Anyone that knows me and my ‘likes’ as far as photography goes will know that Japanese photography ranks high on the scale of things that get me buzzing, so it was a certain amount of excitement that I headed off to Liverpool last Wednesday for opening night, even if my “thing” is more centred around the (admittedly more predictable) Provoke era, the exhibition includes the work of some of those that went on to form the short-lived Vivo collective (after Fukushima’s Junin-no-Me, or Eyes of Ten exhibition in 1957). I do tend to like most of the stuff that’s come out of Japan though, from the really early to the contemporary. Something to do with their way of seeing I suppose. It’s not necessarily tied to the Western art practice, although it does feature from time to time (I’me thinking Yasumasa Morimura here).
Looking around the exhibition, there’s a good mix of work there; 11 different photographers according to the little catalogue, from Ken Domon to Yasuhiro Ishimoto, through Eikoh Hosoe and Shomei Tomatsu, amongst others. Much of the work can be considered to be in a social documentary vein, and that’s exactly what it is. However, whilst the work is effectively documenting the tumultuous post-war years from the A-bomb and occupation to becoming an economical power-house, it also represents a shift from a realism movement (Domon) to a more humanist style of photography, inspired by HCB and Doisneau…
There is much to enjoy, but a particular pleasure was seeing a wall of Eikoh Hosoe’s photographs, from Man and Woman, Kamaitachi and Barakei. These are much more ‘artistic’ than many of the others, in Kamaitachi, Hosoe photographed Tatsumi Hijikata performing the role of the titular “weasel-demon” in a butoh dance, so is deviating from the mantra of Domon and the “absolutely unstaged snapshot” (Vartanian et al, p21). I’m really captivated by the depth of the blacks in the image from Barakei (leftmost in the image above), it drew me into it. I have Kamaitachi in book form, together with others in a compilation, and whilst the book form is really nice, the “problem” when compared to the gallery print is that the image is rotated and spread across two pages. The gallery print is also much better quality, although it has to be said my copy is a reprint and I can’t comment on the original, those original artists books are something to behold.
There were also some prints from Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu (The Map), a photobook of considerable reputation; it’s regard it as the “ultimate photobook-as-object” (Parr and Badger, p286 ). Here, Kawada looks at the aftermath of the war, the bombs and the American occupation. He uses the camera and the contrast in the black and white printing to introduce a level of abstraction in the documentary – it’s really effective at what it does.
An excellent collection of images – I’ll be going back to the exhibition at least once before it’s ended, I’ve booked into a talk by Marc Feustel and I’m thinking about the book-binding course as well…
Parr, M and Badger, G (2004) The Photobook: A History volume I. 2010 reprint. London. Phaidon Press Limited.
Vartanian, I, Hatanaka A and Kambayashi, Y (2006) Setting Sun: writings by Japanese photographers. New York. Aperture Foundation Books.
Andy Warhol. Electric Chair, 1971 [screen print on paper]
As might be expected, there was a series of these images too, the same but in different colours. The repetition of the images might be thought of as desensitising the viewer to the subject matter, much as the constant flood of media in general can do, and the colours, do they serve to mask the subject matter? (an instrument of death at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York State) Perhaps the purple version above is still quite dark, but the yellow? I’m undecided on this, but it did resonate with me in terms of some of my own work on the war films, the colours they have are, in some instances, quite ‘pleasing” which can work in contrast to the subject matter.
Other work triggered thoughts. A pair of images of snub-nosed revolvers (Gun, 1981) also triggered (groan) thoughts of my own work, with the images overlapping / out of register being visually similar in some ways to the movement blur I’ve been capturing. Am I moving towards Pop Art with this current project? Maybe I am, I’ve bought a book about the subject from the gallery shop…
The next room was noisy, too many people, all chatting and I couldn’t hear the various videos and whatnot. Off to the other annex of the exhibition and an artist I hadn’t actually heard of but I did know some of her work; Gretchen Bender worked with video, some of which as I say, I knew (REM for a start). There wasn’t a lot here, but it was definitely worth the look, and in many respects brought me back to the video I watched on Sonic Outlaws
After sitting and watching the multi screen presentation (above), I moved back in to Warhol, and his large video room and The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Now this I really liked – wrap around video, music from Velvet Underground and really quite immersive. The video from YouTube doesn’t come across as the same thing – the audio is shocking (it wasn’t at the Tate), an you really don’t get the same feeling of being in the middle. No-one was dancing at the Tate either.
