Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I understand that in Germany, ‘Grabeland’ are small lots of land - on what is otherwise unused or marginal land - that are used for growing vegetables and such. Rather similar to Allotments in Britain (which, I've discovered are really not quite the same as what Canadians call "Community Gardens" - Allotments - and, I'm guessing, Grabeland - have a very distinctive sub-culture of their own).

My friend EBK Jensen writes this about his Grabeland - Renaturation photographs

Last November when I got me a camera again after many years without I started taking pictures in a small area close to where I live. A small strip of land running along a little creek, the Bornbach. This land had been used as ‘Grabeland’: small lots of land to be used for growing vegetables. Around many cities and centres of industrialization in Germany ‘Grabeland’ was let for little money to workers and other poor folks. The idea was mostly to help those people feed their families.

Traditionally ‘Grabeland’ was different from ‘Kleingärten’: Those were meant for recreational purposes, ersatz gardens for families living in small flats. Where Kleingärten have strict rules tight organization in clubs life in a ‘Grabeland’ was more individual, less organized. There were hardly any rules for how to build and what to plant and people didn’t care for those rules much anyway....

The ‘Grabeland’ along the Bornbach however met the fate of most such areas: local politicians and administration decided it had to go. Instead of the unruly ‘Grabeland# there would be a brand new neat ‘Kleingartenverein’. And not only that: the area also would be renaturalised. The Bornbach would be remade into a ‘natural’ creek with broader banks, providing space for birds, dragonflies and frogs...

So the tenants had to go. Most were old people, many of whom had spent good parts of their lives in their lots among trees and shrubs they or their parents had planted decades ago.

The huts were demolished, big piles of rubble removed. For several weeks the plants and trees were standing alone around the gaping breaks. Then finally a landscapers company moved in with heavy machinery. Only a choice few trees were left standing, mostly rare old apple trees. The photos in this gallery have been made in the time between the demolishing of the huts and the end of the final clearance of the land.

I am thinking about making pictures of the newly naturalized state of the area but I’m not sure yet if that really interests me.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sally Mann's Motherland

I've always been drawn to Sally Mann's work. The photographs of her son and daughters childhood are superb and speak to childhood and growing-up better than any other work I know.

Many of those photographs were situated in a particular landscape, which was almost as much a separate character in that work as the children.

After her children had grown up, Mann spent more time focusing on that landscape - especially the Southern landscape of her own life and childhood, as well as exploring further afield, but still remaining in (and re-imagining) the South.

Clearly influenced by Brady and O'Sullivan and the other Civil War photographers (among others), she also utilised their techniques, working with the very awkward wet collodion plate process. What, in the hands of another photographer, could have very easily lead to a sort of Civil War Re-enactment type of photography, with perfectly replicated glass plates, in Mann's hands become a process and way of seeing that incorporates wounds and faults, damage and lucky accident - the process melding with her vision to produce some quite exquisite and memorable photographs.

The first part of the work was published as a gallery monograph called Motherland (which I prefer as a title). As it expanded beyond that, it was later published in the book Deep South. One thing I find about all her work is that it always feels honest and genuine.

There is a video here and here of Mann talking about her work, as well as some further info here

Finally, I feel her other recent work, What Remains, is also an important work. Despite the amount of violence on TV, in the movies and on video games, despite the real life (and death) violence of the news hour and war in Iraq, despite Six Feet Under, death still remains one of the last taboos, one of the last mysteries. Mann addresses death and loss in her own unique way in What Remains - but that's for another time.

New Gursky work

Guðmundur pointed me to some apparently new work by Andreas Gursky. Unfortunately my German is so bad and rusty I can't make out much of the accompanying text... can anyone come up with a better translation of the title than Google's: “reality is to be at all only represented, by designing it.” hmmm. Update: Joerg gives us a translation of "You can only show reality by constructing it." or maybe "you can only represent reality by constructing it"

The gist of what I can get is that Gursky is following along his route of constructing fabricated pictures around his existing theme of globalisation. Though to me with these he seems to be much more consciously designing "patterns" into his work than a lot of his previous work - building on what he did with the big hotel lobby interior etc?

