBYA. Zawiyah. 2011. A Qaddafi supporter holds a portrait of the Libyan leader during a celebration staged for
a group of visiting foreign journalists after regime forces re-took the city from rebels.

The book wanders around in its story telling – it is not linear. But it is all the more thought provoking because of that. Why does this image follow that, and where’s the thread of the story?

As Saman notes on the Discordia website:

“These photographs were taken while I was working as a photojournalist in multiple countries in the region for publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, and TIME magazine. Over these years, the many revolutions overlapped and in my mind became one blur, one story in itself.

In order to tell this story the way I experienced it, I felt the need to transcend a linear journalistic language, and instead create a new narrative that combined the multitude of voices, emotions, and the lasting uncertainty I felt.” (Discordia Website)

TURKEY. Hatay Province. 2012. Syrian refugees after crossing into Turkey at night.

Saman also states that:

“The editing process for an assignment is very different than that when I’m editing a longer narrative. A book in particular needs rhythm, and, as such, I felt that Discordia had to incorporate the quieter pictures that offer more context, the photographs that sometimes are overlooked in the editorial process because they capture moments just before or after the main event.

With the collages, the aim was to literally cut out the subject from the context of the photograph and focus on the theatrical body language and expression of the protesters during clashes, rather than opt for the best single image that captured the action.” (Magnum Website)

SYRIA. Aleppo. 2013. A makeshift swing made with a plastic chair found inside a mosque that was occupied by Syrian Army soldiers on the
Salahaddin front line in Aleppo.

Saman manages to be both objective and personal with this book. Objective, flowing his journalistic calling to seek out and portray the facts. He was trained as a sociologist, and that sparked his interest in photography.

Yet, it is all very personal, in that the totality of the book, rather than any one image, shows his feelings about what happened.

A sense of sadness and inevitability pervades.

TUNISIA. Gafsa. 2013. Bags caught on a tree along a desert road on the outskirts of Gafsa, Western Tunisia.

There is much to ponder here, in how Saman has chosen to tell the story, and how it is physically presented.

A book I will return to.

………………………………..

Saman, Moises. 2016. Discordia. Treviso: Grafiche Antiga.

Website: www.discordiathe book.com

Header Image: SYRIA. Aleppo. 2013. A rebel yells “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) during close-quarters fighting in Aleppo’s Old City.

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

In Phnom Penh last week, I met Youk Chhang for the first time. The visit including a lot of such networking activities, in order to start the process of getting my projects executed next year in Cambodia.

Youk is the Director of the Documentary Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), which was founded by Yale University in 1994/5. He has led the center ever since, and is founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute. A tireless advocate of the truth, always using data, Youk was both welcoming and knowledgeable. I was impressed by how objective he was on the motivations and current perceptions of all the actors in this decades old drama.

DC-Cam has been independent of Yale since 1997, and is a Cambodian NGO. The Center has the world’s largest collection of archival material of all kinds on the Khmer Rouge Genocide.

DC-Cam was instrumental in providing essential data to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which pursued criminal charges against the KR leaders. I will not dwell on that Tribunal’s success or failure at this point.

In talking with Youk, we explored many areas of common interest, including my plans for an Installation and book in Phnom Penh, and his plans for the Sleuk Rith Insitute, a new Global center of learning on Genocide (and Genocide prevention).

In fact, subsequently we have been able to provide each other with several networked connections – ironically, mine in Cambodia and Youk’s in the USA.

For now, I want to note two specifics.

First, Youk showed me the one of the Rolleiflex cameras used to take the Tuol Sleng ‘mug shots’ in 1975-1979.

As noted in Michelle Caswell’s book, Archiving the Unspeakable, once a photograph was taken, the inexorable bureaucratic process of torture, confession and execution took place. Nhem En, the leader of the photography group, was trained in China, and is on record as being pleased with the technical quality of the images.

I picked up the camera, and pondered. How extraordinary to hold it, an instrument of death – not just philosophically but practically. It was a central part of the apparatus of killing.