This was worth the admission on its own.
The prints are ready now, packaged up ready for posting before the deadline, so that’s a done deal.
The work will be exhibited in November for 10 days prior to distribution at the St John’s Centre in Blackburn, I’ll try and get in to see what’s on show, but there’s no guarantee with that.
Whilst I was there predominantly to see Roberts’ work Pierdom, the ground floor was taken over by Phillipson, so the entrance into her exhibition beckoned and seemed to be the logical place to start. Prior to the exhibition, I knew nothing about Phillipson. I still know little, other than she can be a bit risqué and works with video installations that are more welcoming than others I have seen. Now, in the past, video has been weak for me. As the art form itself, it has not been particularly captivating, and many have been what I would consider highly pretentious or just plain dull as yesterday’s dishwater. Here though, after being rebirthed from the dark and into the light of an odd new world, there is something that I found interesting. They weren’t slow and ponderous, if anything they were quite surreal which will always pique my interest a touch. And watching a video from the back seat of an old Peugeot or a speedboat on bottles of water is not something you do everyday.
It was A is to D what E is to H that I found most compelling, viewing the video projected on to the screen of the aforementioned car. Seemingly random images flowing together, narrated by a woman (I assume this to be the artist). I really don’t know why I liked this. Yes, it was different. No, I don’t know what it means or why... Well, just why in general I think. It’s left me confused but wanting more. The delivery of the audio is still in my head.
So, back into the real world and upstairs to Simon Roberts’ photographs of piers... an odd transition, but somehow also a strangely appropriate coupling - can a pier really have phallic connotations, or is that something that only comes to mind when married with Phillipson’s work? Will this be something that occurred to Roberts as he carried out his survey of Britain’s Victorian piers, recording them before they deteriorated into nothing but memory - I recall that on the day of the intended talk, Eastbourne pier was badly damaged by fire.
Physically, the 4 main prints were large and impressive. They’re packed with detail and clearly not taken with an iPhone on a family trip to the seaside - no, they’re slow, deliberate and considered. They’re also very “matter of fact”, objective; not hiding the fact that they’re deteriorating, not hiding the fact that there’s a certain unsavoury underbelly in the surroundings that may actually be lost on those that were not born in a seaside town. Maybe, as a “Blackpudlian”, I have a certain view on living in a seaside time for much of my life, a view that is not particularly favourable (can anyone look favourably on a town that was reported as heading upwards by a local councillor because a Nando’s was opening?). I see beyond the dazzle of a theme park, which I suppose I liken to put glitter on a skin cancer. But the theme park is also a subject in one of the photographs, representing an escape from reality that seaside towns can be to those that visit and leave before the gloss has had time to tarnish.
Is the theme park otherwise relevant to these images? I mention it because with it it became obvious that Roberts is not searching to show everything in the scene. Yes, the pier is there, but whilst it juts out into the sea, it’s also connected to its surroundings, and these surroundings go beyond the edge of the frame. We are allowed to explore the pier, but we are stopped from going too far from it. I guess it should be obvious that there needs to be an edge to the frame, but some might want to neatly encapsulate things - perhaps that would be the sign of a vernacular image? What I have done though is leave that frame and bring a lifetime of experience of seaside life to them, seeing beyond them. It’s a clear embodiment of Barthes’ theories that the images are different to us all because of who we are. I’ve never been to Weston-Super-Mare or Southend-on-Sea but still feel I know more through a shared experience. I may be well off the mark, but the photographs stir up feelings. I’m fairly sure these aren’t what Roberts was expecting, I suspect he would rather recall happy times, playing on the sands near the shadow of the pier or visiting the “amusements”, but there we go...
Despite what might come across as negativity for these images, I actually found them really interesting. They’re very relevant to my own approach to landscape, of how I am planning to approach my next significant project exploring what might be forgotten histories of conflict. They illustrate how a measured approach to the subject does not have to become a tightly controlled Becher-esque typology, although typology is clearly what this is.
Perhaps a “complaint” that I might raise about the exhibition is that it’s small; there are only 4 large photographs and 2 smaller ones. However, this weakness might also be considered a strength, the exhibitions USP. You see, it’s not just in Blackpool, but also in a range of other seaside towns at the same time. It’s not for people in the big cities with the fancy galleries, but it’s back with the places that it came from. It’s odd, but whilst it takes something away, I also think it’s given back something else and it’s strangely stronger for it.
