Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Subversion of Images Surrealism, Photography, and Film at Fotomuseum Winterthur

From February 27 to May 24, 2010, the Fotomuseum Winterthur is presenting the exhibition The Subversion of Images - Surrealism, Photography, and Film, an extraordinarily rich survey of Surrealist photography. The exhibition comprises over 400 photographs, films, and documents: from very famous photographs by Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, Raoul Ubac, Jacques-André Boiffard, and Maurice Tabard to unknown pictures, to magazine publications, artist's books, advertisements, to fascinating "raw, found documents", to photo booth photographs, and group portraits of the Surrealists. The exhibition also offers an opportunity to discover lesser-known photographic works by Paul Eluard, André Breton, Antonin Artaud, or George Hugnet, photographic games by Leo Malet or figures such as Artür Harfaux or Benjamin Fondane. More than twenty years after the last major review of the subject, "L'amour fou - Photography & Surrealism" (1985) by Rosalind Krauss and Jane Livingstone, the exhibition The Subversion of Images - Surrealism, Photography, and Film extensively demonstrates and discusses the openness, diversity, and innovation with which the Surrealists employed photography.

The formal language of Surrealism has long since found its way into everyday life via fashion, advertising, and the media. Today the term Surrealism brings together everything that appears magical, dream-like, and incomprehensible. It is often forgotten that the Surrealists were artists and writers who worked very incisively toward changing the world and gaining self-knowledge and who also reflected critically on social-political questions. The surrealist avant-garde considered itself to be a revolutionary countermovement to the bourgeois system of values. Through new imagery, they investigated existence during the interwar period, a time of great social and political instability, and they deconstructed received ways of seeing and thinking through various artistic strategies. Photography seemed to best fulfill the Surrealists' needs as their medium of choice.

The title "Subversion of Images", given to a photo series by Paul Nougé by the Belgian Surrealist Marcel Mariën, is intended to inspire reflection. For the Surrealists, the challenge was certainly to overthrow images, and in this way to alter forms of representation. Yet it is equally - and perhaps even more so - about overthrowing through images, confusing the existing conditions of reality. "Over time the true revolutions," Breton wrote, "will be carried out through the power of images."

This is a great show, I saw it last November at Beaubourg in Paris. The show was in fact organised by Centre Pompidou (Beaubourg) and curated by Quentin Barjac among others.

The photograph is: Roger Livet, Une regrettable affaire (A regrettable affair), c. 1947, from the album of the same name with
19 photographs, created during the revision of the film Fleurs meurtries (Bruised Flowers) c. 1929 
gelatin-silver print, 22,3 x 28,1 cm
 Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'art moderne, Paris 
© J.-E. Livet

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Auckland - On the way....

... to the video store tonight I made a few pictures.... here are some. The store is 10 minutes walk up Ponsonby Road from my house. The DVD's I got are: Flame and Citron, a Danish drama from 2008; Nine Queens, a drama from Argentina made in 2000 and George A Romero's Diary of the Dead made in 2007. My god, it looks like a boys night in.... well I can keep them for a week...

.... some nights when I walk up Ponsonby Road I can't see a single photograph I want to make and of course some times I can't see a single DVD I want to rent either.... funny World!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Photographers whose work I like - No 1 / Andrew Phelps

From time to time I'm going to post work from photographers whose work I like. Andrew Phelps is the first.

Andrew is an American photographer who has been living in Europe since 1990. His work is influenced by the cross-cultural lifestyle he now leads, dividing his time between the deserts of Arizona and the Alps of Austria. Alongside a constant pursuit of new work, Andrew keeps a blog about special edition photography books called Buffet. And well worth a look it is too......

Here are four pictures from Andrew's recent book Not Niigata. Andrew writes:

Not Niigata

When traveling in a foreign place, I tend to be fascinated with both the exotic and the mundane. The two are often one and the same, especially in a place where the gap between old and new is astronomical. In most modern societies, tradition, history, and religion have etched a deep set of rituals and codes which are being tested and expanded as cultural homogenization begins to question set systems and ideologies. My interests in Niigata, and Japan in general, lie within documenting this gap.