Secondly, I shared my work on Traces of Genocide, as in the landings Exhibition.

I was shooting more for the series last week – not least against Krishna’s brief to explore the inclusion of humanity in the work, and Gary’s suggestion of ‘thicker’ images.

Youk was very complimentary and encouraged me to continue. He had seen so many approaches to and records of the Genocide, and wrote:

‘This is extraordinary! Wow!! 

I am very picky with photos in general. But this one is different in approaching the genocide topic. It really conveys how difficult it is to describe the crimes of genocide.

And traces also look like a Prayer from Hell‘.

A Prayer from Hell. With Youk’s permission, I am going to consider using that title for the work, both in WIP and potentially in the final project.

………………………………………………….

Caswell, Michelle. 2014. Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia. Madison: Univ Wisconsin.

En, Nhem & Duong, Dara. 2014. The Khmer Rouge’s Photographer at S21. Phnom Penh: Nhem En.

Flusser, Vilém. 1983 (Trans. 2000). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books

Riley, Chris & Niven, Douglas. 1996. The Killing Fields. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers.

Trouillot, Michel-Ralph. 1995. Silencing the Past. Boston: Beacon Press.

Tagg, John. 1988. The Burden of Representation. Amherst: Univ of Massachusetts.

………………………………………………….

All images featured here are all from my latest visit to Cambodia

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Moises Saman is an American / Spanish photojournalist, and a member of Magnum. I just got a copy of his 2016 book, Discordia.

It is perhaps the most beautiful and inspiring book that I have bought this year. Thank you to Paul Clements for pointing me towards the book.

Saman’s book is an extended photo-easy, about the Arab Spring. It is a heavy book, on lovely art paper, and printed by the specialist Italian firm Grafiche Antiga. I am lucky enough to have a signed copy. It covers the period 2011-2014, and Discordia won the 2016 Anamorphosis Prize.

BOOK COVER. “Discordia”, 2016.

The book mixes colour and black and white images, although the muted colour allows the blend to work well. It also includes photo collages, created by the Dutch-Iranian artist Daria Birang from Saman’s photographs. These are grainy cut-outs.

EGYPT. Birqash. April 22, 2011. Camels at a camel market located inside a school in the village of Birqash, on the outskirts of Cairo.

There is a series of short essays by Saman at the end of the book, portraying snippets of his 4 years working across Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Each is an intensely personal story, meticulously detailed. Yet each is quite short.

EGYPT. Cairo. November, 2011. A young man holds the head of a slaughtered sheep during Eid celebrations in the Shobra district of Cairo.

There is also an index of the images, with captions, at the end of the book.

Studying these pages is a bit like looking at a series of contact sheets, except, of course, it is a carefully edited sequence.

LIBYA. Zawiyah. 2011. A Qaddafi supporter holds a portrait of the Libyan leader during a celebration staged for
a group of visiting foreign journalists after regime forces re-took the city from rebels.

The book wanders around in its story telling – it is not linear. But it is all the more thought provoking because of that. Why does this image follow that, and where’s the thread of the story?

As Saman notes on the Discordia website:

“These photographs were taken while I was working as a photojournalist in multiple countries in the region for publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, and TIME magazine. Over these years, the many revolutions overlapped and in my mind became one blur, one story in itself.

In order to tell this story the way I experienced it, I felt the need to transcend a linear journalistic language, and instead create a new narrative that combined the multitude of voices, emotions, and the lasting uncertainty I felt.” (Discordia Website)

TURKEY. Hatay Province. 2012. Syrian refugees after crossing into Turkey at night.

Saman also states that:

“The editing process for an assignment is very different than that when I’m editing a longer narrative. A book in particular needs rhythm, and, as such, I felt that Discordia had to incorporate the quieter pictures that offer more context, the photographs that sometimes are overlooked in the editorial process because they capture moments just before or after the main event.