Saturday’s visit to ACE in Nelson didn’t start well. Study visits have usually been organised via e-mail, detailing start times and what have you, this time though... Perhaps I just misunderstood - there was indeed an e-mail that said a talk started at 1pm, and had a hyperlink to a Pendle Art Gallery. I assumed that there would be a gathering beforehand to look around the work, then the talk would be given. My mistake, but to be fair this wasn’t necessary due to the size of the show and the way the talk was organised (previously, talks have been away from the art, not in front of it). It very nearly didn’t happen though, as I didn’t find ACE. The weblink was to a different location, not the ACE and I hadn’t realised this when I grabbed the postcode for my GPS. Still, I got there in the end and I’m glad I did as it was a really interesting talk and very relevant to where I see myself going in the coming years.
Jamie Simonds was first up with a series of photographs of American troops.
Apparently taken when he was en route to his honeymoon whilst delayed in Atlanta, these photographs show the soldiers waiting, delayed whilst heading off to serve another tour in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The soldiers looked just as bored as any other traveller stuck in an airport lounge, with very little sign of what they may be heading off towards showing on their faces. What was interesting here is the method of presentation, shown printed to what was probably 6x4, framed in cheap white IKEA frames such as might be found on any mantlepiece. Whilst this uniformity has sometimes been eschewed for an approach that might reflect actual prints on mantlepieces (potential memento mori?), i.e. a completely random one in terms of framing, here it served a few purposes. Firstly, it means that the images appear less kitsch, less gimmicky and would sit well together on a gallery wall (here they were actually displayed on boxes). Secondly, it matches the uniformity of the military dress - yes, I know that some of the soldiers are wearing a different pattern of DPM, but in general terms, I see a connection - uniformity and the military.
Olivia Robinson’s appearance in the exhibition comes by way of a book of photographs depicting levels of domesticity in a war zone. Olivia’s husband is a serving member of the armed forces, and went to the Middle East with a camera and a set of instructions of what to photograph. It could be argued therefore that Olivia is not the artist, that her husband should be credited (and I’m sure he will have been somewhere within the text of the book), however it was Olivia who directed the image making process (perhaps not quite like Gregory Crewdson, but still...), curated the images and, if I’ve understood correctly, responded to the images with some of her own. The result is something that feels extremely domestic and extremely personal whilst not really showing any people (one of the back of a man’s head is all I can recall). Due to the domesticity of the photographs, some are a little harder to place - are they home, or is war really like that now, behind the scenes at least? I didn’t spend enough time looking at the book, and the link I have for her website is dead, so this was quite a superficial reflection, which is a shame.
Another book was on show with Christopher Down’s Visions from Arcadia, a thought provoking collection of images that blended the rural idyll with men in combat gear. The landscape images are not “chocolate box” images of that idyll, but I suppose they might be termed as being quite contemporary; not “beautiful” by layman standards, but definitely pleasing in a certain way. I suppose some of the images are not so dissimilar to some of those I took for A Forest, slightly matter-of-fact and a record of what was there rather than anything overly saccharin and romanticised. Juxtaposing these with soldiers at rest gives them a very different feeling, rather than being a rural idyll, maybe there’s a calm before a storm. Soldiers in woodlands can bring many things to mind, but here they are at rest. Whilst this was presented as a book, it was a limited edition artists book; there is however a possibility that it will be published and if that is indeed the case, it will be one to look out for.
from Christopher Down’s website - ©Christopher Down
Richard Monje was next in the path through the exhibition, facing the work of Les Monaghan in a corridor. Monje’s photographs were of misshaped pieces of metal, what at first I had assumed was shrapnel but it transpired that they were all bullets, fired at something, hitting something that generally resulted in a level of deformation that is quite surprising. Seen as they are, without knowledge of what has happened to produce them, they are presented as quite beautiful objects, reminiscent in some respects of Weston’s Pepper. Why should they be shown in this way? Is it a glorification of their purpose? A romanticisation of their creation and the demise of their target? Or does the juxtaposition/conflict created between the beauty of presentation and the object itself raise rather more difficult questions for the viewer, with the moral objections they might have with admiring weapons of destruction? Personally, they also tempted me towards a forensic approach - one round was still formed, was it armour-piercing, or had it just not met with something hard? Questions...