But what does it mean to photograph with the pretense of documentation? I find it is easy to get caught up in chasing an illusion of what I think a place should look like; preconceptions are powerful and the quest to understand a place often leads to a greater misunderstanding. The best I can do is tell the story of my 3 weeks of traveling and responding visually to a place I don’t necessarily understand. It is the story of not understanding Niigata.

My way of working is a bit like making a poodle or a swan out of a shrub. Small bits of the mess are snipped away until some sort of form starts to take shape. The fine-tuning is thus the most difficult, and great plans often fall away to luck and circumstance. A bit of vision is required, but paying attention as I move along is infinitely more important. I stumble with a map, make a wrong turn and bump into someone who gives me a half hour of their time or points me in a new direction. In the end, if all goes well, I end up with something that may slightly resemble a poodle or a swan. But it’s definitely neither a poodle nor a swan, and it is certainly not Niigata.
Sado Island, February 2009

Saturday, February 20, 2010

William Eggleston's Guide, 1976 - John Szarkowskis's introduction

At this writing I have not yet visited Memphis, or northern Mississippi, and thus have no basis for judging how closely the photographs in this book might seem to resemble that part of the world and the life that is lived there. I have, however, visited other places described by works of art, and have observed that the poem or picture is likely to seem a faithful document if we get to know it first and the unedited reality afterwards - whereas a new work of art that describes something we had known well is likely to seem as unfamiliar and arbitrary as our own passport photos.

Thus if a stranger sought out in good season the people and places described here they would probably seem clearly similar to their pictures, and the stranger would assume that the pictures mirrored real life. It would be marvelous if this were the case, if the place itself, and not merely the pictures, were the work of art. It would be marvelous to think that the ordinary, vernacular life in and around Memphis might be in its quality more sharply incised, formally clear, fictive, and mysteriously purposeful than it appears elsewhere, endowing the least pretentious of raw materials with ineffable dramatic possibilities. Unfortunately, the character of our skepticism makes this difficult to believe; we are accustomed to believing instead that the meaning in a work of art is due altogether to the imagination and legerdemain of the artist.

Artists themselves tend to take absolutist and unhelpful positions when addressing themselves to questions of content, pretending with Degas that the work has nothing to do with ballet dancers, or pretending with James Agee that it has nothing to do with artifice. Both positions have the virtue of neatness, and allow the artist to answer unanswerable questions briefly and then get back to work. If an artist were to admit that he was uncertain as to what part of the content of his work answered to life and what part to art, and was perhaps even uncertain as to precisely where the boundary between them lay, we would probably consider him incompetent.

I once heard William Eggleston say that the nominal subjects of his pictures were no more than a pretext for the making of color photographs - the Degas position. I did not believe him, although I can believe that it might be an advantage to him to think so, or to pretend to think so. To me it seems that the pictures reproduced here are about the photographer's home, about his place, in both important meanings of that word. One might say about his identity.

If this is true, it does not mean that the pictures are not also simultaneously about photography, for the two issues are not supplementary but coextensive. Whatever else a photograph may be about, it is inevitably about photography, the container and the vehicle of all its meanings. Whatever a photographer's intuitions or intentions, they must be cut and shaped to fit the possibilities of his art. Thus if we see the pictures clearly as photographs, we will perhaps also see, or sense, something of their other, more private, willful, and anarchic meanings.

Photography is a system of visual editing. At bottom, it is a matter of surrounding with a frame a portion of one's cone of vision, while standing in the right place at the right time. Like chess, or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite. The world now contains more photographs than bricks, and they are, astonishingly, all different. Even the most servile of photographers has not yet managed to duplicate exactly an earlier work by a great and revered master.