With the collages, the aim was to literally cut out the subject from the context of the photograph and focus on the theatrical body language and expression of the protesters during clashes, rather than opt for the best single image that captured the action.” (Magnum Website)

SYRIA. Aleppo. 2013. A makeshift swing made with a plastic chair found inside a mosque that was occupied by Syrian Army soldiers on the
Salahaddin front line in Aleppo.

Saman manages to be both objective and personal with this book. Objective, flowing his journalistic calling to seek out and portray the facts. He was trained as a sociologist, and that sparked his interest in photography.

Yet, it is all very personal, in that the totality of the book, rather than any one image, shows his feelings about what happened.

A sense of sadness and inevitability pervades.

TUNISIA. Gafsa. 2013. Bags caught on a tree along a desert road on the outskirts of Gafsa, Western Tunisia.

There is much to ponder here, in how Saman has chosen to tell the story, and how it is physically presented.

A book I will return to.

………………………………..

Saman, Moises. 2016. Discordia. Treviso: Grafiche Antiga.

Website: www.discordiathe book.com

Header Image: SYRIA. Aleppo. 2013. A rebel yells “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) during close-quarters fighting in Aleppo’s Old City.

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

So why should I be fascinated with David Salle’s work?

On the one hand, his fugitive style was a welcome break from conceptual art and minimalism – although he continued to work with monochrome fields. Whilst he was influenced by ‘Pop Art’, and in fact used photographs extensively in his work, Salle is not a story-teller.

He was more interested in renewing painting, to create new vocabularies, now defined as post-modernism.

Unitled (Camus), 1976
mixed media on paper
108 x 156 inches

He was  influenced by Minimalism, though he wanted painting to do more. Similar to Minimalist works, his canvases use scale and (monochromatic) colour.

And there is no beginning or end in his work. It just ‘is’.

Rainy Night in Rubber City, 1980
acrylic and conte crayon on canvas
58 x 88 inches

His work is always epic, demanding attention. I am not going to get into his subject matter – in early days he  featured female nudes, occasionally bordering but not quite being pornography – and occasionally he was criticised because of that.

More relevantly, he used tracings of photographs that he took to create drawings before he painted, so the figures often have a radically ‘posed’ look.

From the essay Ghost Paintings (2013):

‘The figures that populate Salle’s canvases are .. appropriated. … Almost all of the figurative motifs in his paintings derive from scenarios that he staged in his studio, photographed, and then reworked as fragments in his canvas’. (pg 9)

What also attracts me is that Salle’s canvases became more complex. I have seen many exhibitions of his work, and find it is hard to walk past any one of his paintings and not ponder awhile. I think it has a lot to do with his intention. The ‘slow down and look’ effect on the audience seems exactly what he planned.

Kevin Power, in the catalogue for the show at the Staatsgalerie in Munch in 1989, described Salle’s work as having ‘fields’ and ‘screens’. The ‘field’ is an open, inclusive place where things come together, in harmony though with disconnection. ‘Screens’ use layers of imagery, with shallow depth, to create new perspectives.

Salle projected an almost endless series of styles and themes onto his canvases from the world (and history) of plastic art – yet somehow the end result appears deceptively simple.  Carter Ratcliffe, in the Boymans catalogue, says:

‘In all their vexed complexity, [the paintings] take on the air of the simple, the self-evident, the given’. (pg 38)

Coral Made, 1985
acrylic and oil on canvas with wood
108 x 168.25 inches

So, Salle was instrumental in re-invigorating painting. The first time we saw Salle was at the Boymans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, in 1983. Ingrid and I visited what was his first one-man show outside of a commercial gallery.

I was especially intrigued by the diptychs Salle employed. Each half complements the other, yet also stands alone. As Beeren, in the Boymans catalogue questions:

‘To what extent is it possible to see twice 50% as not being 100% each’? (pg 20)

His diptychs have come back to my mind as I grapple with the Cambodia project.

My latest WIP took separate, yet parallel tracks, with negatives and positives. As I think about how to move this work forward, and eventually to present it, there is much to learn from Salle’s diptychs.