And I must admit to having a bit of sympathy with this googleism: the pictures of the photographer Andreas renowned internationally gursky fascinate and irritate at the same time.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Nuri Bilge Ceylan - Turkey Cinemascope

A fascinating set of panoramic photographs taken by Turkish film maker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (done while he was making his recent film Climates). From various reviews:

"That Nuri Bilge Ceylan takes photographs is no surprise: both 'Uzak' and 'Climates' have photographers as protagonists and his films are notable for their visual precision and poetry. Moreover, if his cinema can be said to resemble anyone else's, it's that of Abbas Kiarostami, whom Ceylan admires and whose cinematic work is also complemented by photographs notable for their serene and mysterious beauty. But as the Turkey Cinemascope' exhibition of Ceylan's photographs at the recent Thessaloniki film festival revealed, it would be wrong to push a Ceylan-Kiarostami parallel too far. True, as Kiarostami favours landscapes in rural Iran, so many of Ceylan's photographs depict villages, country roads and farms - often with Mount Ararat towering in the background. But there the resemblance ends. It's not just that Ceylan also takes pictures of cityscapes and people, but more crucially that the photographs in this exhibition, all shot with a digital panoramic camera, look so like paintings....

Horizons, pattern, predominantly black and white with thick daubs of colour: clouds, walls, people. Figures dwarfed by landscape. Silhouettes of men, women and children of a size with those of birds and animals. The tiny figures, often against snow, reminded me of Brueghul. In one photo of pigeons in a snowy Istanbul square the flock of birds in the foreground are the same size as the people in the distance, and a flying bird's outline magically fuses with that of a girl so that she has wings as well as dancing legs. Full of dark and full of light, both brooding and airy, such resonant and moving photographs.

And then, the next day, I went to see the film, a sensitive, subtle, beautiful film, set in Istanbul, by the sea, amidst ancient ruins, and in a town of Eastern Turkey in mid-winter (like walking into Orhan Pamuk's novel, Snow). And a bleakly, brutally realistic depiction of the hurting, hating side of love, wherein the male protagonist, played by the director, takes photos - the photos in the exhibition, surely, for as he went about his work, on location, was when he took them. He takes photos instead of relating to his wife on holiday, instead of finishing his doctoral thesis. He poses a young taxi driver, his strong, young face against the landscape, a shot like several in the exhibition. The youngster, with eagerness that contrasts touchingly with his macho pose, asks for a copy to give to his girlfriend, writes his name and address on a post-it note, and in the next scene we see the photographer pull it from his pocket with his cigarettes at a cafe table, screw it up and toss it in the ashtray."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Field Notes - Prince Albert

Field Notes - Prince Albert. Pictures from a long term project looking at the prairie city of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

“I love these pictures. They have a kind of fragile, tentative beauty that I associate with such northern places (including my own home town) where the idea of civilization itself seems an experiment, on probationary status.” John Szarkowski

tim atherton

Jeff Wall @ MoMA

Jeff Wall's big retrospective show is up now at MoMA. He managed to get himself two articles in the NY Times this weekend as well as one in Time Magazine. One here and one several pages longer here - The Luminist:

"Jeff Wall’s large color transparencies mounted on electric light boxes fill 10 galleries at the Museum of Modern Art with a pulsating and purposeful, if slightly sedate, optimism. Alluring to the point of transfixion, the 41 works measure as much as 10 feet high or 16 feet across. These are outright gorgeous, fully equipped all-terrain visual vehicles, intent on being intensely pleasurable while making a point or two about society, art, history, visual perception, the human animal or all of the above...

Moreover, they combine the stillness and artifice of painting with the light and heat of film; the awkward immediacy of theater with the slick impersonality of advertising. The people are often nearly life-size, so at times it seems that we might almost step into the unnaturally radiant landscapes and interiors they inhabit.

With their Donald Judd-like stainless steel boxes and Dan Flavin-like fluorescents, Mr. Wall’s glowing images turn the photograph into a Minimalist object. They also push the nearly trompe l’oeil illusions of Photo Realist painting to extremes, without so much as lifting a paint brush. In other words, the works make the most of the most diametrically opposed art movements of the 1960s.

Yet the medium here is not so much the message as a magnet, one that snares our attention and compels us to sort through both the vivid details and the underlying layers of meaning, intention and process. You can emerge from the experience with a sharpened awareness of art’s ability to sharpen awareness — whether of the crushing effects of war, poverty and racism or of the communicative power of art."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Photobook Vols. I & II by Parr and Badger

The Photobook Vols. I & II by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. These two books are a must for any photography book compulsive

Vol I came out a couple of years or so ago, Vol II came out last year (there may be more to come?)