The reader can demonstrate the point by clicking off a roll with the family Instamatic or Leica without moving from his chair: point the machine at random this way and that, quickly and without thought. When the film is developed every frame will define a subject different from any defined before. To make matters worse, some of the pictures are likely to be marginally interesting. Even the automatic cameras that record the comings and goings in banks describe facts and relationships that surprise mere eye-witnesses.

It is not easy for the photographer to compete with the clever originality of mindless, mechanized cameras, but the photographer can add intelligence. By means of photography one can in a minute reject as unsatisfactory ninety-nine configurations of facts and elect as right the hundredth. The choice is based on tradition and intuition - knowledge and ego - as it is in any art, but the ease of execution and the richness of the possibilities in photography both serve to put a premium on good intuition. The photographer's problem is perhaps too complex to be dealt with rationally. This is why photographers prowl with such restless uncertainty about their motif, ignoring many potentially interesting records while they look for something else.

The American photographer Robert Adams has written about this process of prowling, and its purpose: "Over and over again the photographer walks a few steps and peers, rather comically, into the camera; to the exasperation of family and friends, he inventories what seems an endless number of angles; he explains, if asked, that he is trying for effective composition, but hesitates to define it. What he means is that a photographer wants form, an unarguably right relationship of shapes, a visual stability in which all components are equally important. The photographer hopes, in brief, to discover a tension so exact that it is peace.

"Pictures that embody this calm are not synonymous, of course, with what we might see casually out of a car window (they may, however, be more effective if we can be tricked into thinking so). The form the photographer records, though discovered in a split second of literal fact, is different because it implies an order beyond itself, a landscape into which all fragments, no matter how imperfect, fit perfectly." (From "Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area,")

Form is perhaps the point of art. The goal is not to make something factually impeccable, but seamlessly persuasive. In photography the pursuit of form has taken an unexpected course. In this peculiar art, form and subject are defined simultaneously. Even more than in the traditional arts, the two are inextricably tangled. Indeed, they are probably the same thing. Or, if they are different, one might say that a photograph's subject is not its starting point but its destination.

In practice it works like this: the photographer cannot freely redispose the elements of his subject matter, as a painter can, to construct a picture that fits his prior conception of the subject. Instead, he discovers his subject within the possibilities proposed by his medium. If the broad landscape refuses to compose itself economically within the viewfinder's rectangle, the photographer contrives a different but consonant subject, composed perhaps of two trees and a rock.

In historical terms it was perhaps not until the time of Alfred Stieglitz and Eugene Atget that photographers of exceptional talent learned to use the entire plate with consistent boldness. The new graphic economy that characterizes the best photography of the early years of the century could be described in terms of the conventional concept of Composition, but it is perhaps more useful to think of it as the result of a new system of indication, based on the expressive possibilities of the detail.

Gifted photographers, learning from the successes of their predecessors, quickly acquire the ability to recognize and anticipate certain aspects of subject matter, situation, perspective, and quality of light that might produce effective pictures. Original photographers enlarge this shared sense of possibilities by discovering new patterns of facts that will serve as metaphors for their intentions. The continuing, cumulative insights of these exceptional artists have formed and reformed photography's tradition; a new pictorial vocabulary, based on the specific, the fragmentary, the elliptical, the ephemeral, and the provisional. This new tradition has revised our sense of what in the world is meaningful and our understanding of how the meaningful can be described.

Imagine then, after the photographer had spent a century learning how to use his medium in monochrome, what chaos resulted when he was suddenly presented with cheap and virtually foolproof color film. The technical geniuses who developed this wonderful advance assumed, naturally, that more was better, and that the old pictures plus color could only be more natural.

The photographers understood that the old pictures were not natural to begin with, but were merely conceits, black-and-white photographs, infinitesimal bits of experience chosen because they looked good, and seemed to mean something, as pictures.