Miner, 1985
acrylic, oil, wood tables wtih metal frames and fabric on canvas
96 x 162.25 inches

Yet, as noted above, Salle was not (and still isn’t) a classical storyteller. There is never a clear narrative in any one image – and even the titles rarely resonate with the subject matter. Nor is there a sequence of images. Each is unique.

He thus lets his work stand on its own terms, not quite with the sterility of ‘art for arts sake’, but close. Salle creates images which tend to ignore both the subject and the audience. They demand attention, but to what end?

Carter Ratcliffe, in the Boymans catalogue, writes:

‘He presents us with artworks that deserve to be seen first as artworks, as visual forms’. (pg 25)

Is that something I need to explore, to break through the rather pedestrian approaches of traditional documentary work?

We’ll Shake the Bag, 1980
acrylic on canvas
48 x 72 inches

Salle’s work is film-like, with fleeting and haunting imagery, always carefully drafted. Yet somehow the totality stands higher than any of the components in his work, wherever it is ‘borrowed’ from.

When I first saw his work, each canvas felt complete, context not necessary.

Ironically each canvas IS a a form of story in its totality, but not in its details.

Poverty Is No Disgrace, 1982
oil, acrylic, and chair on canvas
72 x 96 inches

I have noted before how this MA keeps inviting to dig into my art heritage, and then hopefully move my image making forward in new ways.

In his opening comments on the Boymans catalogue, Beeren suggests that Salle’s work had progressed:

‘… from a  deliberate planning of the visual information within a rigid framework towards a violent presentation, aggressively rendered on a massive surface‘. (pg 17)

The Blue Room, 1982
oil and acrylic on canvas
90 x 177 inches

Let’s see where David Salle takes me.

Some early experiments.

…………………………

Beeren, W.A. L. & Schoon, Talitha (Eds). 1983. David Salle. Rotterdam: Museum Boymans van Beunigen.

Fuchs, R., Mignot, D. & Mulder, A. 1999. David Salle. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag.

Mileaf, Jean (Forward). 2013. Ghost Paintings: David Salle in Conversation with Hal Foster. Chicago: Arts Club of Chicago.

Power, Kevin. 1989. David Salle: Seeing it My Way. Munich: Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst.

Images from:

Salle, David. 2018. Website. Available at: http://www.davidsallestudio.net. (Accessed 16.10.2018).

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

As part of my MA, I was asked to review my earliest work and reflect: What do you see in it? Thought I’d post my answers here.

I have to really start at the beginning here. I was a painter (and I wrote poetry). In fact, I wanted to go to Art College, but as a first generation ‘boomer’, I was encouraged instead to do a more useful degree. So, a frustrated artist. I did collages, painted, drew and generally experimented with most things that the 1960s had to offer.

I was (and still am) always open to new visual ideas, reading and discovering as much as I could, and my work at the time shows that.

Mick Yates, Mixed Media, 1967-1968

Frankly, I did not have a lot of disposable cash, so when I managed to upgrade from an old Kodak to a Prinz Mastermatic III 35mm camera, I was delighted.

My Dad had been a lifelong photographer, and I caught the bug, to capture what was around me. Perhaps in a foretaste of my current work, a lot of it was documentary, archival and even had glimpses of my ‘traces’ imagery.

Burton on Trent, 1969

Paying my way through Uni, I was a ‘travelling salesman’, visiting the colliery towns and villages of Derbyshire. I did a photo essay on one such place, Albert Village. Here is a selection:

Albert Village, Derbyshire, 1969

Naturally, I also took family snapshots. But not as many as my dad did. I do think my art training affected my composition.

In 1969/70, I also worked as a photographer for the Leeds Student Newspaper – my first experience of a ‘proper’ camera (Pentax Spotmatic). Here’s the ‘kidnap’ of Dave Allsopp, Engineer’s President, as part of the (successful) anti-Apartheid ‘Stop the Cricket Tour’ Campaign, alongside my contact sheet.

I have all of my negatives and slides, going back to the 1960s. And, happily, now I also have all of Dad’s, from the 1930s onwards.

At some point I will do a proper archive job. I had hoped that would be part of this MA, but sadly it seems against the rules for new work.

