Thursday, May 27, 2010

Online and About Town

Image Collection Albert Kahn

Long obsessed with hand-tinted color photographs I saw a documentary on the amazing and indeed 'Wonderful World of Albert Kahn' some years ago on the BBC and bought the subsequent book an amazing early catalog of global cultures and adventures rendered in weird dream like tones. Turns out Kahn's early color process was something called the Autochrome an ethereal and other-worldly technique involving potato starch and soot.

Not content with already having invented cinema, the Autochrome was pioneered by the Lumiere Brothers who switched to stills photography after their adventures in cinema, patenting this first color process. It must have wowed a public already amazed by the new technology of the photograph when it was pioneered in 1907.

The technique went on to be adopted by those good folks at the National Geographic society and was the main color photographic process available to those early and adventurous snappers. Excerpts of the Nat Geo collection go on show tonight at the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York, check it out if you're about town.

New York Times photographer Stephen Crowley has a blog post over at Lens with a nice slideshow of images.

Jacob Gayer, Washington Tourists, Washington DC, 1926

The Synthetic Life

Ok so not exactly related to photography or the visual arts but worth marking the time in our history when we were able to bypass biology and evolution and create life in a computer. The future is here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On The Road: Brain Food

Weegee the Famous

Lovingly transcribed by Erica McDonald, this 1958 interview with Weegee is from an old LP called 'Famous Photographers Tell How'. Click the link above to listen or download.

I am a perfectionist. When I take a picture, if it's a murder or it's a drunk, it has gotta be good." -Weegee

"In my particular case I didn't wait till somebody gave me a job or something - I went and created a job for myself; freelance photographer. And what I did anybody else can do." - Weegee

I have no chips on my shoulder. I like to be constructive. As I have said, I have inspired many persons to take up photography. As a matter of fact, I inspire myself." - Weegee

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Providence, Rhode Island

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Irish Eyes

For the last little while I've been delving into the work of contemporary Irish photographers, particularly those who are engaged in long term bodies of work and I've been totally blown away by both the strength and diversity of the contemporary Irish photography scene. I decided I would try and reach out to a few of these snappers and conduct a series of interviews which I'll hopefully publish here on Milky Blacks in the coming months.

On on hand, it's been an unexpected and pleasant surprise to find so much work that both represents Ireland and 'Irishness' falling into the kind of stereotypes that make these words a little tough on the stomach.

It's also been inspiring to see Irish photographers who are pushing their way to the top of the international photography scene whether through their globe-trotting exploits or their idiosyncratic works in the fine art field.

Anyway both the quality of the bodies of work I have seen so far and the absence, in my mind, of this collective strength being represented in our twenty four hour news cycle and in easily digestible form led me to have a stab at collecting this talented lot into a kind of ongoing series. Watch this space for more coming soon and without further ado its 'Irish Eyes #01'

Simon Burch...

Irish Eyes: Simon Burch

'Kylemore 03' by Simon Burch. Copyright 2010

Simon Burch has long been established as one of Ireland's premier advertising photographers. When big clients require stunning imagery for their campaigns, Simon is usually the first name on the list in this fair isle of ours.

With a wealth of experience dating back to a classic commercial photographers apprenticeship in London, Simon brings a sense of consideration and measured execution to his photography, as well as a wealth of experience. There are no short cuts in Simon's work. He's really a true image maker, putting into the camera what he wants to see in the print, something that is becoming a rarity in our scatter gun approach to photography today.

It came as no surprise then that after four years in the making and arriving as something of a mid-career breath of fresh air, Simon's first long term body of work entitled 'Under a Grey Sky' arrived to acclaim. The series launched with a hugely successful show at Dublin's Gallery of Photography, a limited edition monograph and is now attracting some serious interest from the art market abroad.

I caught up with Simon to hear a little bit about the project...

Tell us a little about your project Under a Grey Sky…

Under a Grey Sky is a project about a landscape that wouldn’t necessarily be associated with Ireland which is the raised peat bogs in the center of the country. In the 1920's, the 'Turf Board' and later 'Bord na Mona', began extracting the peat from the bogs for commercial energy production, home fuel and gardening. Currently there’s only about fifteen years left of peat extraction before the area will be ‘exhausted. This region is probably one of the most intensive landscapes in Ireland and I wanted to show people the reality of this region.

The work isn’t intended as a descriptive piece about that area though; it was much more about an emotional response to the land, specifically my emotional response.

'Area Thirteen 01' by Simon Burch. Copyright 2010

You spent a substantial period of time shooting 'Under a Grey Sky'. How did the project change and develop over that period of time?

