My latest photography book on witches in Scotland can be viewed online in eBook format here.
It is also available to buy here.
See more of my recent three minute street portraits from Burma here.
What does one do when on an exotic beach in Burma, facing the Bay of Bengal, new Fuji X100 compact camera in the backpack? The answer is of course, very little – it’s far too hot and bright to move around, with the obvious exception of the first hour or so of the day. Stumbling around in my longyi, I came across these fellows each morning:
There has been much debate in recent years as to the value of traditional frontline war reportage. One of the primary arguments is that this kind of warzone imagery is so lacking in context as to serve as little more than documentary evidence of isolated events within limited geographical locations. It neither informs nor stimulates us to think about the causes of war, the immediate effects of war on anyone outside of the frame of vision, nor the longer term impacts after the killing has stopped. If we add to the mix the highly technical nature of modern warfare where much of the activity occurs within computers potentially thousands of miles away, changes within news organisations with the new media possibilities, and broader geopolitical factors in the complex web of contemporary international relations, it’s perhaps understandable why many people perceive traditional war photography to have past its sell-by date.
By a similar measure, if we look back into photobook history we find relatively few examples of practitioners pushing the medium in trying to explore the broader context of war within their productions. There are notable exceptions of course – Philip Jones Griffiths with his famous work on Indochina, perhaps Stanley Green with his work in the Central Caucasus, Simon Norfolk with his work on Afghanistan and modern warfare generally, and Susuan Meiselas and her work in Central America immediately spring to mind – but one can’t help feel that photographically there has been somewhat of a failure to tackle the full vista of war with all it’s complexities, absurdities, and horror.
One individual who definitely transcends these criticisms is the German pacifist anarchist, Ernst Friedrich, who in 1924 produced one of the first (and arguably, still the best) photographic attempts at scrutinising warfare in his seminal photobook, WAR against WAR! Since its publication in 1924 there have been as many as a million copies in circulation, translated into forty languages. It’s a book that should be well known, however the majority of people I know with a deep interest in photography have never heard of it nor him. I first became aware of Friedrich last year at a Tate symposium on Violence and Representation. In a somewhat unusual scenario, a presentation was made which included some of WAR against WAR’s more horrific images. Such was their power the proceeding speaker (Susan Meiselas) was visibly shaken and struggled to make it through her own presentation, breaking down in fact during the Q&A that followed.
This manifesto was launched recently at the Les Rencontres d’Arles festival:
Even though Amazonia is now the focus of much international attention, and is often considered in a metaphorical sense as the embodiment of humanities assault on the natural world as part of the globalisation frenzy, it is fair to say it remains pretty much off-limits to all but the most committed of travellers. Lingering metaphors of “green hell,” including rampant caricatures of wild Indians and apocalyptic images of environmental devastation are such that whilst there is a greater interest in the region than there has probably ever been it is still a place few people would endeavour to spend much time in.
Amazonia is of course much written about in both specialist and non-specialist publications but much of how people perceive the Amazon is as a direct consequence of the imagery that has emanated from the region during the past century or so. This blog post aims to briefly discuss the history of such imagery, including some key examples from the realms of anthropology, photojournalism, travel, and the fine arts.
Probably the earliest serious attempts to render the Amazon visually came via mid-19th century Victorian naturalists such as Bates, Wallace, and Spruce, independent explorers and commercial scientists focused on the regions flora and fauna. Bates’s 1863 publication, The Naturalist on the River Amazons contained “…a record of adventures, habits of animals, sketches of Brazilian and Indian life and aspects of nature under the Equator during eleven years of travel.” Based upon their extended periods in the field, such naturalists provided the first systematic and widely disseminated accounts of “green hell” the legacy of which remains popular.
We all love a bit of film nostalgia. So here’s a few images taken on the sets of classic films.
The Shining, Stanley Kubrick (1980)
The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock (1963)
Godfather, Francis Ford Copolla (1972)
One of the strangest experiences I can recall in photography was being advised to take images out of an edit because they contained humour. The rational was that serious photography couldn’t be in any way funny and that inducing people to laugh or chuckle diminished the artistic merit of a work. I hear similar comments around photography focused on the natural world (landscape, wildlife, etc.) which for many so-called “fine art” photographers would be considered seriously off-limits lest it be consigned to the coffee-table book genre which in the present day seem to have little or no artistic credibility.
In relation to humour though, the assertion that it kills meaning is not only unfair but is belied by significant evidence to the contrary. What about Rimaldas Viksraitis’s Grimaces of the Weary Village and the work of Martin Parr and Duane Michels? All these photographers use humour as a conduit for evoking deeper truths.
And then there is the photography that is actually loaded with humour, but which may not have been consciously produced with it in mind. Does that make the work any less funny or worthy of serious consideration? This is where Kessel Kramer Publishing come in with their superb publishing programme, in particular their occasional Useful Photography magazine. Useful Photography is the generic name for the millions of ephemeral images, which are used daily and with a purpose all of their own: practical photography, often made by amateurs that has a clear function where the makers remain anonymous.
Useful Photography #008 celebrates the opening images of pornographic photo shoots. Pornographic films, websites, and magazines all plough the same furrow: the repetition of the same act, in all its variations. Where they differ is in their opening sequences, the patently fake and false scenarios, which are often afterthoughts to the main event. UP #008 commemorates these opening scenes, often clichéd, sometimes bizarrely inventive, but always supremely fake. Taken out of context, (without the pornographic scenes that follow) they tell a different story. Humdrum scenes of chess playing, coming to the assistance of a fallen roller skater, or a job interview take on supposedly sexual (but ultimately comical) overtones when the viewer is supplied with the knowledge of what is to come.
I recently showed these images to a friend who is studying Visual Anthropology who like me thought there was far more to them than meets the eye. Aside from being embodiments of the various cultures they were produced within (which is in itself a fascinating guessing game) there’s also an intriguing off-hand fantasy element to them that could only reveal itself within the context of ‘afterthought’ images which though produced for public consumption don’t actually have to be any good as they’re mere accompaniments to the ‘main event’.
Anyway, to the actors, actresses, and art directors involved in these photos and of course Eric Kessels and his team I salute you all for making me laugh whilst making me think.
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