Can you find a theme that connects it to the work you make today?

It’s clear that documentary and reporting what is around me is a consistent theme. I could not travel much in those days, so, like many others of my generation, I made do with my immediate surroundings.

I have always been interested in people, but in the sense of seeing them in context. When I could afford to travel, that became a mainstay.

Agra, 1978

It’s only in recent years that I have been doing a lot of portrait work, though still with an environmental slant.

What do you like and dislike about the early work?

I am continually amazed at how often I got the composition ‘right’ in camera, and even the exposure was decent. None of the above are cropped much. Whilst I fully embrace digital, and need it, in fact, for some of my event work, I can see much value in ‘slow photography’.

I can also see that story-telling is very much embedded in how I approach photography, even though my approach to urban settings was almost ‘new topographical’. I guess it was the era of Pop and Conceptual Art!

And, whilst in those early years, black and white was the only way I could create photographs, colour is very important to how I see the world.

The improvement areas are several.

Firstly, I am seeking more intimacy in my images, as discussed in Surfaces and Strategies. I am usually pretty good at connecting and engaging with people, in either street or formal settings. Whilst I still prefer a ‘candid’ style, I do feel intimacy would drive impact.

Second, given that I am focusing on telling stories from the time of the Khmer Rouge Genocide, I am continuing to learn and experiment with new ways of dealing with aftermath.

Third, I am expanding my portrait repertoire, partly reflecting the ‘intimacy’ point above, and partly because I increasingly enjoy this kind of photography.

What was it about these photographs that made you want to be a photographer?

I think that is a superfluous question – I have always been a photographer.

A better question might be ‘why do I want to get better’?

Because that is in my nature.

…………………………………………………

I posted this on FaceBook, and got seem interesting feedback. In particular, James Kezman noted:

You have a great eye for textures in both your painting and in your photography. The monochrome images are a feast for the eyes with contrasting textures and geometries — the rugged earthiness of the open pit mine versus the smooth towers of the buildings beyond; The lovely organic lead in to the tree contrasted with the harsh metallic buildings behind; The curves of the dilapidated car versus the tumbledown bricks. Good stuff. It is interesting to see how you moved from urban/rural landscape to a more figurative style, like in your paintings. Seems like you found a way to meld the two facets of your art. Oh and I love the surrealist elements in your paintings/collages. Did you ever do any photo collages?

My reply:

James, thanks for taking the time to comment. Would you mind if I added this as an addendum on my post? I think I have always been fascinated by ‘layers’ in images (and stories for that matter). That said I am very conscious of pursuing rather rigorous compositions and layouts – too formal in fact. Funnily enough, when I started getting back into serious photography, I felt dissatisfied with the lack of ‘humanity’ in my work – hence I consciously did a lot of street and portrait work. Going full circle, I now see that we can visualise humanity in less obvious ways – hence some of my latest work on the MA with traces and negatives. Maybe I am simply going back to where I started?

And, should have said I did some photo collage … a few here … Psych Sixties

And, from James:

Please do, Mick! It’s always good to circle back to where you started in whatever art it is that you are pursing. I pull out my “Introduction to Photography” work binder about once as year to remind me of where I started. As you know, art is a continual process — you build upon what you’ve learned, what you’ve experienced, what you’ve lived. Sometimes we get stuck and try something new. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but it all goes into that big pot we call creativity. So, keep digging and keep creating!

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Just finally catching up with the excellent documentary on David Hurn from the BBC. It only has a few hours left to be available – and outside the UK it can’t be viewed. So here is a version from dailymotion:

David Hurn A Life in Pictures - Dailymotion

The video gives great insight into David’s working practices, and especially his ability to engage at an emotional level with his subjects. He’s clearly a bit of a cheeky chappie, even now, at 84 years old, so that helps!

David was filmed for BBC’s Monitor programme by his friend Ken Russell, in 2017. As he was getting started, he was in a creative circle including Sir Don McCullin and Philip Jones Griffiths. David reflects on how his practice grew, his younger self and the Swinging Sixties.