For me the initial excitement was the actual landscape and the black, open Bord na Mona bogs: there was a really melancholic feeling to that. What I was trying to do was to photograph how I felt about it. It was a broad feeling, but it was a start and I went from there.

I photographed mostly during the winter, not entirely, but mostly. In the summer it was almost too green and didn’t quite have that melancholy feeling that I was after. The very flat light in the winter really worked well with the kind of composition I was working with. Both the sky and the land have almost equal standing in the images and I didn’t want the skies to overpower this black, flat, featureless land.

The title slowly just came; I went through many different titles in four years shooting this project. It seemed to work, maybe there’s a little reference to the future of the area because it will be depleted so soon. There’s a sense of uncertainty there.

The landscapes are certainly ethereal, almost otherworldly...

When you’re walking around these areas you come to this realization that there’s the ground, there’s the sky and there’s you and that’s kind of it. It’s a very bleak area, so open and vast.

My father was a landscape painter and I grew up with that background. The lifestyle of being a painter and that kind of loneliness that came with it all felt familiar to me. Shooting with a large format camera and walking around these bogs that could take a whole day to walk around, I found myself looking at maybe not so much the landscape itself as what’s happened to the landscape, which is, after all, manmade.

That’s what is really interesting about this region. You’re almost looking at other people’s past actions or past decisions. Of course the photograph is a visual description of the landscape but it’s also trying to see beyond that a little bit.

'Kilmacshane 01' by Simon Burch. Copyright 2010

'Falsk' by Simon Burch. Copyright 2010

There’s rich history of projects in contemporary photography from people like Ed Burtynsky or Andreas Gursky, that deal with man altered landscapes but you veered away from that and chose to include portraiture, details and more observational images in this work as well. Tell us about those decisions?

It’s true, I could have done a complete series of these black landscapes, but I thought that was a bit abstract because people do actually live there. Although it’s a industrial landscape I wanted to give the feeling that it wasn’t just this really bleak, hostile, inhospitable place: that people live in and on that land still.

There’s something that Martin Parr described as the ‘Dusseldorf tendency’ which is a very flat and disciplined way of presenting work, that is all very similar. It becomes a very concise, complete body of work but I love the idea of looking at a book and not knowing what the next page will hold.

'Cormac' & 'Sorcha' by Simon Burch. Copyright 2010

If it were solely landscapes, I would look at one page and see a landscape and then the next page…another landscape and then the next page and guess what…another one! For me it might get a little boring and it wasn’t really what the project was about.

With the portraits I deliberately photographed my subjects indoors, mostly in sort of domestic interiors because if you took somebody out into the landscape and took their picture then they would both be lost. The sense of scale and the contrast is so great, that the person looks totally out of place there ,or equally the landscape recedes and it’s just about the person. The project was about trying to represent the two without necessarily mixing them physically.

What about your choice of the subjects?

Initially I went to Bord na Mona for permission to photograph on their lands and they said yes and they introduced me to a guy called Pat Dooley who showed me around. They have workshops there for the guys who repair the machines and so on so that was my starting point and I photographed some of the people in the workshops and I met others through them. And then I just spoke to people and talked to people and met people and it became kind of organic really, you know people saying ‘oh you should go and see my brother, he lives over there’. This is how I met the people in the portraits. They’re people who were all born in the area or have moved to the area, in deliberate fashion: they’ve chosen to live there and to me they had this great connection with the land.

'Joachim'' by Simon Burch. Copyright 2010

Are the portraits in some way intended to represent the future of the area?

I think you can become very intelligent analyzing your work after the event! But sure, maybe the portraits are about the future and the landscape is about the past and certainly being involved in the area and seeing some of the planned projects for the region you get a sense that there is a future in there. I think it’s 30000 years it took to create that landscape with all the moss building up slowly creating the peat and it’s going to be gone in fifteen years, so the region can only be changed through the people that live there now.

Justin Carville who did the text for the book titled his piece “Future Landscapes” so perhaps there is a sense of progression running through the book.

'Area Twelve' by Simon Burch. Copyright 2010

Your work has been in the advertising realm for many years, does ‘Under a Grey Sky’ mark a kind of defining point in the development of your career so far?

Yes, in a way it does. Under A Grey Sky is my first singular project and I finally found that I could do it!

There are thirty-four pictures in the series and maybe there could be more, but that’s fine. The idea of completing the project and saying ‘ok, it’s done, let’s move on’, I’ve never done before and it’s tremendous because you say to yourself ‘I’ve given something a really good go here, I’ve looked at it and thought about it long and hard and it’s not perfect by any means… but it’s not bad.’