For the photographer who demanded formal rigor from his pictures, color was an enormous complication of a problem already cruelly difficult. And not merely a complication, for the new medium meant that the syntax the photographer had learned - the pattern of his educated intuitions - was perhaps worse than useless, for it led him toward the discovery of black-and-white photographs. Most serious photographers, after a period of frustrating experimentation, decided that since black and white had been good enough for David Octavius Hill, Brady, and Stieglitz, it was good enough for them. Professionals used color when they were paid to, doing their very best, without quite knowing what they meant by that.

Considering the lack of enthusiasm and confidence with which most ambitious photographers have regarded color, it is not surprising that most work in the medium has been puerile. Its failures might be divided into two categories. The more interesting of these might be described as black-and-white photographs made with color film, in which the problem of color is solved by inattention. The better photographs of the old National Geographic were often of this sort: no matter how cobalt the blue skies and how crimson the red shirts, the color in such pictures is extraneous-a failure of form. Nevertheless such pictures are often interesting, even if shapeless and extravagant, in the same way that casual conversation is often interesting.

The second category of failure in color photography comprises photographs of beautiful colors in pleasing relationships. The nominal subject matter of these pictures is often the walls of old buildings, or the prows of sailboats reflected in rippled water. Such photographs can be recognized by their resemblance to reproductions of Synthetic Cubist or Abstract Expressionist paintings. It is their unhappy fate to remind us of something similar but better.

The conspicuous successes of color photography are not many, and most of these have depended on a high degree of prior control over the material photographed. The still lifes of Irving Penn and the portraits of Marie Cosindas, for example, are masterly studio constructions, designed to suit the preferences of the camera.

Outside the studio, where such control has been impossible, color has induced timidity and an avoidance of those varieties of meaning that are not in the narrowest sense aesthetic. Most color photography, in short, has been either formless or pretty. In the first case the meanings of color have been ignored; in the second they have been considered at the expense of allusive meanings. While editing directly from life, photographers have found it too difficult to see simultaneously both the blue and the sky.

But what is at a given moment too difficult can bit by bit be grasped, and finally become possible. Clues garnered from a million failures and apparently unrelated successes educate the intuition and make possible deductive leaps to progressively complex syntheses. The clues that have been of use to today's color photographers are labyrinthine and nearly untraceable, but have surely included modern painting, color movies and television, drugstore postcards, and the heterogeneous flood of imagery that has come from the modern magazine.

In the past decade a number of photographers have begun to work in color in a more confident, more natural, and yet more ambitious spirit, working not as though color were a separate issue, a problem to be solved in isolation (not thinking of color as photographers seventy years ago thought of composition), but rather as though the world itself existed in color, as though the blue and the sky were one thing. The best of Eliot Porter's landscapes, like the best of the color street pictures of Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Stephen Shore, and others, accept color as existential and descriptive; these pictures are not photographs of color, any more than they are photographs of shapes, textures, objects, symbols, or events, but rather photographs of experience, as it has been ordered and clarified within the structures imposed by the camera.

It could be said - it doubtless has been said - that such pictures often bear a clear resemblance to the Kodachrome slides of the ubiquitous amateur next door. It seems to me that this is true, in the same sense that the belles-lettres of a time generally relate in the texture, reference, and rhythm of their language to the prevailing educated vernacular of that time. In broad outline, Jane Austen's sentences are presumably similar to those of her seven siblings. Similarly, it should not be surprising if the best photography of today is related in iconography and technique to the contemporary standard of vernacular camera work, which is in fact often rich and surprising. The difference between the two is a matter of intelligence, imagination, intensity, precision, and coherence.