David Hurn. Fans eying Ringo Starr. The Beatles during filming of ‘A Hard Days Night’. The Beatles film was primarily shot on a moving train. London, England. G.B. 1964. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos

The Sixties is, of course, ‘my era’, so it is delightful to go through his images of that time in the 2015 book, The 1960s: Photographed by David Hurn.

From the book:

“Life as it unfolds in front of the camera is full of so much complexity, wonder and surprise that I find it unnecessary to create new realities. There is more pleasure, for me, in things as they are.” (pg 9)

His life’s work, though, is much more than about a period in time. David covers so many of the people and events of the past 60 years. His work ranged from portraits and movie sets, pop culture to newsworthy events. The Beatles, Aberfan, Grosvenor Square demonstrations, Barbarella. It’s all there.

‘You shouldn’t be giving your subjects many instructions. It’s a case of sitting down and talking to them, to the point where they can be themselves, rather than a person who is self-consciously aware of having their photograph taken’. (pg 200)

Looking at pictures he took at events, it’s clear that the anonymous participants were just as interesting to David as the main attractions.

Whilst design is not the ‘end game’ for David, patterns are certainly intrinsic to his work.

‘You need a good sense of geometry when you are taking pictures in a situation like this’. (pg 88)

For example, on the street, he gets into an interesting space, and then is very patient in waiting for things to unfold in front of him. This is a classic: The Promenade at Tenby (1974).

Picture from National Museum of Wales

Martin Parr described it as ‘the perfect picture‘ in the video. I am not sure I agree with that, as there are a few overlaps in the image which slightly annoy – but it is damn good.

In many ways, I would consider him ‘the street photographer’s photographer’, amongst other possible titles we could bestow.

Back to the video, David says photography is:

‘ … like a game, trying to capture in one picture how you feel about something’.

And, whilst he says he is not good at posing people, he does

‘… just go up to them, take an interest in them and then take a picture’.

A photographer:

‘… gets right inside the story, gets accepted as part of it, stands in the right place at the right time, and presses the shutter’.

He also notes that a good picture can beat propaganda every time (the story of the Russian soldier buying a hat for his wife).

The video prompted me to re-read his book with Bill Jay, On Being a Photographer (1996).

It is full of practical and pithy wisdom – and not without its humour. I had to smile when I rediscovered this quote:

‘I was discussing [my frustration with photography academics] with the chair of a University Philosophy department when she stated that most academics in photography of her acquaintance would not even pass the interview to become a beginning student on a rigorous philosophy course!’ (pg 74)

More seriously, I think his attitude is not anti-academic, but more pro-action. David goes to great lengths to explain how he works, how much practice we all need in our craft, the important of the apparatus, and the value of a well-defined personal approach to working with subjects and scenes.

Both he and Bill Jay and accomplished photographers and educators. I found David’s focus on the importance of a perfectly exposed contact sheet fundamental to his work – to be able to look at the totality of a body of work, and to make both processing and editing decisions as a result. That of course is still possible with film, and I imagine we all do it, though not as rigorously as David. We can do something similar by printing from Lightroom – but how many of us actually do?

I also greatly admire his dedication to print swaps. He has amassed an amazing collection, essentially for free, and this is now being made available at the National Museum of Wales. That’s a project I should be more active on.

……………………………
Hurn, David & Havlin, Laura. 2017. Behind the Image: David Hurn’s Beatlemania. Available at https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/behind-image-david-hurns-beatlemania/. (Accessed 23/09/18)

Hurn, David, Doggett, Peter & Nourmand, Tony. 2015. The 1960s: Photographed by David Hurn. London: Reel Art Press.

Jay, Bill & Hurn, David. 1996. On Being a Photographer. Available at: http://www.greenacre.info/Photography/On%20Being%20a%20Photographer.pdf. (Accessed 2/09/2018).

David Hurn at National Museum of Wales. (Accessed 23/09/18)

David Hurn on YouPic. (Accessed 23/09/18)

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview