Hello and welcome to my photography blog. I’m a documentary photographer and writer from Manchester in the UK. You can email me at: email@example.com or watch a short film or three here on vimeo and you can read my own publications here at Issuu.
Sometimes I take photographs as visual notes about things I might later develop into written pieces or photoessays – or they might just stay as a reminder or record of something that I found interesting. This video is bit more than that, but it’s not a finished piece and might never be. Rather, it’s a bit of a ‘research’ video for my on-going thingy about memorials…
There has been an explosion (pun intended) in the number of memorials to the dead of WW1 and 2 and to recent victims of terrorism. There is a conscious attempt to link the two and portray the U.S. “War On Terror” (next stop North Korea) as being linked with the “just war” (WW2).
Any debate about the justification and motives behind this is shut down by accusations of “disrespecting ‘our’ troops” or being “unpatriotic”.
I went back to London where I had written about the memorials at Hyde Park Corner in ‘A Walk In The Park’ (2016) and observed how the public interacted with these newer memorials and compared it to how they interacted to the Remembrance service held at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which I had attended last November.
One of my favourite images in Tamryn Simon’s 2007 book ‘An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar‘ is the Braille edition of Playboy magazine, which could be proof that they did “just buy it for the articles”. You can read the rather interesting story how the U.S. taxpayer came to fund the Braille edition here. And you can look-but-not-touch at it all here…
I’ve already blogged about this (and can’t be bothered wading back through all my posts to find the link). But what I found mildly amusing was the automatic response of the anti-smut filters on Issuu – the website that I used to host the pdf of Playboy for you to see. It flagged up the 96 pages of raised dots as…
I’ll be showing three videos at Subliminal Impulse (well I won’t be there, so someone else will be showing them) – I’ve shown you one already – here’s another, which is called ‘Strange Love’. If you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove’ (which is beginning to look more like a documentary than the blackest of comedies) you’ll see what I was doing – and if it looks familiar, it’s because I tried to do the same thing with ‘Refuel’.
I can think of no where better than Chorlton-cum-Hardy for the world premiere of ‘Flag of Concealment’ (see the post below) – it (and one or two other shorts that I may not even have made yet) gets an airing in the 5th edition of Subliminal Impulse the arts workshop/salon/gig/event which will be on – Saturday 8 April, 2017, Dulcimer Bar, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 0AE. As has become something of a tradition with me, I will be elsewhere – I really will have to sort out a Skype/Satellite link up for the next one.
I made this video a few days ago whilst on holiday in the USA. I filmed it on my phone in a Walmart store. All down the main aisle, American flags were suspended from the ceiling. These Stars and Stripes were blowing in the breeze from the air conditioning units, recalling the second verse of the country’s National Anthem (the one no one knows):
“What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?”
– ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, Words by Francis Scott Key.
Given where the country finds itself, it is fair to wonder what it is “half conceal(-ing), half disclose(-ing)”.
Doubtless you’ll get the symbolism of the music – ’Charmaine’ played by Mantovani – which I borrowed from “medication time” in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos’s Nest’.
“I like photographers – you don’t ask questions.” – Ronald Reagan
Despite declining sales, newspapers still set the agenda that TV news follows, that the public swallows, then shares on social media. Lying may be a sin the press occasionally commit, but its not as serious as the sin of distraction:
The government has abolished the Child Poverty Unit, the Prime Minister announced,
WEARING LEOPARD SKIN SHOES!!!
That’s the story behind my latest distraction, PRAV(D)A (gettit? – propaganda/shoes???) –a 16 page newspaper, which mainly consists of pithy quotes I’ve copied and pasted from someone else and the choicest selection of photographs of Theresa May’s shoes that I could find on Getty Images picture library. In other words I gave myself the idea when I wrote the post ‘The Fourth Estate’ below.
Photographers try to make a politician reading an autocue into a picture that a newspaper will spend £458 on. They have to stay for the whole speech, so they snap a few full length shots, a few head shots, a few audience reaction shots then the same again in horizontal and vertical formats. Then they look to see if they can get the slogan on the backdrop to say something rude if the politicians head blocks out a letter. Then they spend the rest of the speech catching the talking head looking stupid. Or, in the case of Mrs May, they photograph her feet – or make her look stupid.
I’ve written before (generally negatively) about the practice of colourising old black and white photographs – I make a (possibly arbitrary) distinction between doing this in PhotoShop to make the photographs more palatable to a modern audience and some old photographic processes that were around before colour photography was practical and widely available.
Time recently published a web gallery of “30 of the Most Iconic and Influential Photos of All Time Colorised“the technique is so widely known now, I doubt too many people would be amazed – after all photographs have been coloured since the earliest days of the medium (though this is clearly evidence of a demand for photography to be more true to life). The technique of colourising black and white movies was justified that a modern, young audience wouldn’t watch a black and white film anymore than they would watch a silent one (or read subtitles). But proponents of the technique of colourising black and white still photographs argue that the monochrome practice makes the past seem less distant, so we are more able to empathise with what we are seeing.
I’d argue that we have a problem with empathy – but looking through Time’s “…Iconic and Influential Photos” did make me look anew at images that were so familiar as to have become almost invisible. A point in case was Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother”– probably the most famous image of the Great Depression.
Here is the image in its original monochrome and the colourised version.
The Library of Congress describes the image as: “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.” It was taken in 1936 for the Farm Security Administration (a U.S. Federal government funded organisation, and shows Florence Owens Thompson (1903 to 1983) and some of her children. Much of the image’s strength stems from the viewer being able to connect with Thompson as another human being and read meaning in her expression, even if the meanings are sometimes contradictory (resilience, resignation, strength, exhaustion etc.) The question is, is the picture better colourised? Can we connect more with her if we think she is of now, rather than the past (she died over 30 years ago)? The empathy gap can’t be bridged by PhotoShop – There’s certainly a lack of empathy for today’s migrant mothers as we see their children washed up on beaches in full HD.
Today, Lange’s photograph will usually be encountered in its context of being a classic photograph in a book about photography or a photography exhibition – which was not what Lange was being paid by Uncle Sam to do. As the photographs were paid for by the Federal Government, they have been made available to the American tax payer (and people with an internet connection) through the Library of Congress. I’ve put the images here:
We can see Lange’s original shot (the one we know was cropped slightly) as well as look at a sequence of five photographs she took of the subject (apparently she shot a sixth picture that was not given to the Library of Congress (see their site for details). The photographs were taken on a 5×4 Graflex camera, the negatives were not numbered at the time, so it is not possible to know which order they were taken, but in the February 1960 issue of Popular Photography, Lange told the story of how she took it:
I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.
There is also a wealth of articles about the photograph putting it in a historical and cultural perspective. You can even download high resolution scans of the images and colourise them yourself 😉 ).