If it is true, as I believe it is, that today's most radical and suggestive color photography derives much of its vigor from commonplace models, this relationship is especially strong in the case of Eggleston's work, which is consistently local and private, even insular, in its nominal concerns. The work seen here, selected from an essay of 375 pictures completed in 1971, is on the surface as hermetic as a family album. It is true that much of the best photography of this century has been created from materials that one would, from an objective, historical perspective, call trivial, for example, the wheel and fender of a Model T Ford, or the face of an anonymous sharecropper, or the passersby on an urban sidewalk; but these materials, even if slight in terms of their intrinsic, specific importance, are nevertheless public and potentially exemplary, and thus available as the carrier of symbolic freight. Eggleston, however, shows us pictures of aunts and cousins and friends, of houses in the neighborhood and in neighboring neighborhoods, of local streets and side roads, local strangers, odd souvenirs, all of this appearing not at all as it might in a social document, but as it might in a diary, where the important meanings would be not public and general but private and esoteric. It is not clear whether the bucolic modesty of the work's subject matter should be taken at face value or whether this should be understood as a posture, an assumed ingenuousness designed to camouflage the artist's Faustian ambition.

Preoccupation with private experience is a hallmark of the romantic artist, whose view is characteristically self-centered, asocial, and, at least in posture, antitraditional. If Eggleston's perspective is essentially romantic, however, the romanticism is different in spirit and aspect from that with which we are familiar in the photography of the past generation. In that more familiar mode, photographic romanticism has tended to mean the adoption and adaptation of large public issues, social or philosophical, for private artistic ends (an activity that might be termed applied romanticism, as distinct from pure Wordsworthian independence), and it has generally been expressed in a style heavy with special effects: glints and shadows, dramatic simplicities, familiar symbols, and idiosyncratic technique.

In Eggleston's work these characteristics are reversed, and we see uncompromisingly private experience described in a manner that is restrained, austere, and public, a style not inappropriate for photographs that might be introduced as evidence in court.

Those of us with a limited appetite for the color slides made by our own friends, pictures showing people and places that we cherish, may be puzzled by experiencing a deeper and more patient interest in the pictures of unfamiliar people and places that are reproduced here. These subjects appear to be no more overtly interesting or exotic than those in our own family albums, nor do they identify themselves as representatives of a general human condition. They are simply present: clearly realized, precisely fixed, themselves, in the service of no extraneous roles. Or so the photographs would have us believe. In truth the people and places described here are not so sovereign as they seem, for they serve the role of subject matter. They serve Eggleston's interests.

The simplicity of these pictures is (as the reader will have guessed) not so simple. When Alfred H. Barr, Jr., first saw a selection of slides from this series in 1972 he observed - surprisingly but in fact accurately - that the design of most of the pictures seemed to radiate from a central, circular core. In time the observation was relayed to Eggleston, who replied, after a barely perceptible hesitation, that this was true, since the pictures were based compositionally on the Confederate flag - not the asterisk, or the common daisy, or the dove of the Holy Ghost, but the Confederate flag. The response was presumably improvised and unresponsive, of interest only as an illustration of the lengths to which artists sometimes go to frustrate rational analysis of their work, as though they fear it might prove an antidote to their magic.

Barr's comment however is valuable, and suggests in concrete terms a quality central to Eggleston's work: a lean, monocular intentness that fixes the subject as sharply as if it were recalled from eidetic memory.

Reduced to monochrome, Eggleston's designs would be in fact almost static, almost as blandly resolved as the patterns seen in kaleidoscope&, but they are perceived in color, where the wedge of purple necktie, or the red disk of the stoplight against the sky, has a different compositional torque than its equivalent panchromatic gray, as well as a different meaning. For Eggleston, who was perhaps never fully committed to photography in black and white, the lesson would be more easily and naturally learned, enabling him to make these pictures: real photographs, bits lifted from the visceral world with such tact and cunning that they seem true, seen in color from corner to corner.

For many excellent reasons, most of which involve the financial problems of book publication, it would be convenient if one could claim, or suggest, that this book of photographs answers, or contributes to the answer of, some large social or cultural question, such as, Whither the South? or Whither America? depending on one's viewing distance. The fact is that Eggleston's pictures do not seem concerned with large questions of this sort. They seem concerned simply with describing life.