Each takes a thematic but eclectic survey across the history of the photo book

Volume I takes overview of the development of the photobook, from the first by Fox Talbot et al the dawn of photography to Japanese photobooks of the 1960s and 70s, via the modernist and propaganda books of the 1930s and 40s

Volume II has the following chapters:

1 Explosion - The American Photobook since the 1980s

2 Common Market - The European Photobooks since the 1980s

3 Without Frontiers - The Worldwide Photobook

4 Appropriating the Photograph - The Artist's Photobook

5 Point of Sale - The Company Book

6 Looking at Photographs - The Picture Editor as Auteur

7 The Camera as Witness - The 'Concerned' Photobook since World War II

8 Straight no Chaser - The New 'New Objectivity'

9 Home and Away - The Photobook and Modern Life

Epilogue - The Ultimate Photoboook

The are some fairly obvious choices listed - The Decisive Moment, American Photographs, The Americans (and in volume II, books by Shore, Gursky, the Bechers) But there are also some listed and described which may send you scurrying to , as well as some books you would probably never imagine had ever been printed and published - e.g. 10 Years of Uzbekistan, The Book of Bread and Waterfall Rapture - Postcards of Falling Water: My Addiction My Collection.

Parr is an obsessive photo book collector (by all accounts they fill his house almost from floor to ceiling). Badger provides the historical detail and context for each book.

Asked about their favourites, here are some of Badger's choices:

"The Pond (1985) by John Gossage – "Adams, Shore, Baltz – all the New Topographic photographers made great books, but none are better than The Pond.

"Alphabet of Spiritual Emptiness (1946) by Zdenek Tmej – "Extraordinarily rough, lyrical book made clandestinely during the war by a 'guest worker' of the Nazis.

and here some of Parr's:

"Checked Baggage (2004) by Christien Meindertsma – "This book has almost more resonance now than when it was originally published. A brilliant and simple idea that hits you directly between the eyes.

"Industriia sotsializma (1935) by El Lissitsky – "The design and imagery are so bold that opening and viewing this takes your breath away.

It's also fun to check through your own library and see how the books on your shelves match up, as well as reading their comments about any of your favourites

Though I must say one unfortunate side effect of the two volumes has been to drive up the price of certain books, especially those long out of print. Try finding a decent priced copy of the brilliant (but at one time "just another" aperture monograph) The Pond by John Gossage. In fact, try finding a copy at all now.

All in all a great way to while away the winter afternoons. (Oh and one book I think they should have included - Passing Times by Peter Korniss)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Gear Fondling part 1 - the Phillips Compact II 8x10

Okay, these posts are normally about as far away as you can get from a camera fondling blog, but every now and then there is a bit of kit that really just can't be ignored. In this case, because it makes the job of photography so much easier

The first on this infrequent list is the Phillips Compact II 8x10. 8.5lbs of perfect field camera. As the name suggests, compact, lightweight and rigid. Quick and easy to set up and use. Doesn't have the old world beauty (or weight and annoying quirks) of a Deardorff. Doesn't cost nearly so much as a ritzy titanium and tropical hardwood Ebony from Japan.

Made by Dick Phillips (a photographer and retired dentist if I'm not mistaken) it's basically the stealth bomber of 8x10 cameras.

Simply couldn't do without it. Combine it with the fantastic little Kowa-Graphic 210mm 6.8 lens and you are set to go.

(some info here too in the Phillips Explorer page)

(Photos courtesy of Marco Annaratone)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Little People Street Project

(Cash Machine)

Okay, these are just kinda fun. But I do like the overall idea as well as the execution:The Little People Street Project

(Pinned Down)

(BTW - when I was googling Calvino's Invisible Cities, I came across a similar site where someone built miniature cities like this, in stairwells and alleyways. Anyone know the url?)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wild Things - John Brownlow

John Brownlow has been working on his Wild Things project for at least the last couple of years (hadn't noticed he was up to Wild Things XV already...). While he does use 4x5 for some of the work, he is very good with the Noblex pano, which seems especially suited to this kind of view. In fact in general I think I have probably seen more pano shots that fail rather than work, but not in John's case - he has certainly mastered it. He has also worked some in black and white and some in colour - though I think (as I find for my own "twig" project) the black and white seems to work best.

Brownlow is part of a small group who have been throwing ideas back and forth about photographing this same subject from somewhat different perspectives and under different names - Wild Things, Only A Green Thing, Immersive Landscapes, Twigs, Bethicketted....

While John really works with the whole tangled and messy aspect of these views, what also comes across to me a quite powerful lyricism in the pictures (and it's also well worthwhile to the links on John's website to see bigger versions of the panos - the size on Blogger really doesn't begin to do them justice). I'd really like to see some of the big prints John has made of these.

"The tree that moves some to tears of joy
Is in the Eyes of the others only a Green thing
that stands in the way.
Some See Nature all Ridicule & Deformity,
& by these I shall not regulate my proportions;
& Some Scarce see Nature at all.
But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination,
Nature is Imagination itself.
As a man is, So he Sees.
As the Eye is formed, such are its Powers."

William Blake

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Claude Pauquet's French Seaside

Someone recently told me that French photography had been in the grip on Henri Cartier Bresson, the instant décisif and the tradition of photojournalism for so long that for a photographer to take up serious large format photography, with it's slower and more more thoughtful approach, was grounds for mockery and possibly professional suicide. I'm certainly glad at least one photographer took up the challenge...