You certainly learn an awful lot shooting advertising but you’re not really going to develop as an artist doing it, it’s do demanding from the client’s point of view that it’s more about production these days. That’s why you have to do your own projects. I’m always grateful if I can earn a few quid to take some time off to do projects and that’s really my aim. It’s not about making money at all, it’s really about buying time.

Truth be told, I probably would still like to be a painter but it probably won’t happen at this stage…and that’s fine. I’m happy to be a photographer. Photography is incredibly difficult as I’m sure you know. The complexities within a single picture can be enormous at times. The composition, the content, the lighting, there’s so many elements that have to be brought in to one picture. From that point of view, I’m still learning a lot about photography. It’s a very narrow discipline in that way and even to think about doing something else would be a distraction.

'Coolfin' by Simon Burch. Copyright 2010

Bedford, Massachusetts

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NYPH '10: The Future is Here

The 2010 NYPH photography festival takes over Dumbo once again from tomorrow night until the end of the weekend. Billed as 'The Future of Contemporary Photography' it's an ecclectic blend of shows and themes, with the Lou Reed curated exhibition 'Hidden Bodies, Hidden Stories' looking to be my pick off the page. It has some great names past and present including Ed van der Elsken, Daido Moriyama and Miguel Rio Branco among others.

Apart from that the program seems conspicuously absent of industry heavy hitters, perhaps it is about the future of contemporary photography after all.

Either way we're all just hoping there's enough free booze to go round and the sun shines so we can sit in the park under the bridge and talk about photography projects that probably will never happen.

See you there...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday: A Lover From Palestine

Jerusalem. The Arabs. A people I can't really understand in a land so full of misunderstanding. A paradox of faith and extremes. A tiny patch of light. A tiny bit of patience. Daily life. Carries on. The patch of light passes on, illuminating the others, not too far away.

A Lover From Palestine

Her eyes are Palestinian
Her name is Palestinian
Her dress and sorrow Palestinian
Her kerchief, her feet and body Palestinian
Her words and silence Palestinian
Her voice Palestinian
Her birth and her death Palestinian

Mahmoud Darwish

Sunday, May 9, 2010

And Then Palestine...

Friday, May 7, 2010

On the Road Again



San Francisco Lowdown

After a mind-blowing trip to the San Francisco Festival I thought I'd post the extended highlights in trailer form. First off Walter Salles' Linha De Passe.

Salles was the Honorary Director at the festival, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Akira Kurosawa and Francis Ford Coppola. I would never have classed myself as a 'Walter Salles fan' but after attending a wonderful event with him 'In conversation with Alexandero Gonazalez Innaratu', I am a convert. Screening a complete rough cut of a documentary charting his efforts to film the Kerouac novel "On the Road", Salles memorably twisted the Jorge Luis Borges line about Literature stating "Documentary is naming that which hasn't been named"

His love of cinema, documentary and stills photography, his knowledge and easy going manner gave me a new appreciation of previous works such as "Central Station" and "The Motorcycle Diaries" and also a candy coated opportunity to check out "Linha de Passe", his 2008 masterpiece made almost entirely with non-actors and a crew of first time filmmakers. The film, a look at a fatherless family of four boys and their mother living on the fringes of Sao Paolo, was incredible to see 'in the moment' and to appreciate the possibilities of filmmaking once again.

Inspiring stuff.

Salles' likely South American successor Pedro Gonzales Rubio seems to be making some of his own moves in the film world scooping the New Director's Prize with his debut feature effort "Alamar" which I didn't see but gets great word of mouth.

On a completely different tip was the sumptuous "I am Love", Luca Guadagnino's multi-layered epic of a bourgeois Milanese family. The film could be best described as Wes Anderson meets Antonioni and was a cinema experience not to be forgotton. Comes highly recommended for fashionistas, Tilda Swinton disciples and fledgling camera operators everwhere.

In the realm of the documentary, "Colony" was scooped in the Documentary Competition category by the powerhouse that is Lixin Fan's "Last Train Home". Surely marching towards an Oscar in 2011, the film is a deserving winner anywhere it goes. Other documentary highlights included the shell-shocked "Restrepo" by Tim Hetheringon and Sebastian Junger and the subversive "Marwencol" by Jeff Malmberg both of which fight different kinds of battles in different kinds of places but were both equally watchable. I can't find a trailer for Marwencol but the website is linked above.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

On The Road

Apologies for the lack of posting of late. I am on the road, currently in San Francisco.