This does not advance us very far, since it is difficult to conceive of a picture that does not in some sense describe life. That encompassing motif is itself so broad and hopelessly unformed, with so many aspects, angles, details, sotto voce asides, picturesque subplots, and constantly shifting patterns - and none of this clearly labeled - that in fact only the description itself identifies the thing described, and each new description redefines the subject. It is not possible to describe one subject in two different ways.

One can say then that in these photographs form and content are indistinguishable - which is to say that the pictures mean precisely what they appear to mean. Attempting to translate these appearances into words is surely a fool's errand, in the pursuit of which no two fools would choose the same unsatisfactory words.

One can say, to repeat, that in Eggleston's pictures form and content are indistinguishable, which seems to me true but also unsatisfactory because too permissive. The same thing can be said of any picture. The ambitious photographer, not satisfied by so tautological a success, seeks those pictures that have a visceral relation to his own self and his own privileged knowledge, those that belong to him by genetic right, in which form matches not only content but intent.

This suggests that the pictures reproduced here are no more interesting than the person who made them, and that their intelligence, wit, knowledge, and style reach no farther than that person's - which leads us away from the measurable relationships of art-historical science toward intuition, superstition, blood-knowledge, terror, and delight.

These pictures are fascinating partly because they contradict our expectations. We have been told so often of the bland, synthetic smoothness of exemplary American life, of its comfortable, vacant insentience, its extruded, stamped, and molded sameness, in a word its irredeemable dullness, that we have come half to believe it, and thus are startled and perhaps exhilarated to see these pictures of prototypically normal types on their familiar ground, grandchildren of Penrod, who seem to live surrounded by spirits, not all of them benign. The suggestible viewer might sense that these are subjects capable not only of the familiar modern vices (self-loathing, adaptability, dissembling, sanctimony, and license), but of the ancient ones (pride, parochial stubbornness, irrationality, selfishness, and lust). This could not be called progress, but it is interesting. Such speculations, however, even if not simple nonsense, presumably relate only to Eggleston's pictures - patterns of random facts in the service of one imagination - not to the real world. A picture is after all only a picture, a concrete kind of fiction, not to be admitted as hard evidence or as the quantifiable data of social scientists.

As pictures, however, these seem to me perfect: irreducible surrogates for the experience they pretend to record, visual analogues for the quality of one life, collectively a paradigm of a private view, a view one would have thought ineffable, described here with clarity, fullness, and elegance.

John Szarkowski

William Eggleston's Guide.
Photographs by William Eggleston. Text by John Szarkowski.
Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002. 112 pp., 48 color and 1 black-and-white illustrations, 9x9".

Friday, February 19, 2010

Get The

Along with photographers Pascal Fellonneau, Nicolas Hosteing. Simon Paul Kossoff, Damien Lafargue and Philippe Taris, I'm now a member of the Paris based photo cooperative Get The Picture.... you can see my work and the work from the other members on this link:

The photographs here are from Damien, Simon, Pascal and one (well two, the diptych) from me.... I'm delighted to be in such great company!

Obama meets Dalai Lama despite Chinese warning

..... and here is a picture I made of the Dalai Lama's meeting with the late David Lange who was New Zealand's Prime Minister from 1984 to 1989. The occasion was the Dalai Lama's second visit to New Zealand in 1996.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama hosted the Dalai Lama at the White House on Thursday, brushing aside China's warning that the talks with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader could further damage strained Sino-U.S. ties.

Obama's first presidential meeting with the Dalai Lama was sure to draw a fresh round of angry complaints from Beijing, which is increasingly at odds with Washington over trade, currencies, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and Chinese Internet censorship.

While defying Chinese demands to scrap the talks, the White House took pains to keep the encounter low key in an apparent bid to placate Beijing. The Dalai Lama entered out of sight of journalists, and there was no media coverage of the meeting.