In Claude Pauquet's work I'm struck by how much the French Seaside looks like the English Seaside - both sides of the Channel seem to have much in common. Indeed, for generations there has been a regular too and fro of those who live on the two coastlines, from smugglers, to fisherman to tourists. Caravan sites, seaside cottages, amusement parks and abandoned beach shacks seem to dot the landscape of both regions.

Growing up in Sussex, every few months through the spring and summer we had a French onion seller - his bicycle and trailer festooned with strings of garlic and onions - come door to door. It didn't seem the least bit unusual that he would travel across by ferry and spend a few weeks selling on the English side of the Channel. I feel I could have easily taken many of these photographs along the coasts of Sussex or Dorset or Devon.

"From 2002 to 2006, Claude Pauquet began a trip between the Atlantic coast and the Channel coast, from Hendaye to Bray-Dunes. He was very close to the coasts to take the pictures , travelling from one place to another in order to explore a border-line between the shores and the ocean, between the natural landscapes and the unspecified spaces."

I like the sense and feel these pictures give of these places - which are indeed transition zones in many different ways.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lee Miller

( 'Portrait of space'Near Siwa Egypt)

Lee Miller seems to have had more lives than the average Buddhist Master. As a child I remember my Grandmother pointing out a rather elegant woman in Eastbourne as Lady Penrose. It was only many years later I realised that was Lee Miller the photographer.

Miller went from sought after model to Surrealist muse, to surrealist photographer to fashion photographer to war correspondent.

(Lee Miller by Man Ray)

As well as her fashion work, she photographed in Egypt after she married Aziz Eloui Bey and became fascinated with long distance desert travel (think The English Patient). In Paris she was friends with, and often muse to, Breton, Picasso (who painted her several times), Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst and others, as well as a recurring subject of Many Ray's camera. She also went on to set up her own studio in Paris.

(Fire Masks - worn as protection from incendiary bombs)

On the outbreak of war she found herself in London where she worked as a correspondent for Vogue, covering the Blitz and wartime Britain. Shortly after D-Day she travelled as a war correspondent/combat photographer to France, covering the siege of St. Malo, the liberation of Paris, on to Frankfurt and Leipzig and, memorably, the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau, finishing up at Hitlers lair in Bavaria

(Dead SS Guard floating in canal Dachau)

After the war she married Roland Penrose - who she had known from Paris- having divorced Bey. Penrose was just about the only English Surrealist (is there a more unlikely name for a surrealist than his?) and she eventually settled with him on a farm in Sussex which became a gathering place for everyone from Picasso to Henry Moore to Man Ray.

(The Shadow of the Great PyramidEgypt)

Miller's photography at this point wasn't terribly well known beyond the publications it appeared in. It was only in later years that her son Anthony brought much of it to light again and her varied career - and her photography - became more widely known.

There are a number of good books of her work out there Lee Miller's War, The Lives of Lee Miller etc - as well as a good biography.

(In Hitler's bath, Munich)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fulvio Bortolozzo

At first glance some of Fulvio Bortolozzo's work , especially the daylight pictures, seems like Basilico in colour - which isn't a bad thing at all. There are a lot of images on his site (which is mainly in Italian). I also think I can detect the influence of Luigi Ghirri, who seems sadly so little known outside Italy. And yes, I'm still a sucker for urban and suburban cityscapes. Certainly there is a lot of it out there - but for a a huge percentage of us in the West, it's where we live. We might like to take our vacations by the sea or in Morocco or Costa Rica, but we spend most of our lives in the places these photographers depict. I certainly don't think this vein has been at all exhausted in terms of photographers trying to understand it and make some kind of sense out of it by means of their work (though it's getting harder, and the bar should certainly keep being raised).

Bortolozzo has managed to depict something of the contemporary Italian urban condition and has done so while making use of a subtle - almost beautiful - colour palette. But he never prettifies it.

A while ago I had grown a little weary of the amount of urban night photogaphy that seemed to be coming at us. I don't know if it's that the stream has dried up a bit now, or the quality has improved, but I've come across a few examples recently that don't seem nearly so repetitive (I'll probably post more soon).

Fulvio has some night work on his site that is certainly worth looking at. I like especially his Olimpia where the work becomes the trace of Bortolozzo's walking through the nocturnal cityscape of the new olympic Torino and also the wider theme of Scene di passaggio (Soap Opera) where the work puts in chronological sequence the representations of the places that are the scenic spaces for the Soap Opera in which I play the protagonist role: my life. I love the idea of "the soap opera that is my life..."