Les’ work (From the Forest) focusses on the subject of pilot survival training, and in terms of content is perhaps closest to that of Christopher Down, in that they both feature servicemen in forest locations. Les’ work is much darker though, this darkness/bleakness perhaps intending to impart the images with a greater feeling of hardship, especially those on the website of the winter survival, thus echoing the experience of the pilots. It’s also much more within a documentary vein, he has not been allowed to even talk to the subjects, let alone direct or collude with them - doing so would be a fail in their survival training. I found a strange connection with these photographs, they connected in my mind with those I took of the forests for my own project. They’re familiar yet not. A forest is a forest you would think, but speaking as someone who has ventured into a few, there are huge differences. Would these differences mean anything to a pilot trying to survive after an aircraft has come down? Not in Europe, the courses are teaching them how to forage, how to adapt to the landscape. Maybe those operating in different climates have different training, maybe this training will become a thing of the past with the growing use of UAVs?
The final two images were large format black and white prints of fortifications by Matthew Andrew, reminiscent of the type of conflict photography images produced many years ago by Roger Fenton (those from the Crimean in the 1850s). Perhaps these images are the odd ones out though in that they are not of actual conflict or real soldiers, but have been informed by such so that they can be used for the leisure activities spawned by conflict - laser tag and military re-enaction/simulation for enthusiasts from within the general public. Being large format, they’re crammed with detail, but I can’t help but feel that they stood apart, a feeling enhanced by their location at the end of the exhibition.
On the whole, an enjoyable visit, enhanced greatly by having Les on hand to discuss the work, adding snippets of information about the exhibition as a whole.
Exhibiting artists websites, as provided (2 website URLs are unavailable to me, these have been omitted)
The video can be found online here, together with the many other videos produced by OCA.
Ok, so on the 12th and 19th of July I headed over to Bank Street Arts in Sheffield to man the exhibition, to talk to anyone visiting if they were in the mood for talking about it. The 12th of July was pretty much a waste of time as there weren’t any visitors, well not really. My sister came with me to look around as she had been unable to make it to the PV (she then went into Sheffield centre), and a friend who gran still lives in Sheffield popped in on his way to see her. Other than that, there was an architect who as an office in the building... I was quite demoralised, but to be fair it was a scorching day and visiting galleries would be fairly low on my list of priorities too - we don’t get that many of them, so why waste it indoors?
The 19th was better. It was raining!! Actually, when I arrived, there were a group from OCA looking at Pete’s work (he’d also made the journey), and the group then proceeded to wander around the rest of the gallery too (Gareth unfortunately had to leave early). There was some good discussion going on, questions to Pete about his work, to me about mine and then some commentary and suppositions on the work of the others. Later, there were even other people coming into the gallery to look around - not just people from the OCA! Fantastic!! These people all seemed appreciative, willing to discuss their thoughts. It’s fair to say that not everybody liked everything, and indeed that would be impossible - we’re 6 quite different photographers, covering different genres and whatnot. I’d like to think that everyone got something from part of it though.
There has been quite a bit of feedback, with 99.9% of it being overwhelmingly positive - with comments such as:
I’ve seen a few shows at Bank Street and this is one of the best presented. Not overloaded with work and beautifully produced. Congratulations to all of you. (B Eccleshall)
It was great to see those images on the wall! Well-done all of you. What role models! (C Banks)
I can't express how proud I think you should be of your show at Bank Street Arts. If I could visualise what I thought success looked like when I joined the OCA in 2008 it would be this exhibition. You have shown other students what can be achieved. (G Dent)
Next it will be packing it all away at the beginning of August. Hopefully, I’ll receive some more feedback then, from the gallery, from wherever. And then it’s onwards to the next one - this has been quite a learning curve, but I do like to think we got it well and truly in the bag. it’s just a shame Dewald and Tanya haven’t managed to get over...
Anyway, there were 3 of us (plus 2 wives) there for the hanging. I started with A Forest in Gallery 1, Keith started with Ironman Family in Gallery 5 and Nigel with Shattered Coast in Gallery 3. After sorting out the hanging order, the first photograph seemed to take an age to hang, but no, not really. As I was using prints mounted on forex (a kind of plastic foam board), velcro’ed onto battens which were screwed on to the walls (no idea what the wall was made of, but it didn’t need drilling and plugging), the process was really straight forward, made even more so because I had a laser level to hand that projected a perfectly square cross onto the walls, the centre of which was aligned variously to the centre height, the edge of the print or whatever. Because of this, hopefully everything I hung should be level, and all done quicker than if I’d used the string and spirit levels the others were using.
With hindsight, I probably could’ve taken a couple more prints from A Forest, the space would have accepted them without feeling too crowded - another 2 would probably have been fine. However, I do think they need a bit of space to be seen in isolation - too close and there might have been a bit of a danger that the adjacent prints would have interfered with the narrative of the one being looked at.
Speak My Language was a little more problematic to hang because the walls were not completely flat - this image is made up of two parts, and I wanted them butted up to make a single panel. With the wall being uneven, the corners of the right hand panel stood proud of the left. Taking it down and adding another batten with more velcro along the joining edge seems to have resolved it (a bit of cork or similar might be added next time I see it...)
After that, it was Dewald’s and Tanya’s work (Nigel hung some of Tanya’s), more battens and velcro and more of the same activities - measuring, marking, drilling, squaring up, fastening to the wall...
The gallery informed us they’d be tidying up the walls afterwards, rearranging the lighting, etc. so that was something we didn’t have to consider, good job really, because we kept them from closing for 10 minutes as we were finishing off. Still, job done, and I think it looked alright!
Note: in hindsight, we should have left some notes for the gallery staff as they changed some parts of the gallery between the hanging and the PV - I positioned two prints above some glass shelves that were fastened to the wall, rather than measuring where they should be. The shelves were taken down, and whilst they may well have been correctly spaced, I was sort of relying on them still being there, otherwise I would have done some more measuring. Maybe not a big problem, but there is a shadow of a doubt. Also, Pete’s work was hung deliberately 20cm lower than everyone else’s, but the gallery staff thought a mistake had been made and moved them up to the normal height - they were quite sorry when they realised why Keith had done what he had done... So yeah, post-its or a sheet of instructions would’ve been useful.
Add to this an exhibition website that Dewald has created, then there’s a certain amount out there. He also created a flyer, which I will print up and put in the gallery window.
Elizabeth Underwood, from Underwood Works and OCA has been helping in terms of the Private View, gathering lists of invitees and co-ordinating the press-release and a handout (which we had to provide the material for). The PV has been handled via Eventbrite, which I suppose in many ways is similar to Mailchimp that I use for my mailing list.
There’s probably more I should be doing, but I’m lacking the physical capacity at the moment...
That’s me in the left hand image - not the woman, the reflection!
How to hang the prints - mirror plates, strap hangers, “D” hooks... there’s many options here. I’ve opted for wooden battens to which I can attach velcro, then to the back of the forex. I suppose traditional battens would be the split kind, but then how are they attached to the forex print? Velcro seems much more versatile, and forgiving which is maybe more important - if we don’t get the batten 100% level, the velcro will allow it to be corrected. This is my first time you know...
Should I use captions - my immediate answer to this is “no”. I’m not a huge fan of individual captions, although it does of course depend on the photographs and the style of captions. Sometimes they’re really important, other times less so, especially if there is a good artists statement available. So, no captions for me, although having said that there is a small sheet with the credits for the various lyrics on it for Speak My Language.
Postcards - should I create postcards or some other promo items? Many of us have, myself included - I used Moo, a fairly cheap and flexible option, giving reasonable quality results on a rigid card stock (some offering are on slightly thicker than normal paper - very poor). I opted for two different styles of postcard for A Forest - one featuring the “official” juxtaposition, the correct images if you like, and another that just has half the image pairing so that they can be combined with another half to make a different object/forest juxtaposition when placed together. Obviously, these won’t be where the item was found, but I thought it might be nice to be a little playful... I’ve also got some postcards of Speak My Language from a while ago, so will be using those.
A catalogue - we originally decided not to have a catalogue, but in the end I wanted something for my own gratification which is developing into a full-on catalogue. Maybe I’ll make it available...
(note: the catalogue has indeed materialised with a nice introduction from Sharon Boothroyd. The catalogue is available from Blurb.)
Displaying A Forest book with the exhibition - there’s more images in the book than the exhibition, so should I also include the book with the exhibition? I’ve decided to do this, but only whilst I’m there in person (for the PV, and if I make it to the gallery any other time). I could also ask for the Gallery copy of Speak My Language to be wheeled out, but it was looking a little damp/tired last time I saw it.
Sales - do I sell my work, and if so at what sort of price? Obviously, I’d be very happy to seek my work there, but I’ve no idea about pricing. It’s a headache just thinking about it...