With the two giant economies so deeply intertwined, tensions are considered unlikely to escalate into outright confrontation. The White House expects only limited fallout.

But the Dalai Lama's visit could complicate Obama's efforts to secure China's help on key issues such as imposing tougher sanctions on Iran, resolving the North Korean nuclear standoff and forging a new global accord on climate change.

By going ahead with the meeting over Chinese objections, Obama may be trying to show his resolve against an increasingly assertive Beijing after facing criticism at home for being too soft with China's leaders on his trip there in November.

"Chinese officials have known about this, and their reaction is their reaction," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said dismissively on the eve of the Dalai Lama's visit.

Although admired by millions around the world as a man of peace, the Dalai Lama is accused by Beijing of being a dangerous separatist who foments unrest in Tibet.

But mindful of Chinese sensitivities, the White House has sought to strike a balance in the Dalai Lama's visit. It comes with China still fuming over a U.S. plan to sell $6.4 billion in arms to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.

Seeking to avoid alienating Beijing, Obama had delayed meeting the Dalai Lama until after first seeing Chinese leaders during his Asia trip last year.

During Thursday's visit, Obama -- like his White House predecessors -- denied the Dalai Lama the symbolism of meeting in the Oval Office. Instead they met in the lesser-known Map Room. Such distinctions signalled to Beijing that the Tibetan monk was not being received as a political leader.

Ahead of the talks, Tibetans living near the Dalai Lama's birthplace in northwest China welcomed the White House meeting with a defiant show of fireworks. The midnight display along a valley dotted with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries was a reminder that the Dalai Lama remains a potent figure in his homeland.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Auckland - Mt Roskill revisted

From Wikipedia: Mount Roskill is named after the Mount, which is to the southwest end of the suburb, is 110 metres in height, and is one of the many extinct cones which dot the isthmus of Auckland, all of which are part of the Auckland Volcanic Field. Located seven kilometres to the south of the city centre, Mount Roskill is surrounded by the neighbouring suburbs of Three Kings, Sandringham, Wesley, Hillsborough and Mount Albert. The Mount Roskill shops are located at the intersection of Mount Albert and Dominion Roads.
One of the city's larger suburbs, it was largely farmland until after the Second World War. It was a separate borough from 1947 until local government reorganisation in 1989 amalgamated it with Auckland City.
In the past, Mount Roskill was referred to as the Bible Belt of Auckland, as it contains the highest number of churches per capita in New Zealand.
Mt Roskill is an ethnically diverse community with at least 54 different nationalities represented there, making it one of the most diverse suburbs in New Zealand. A mix of Indians, Pacific Islanders, Europeans, and various East and South Asian groups make this middle class community interesting.

It was here that I grew up and lived until I was 13. Dominion Road Primary School, which I attended was across the road from our house and the suburbs shopping center was 5 minutes walk away.

I returned here last Sunday afternoon and made these photographs in and around the now tired looking shops. Gone are the family run variety stores I remember, replaced by cheap and cheerful ethnic restaurants and $2 shops. So much has changed..... although the local dairy is still there and much as it was.
The last picture is looking South to the Mount, Mount Roskill in the distance. You can see the Christmas Cross on its peak, which to the best of my knowledge stays there all year round.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tibetan New Year in Auckland....

..... on Sunday morning my friend Wendy Brown, my daughter Lucy and I set off for the Karma Choeling Buddhist Monastery at Kaukapakapa 40 minutes north of Auckland. The plan was to join the celebrations for Losar the New Tibetan Year, this year the year of the Iron Tiger. In Tibetan tradition there was much chanting of prayers and blessings followed by drinking of milky Tibetan tea with pleasantly sweet white rice. And unexpectedly the ceremony finished with one the young Tibetan boys spontaneously performing a traditional Maori Haka!
Prayer flags fluttered above the bush wet with morning rain and across the valley from the temple under a leaden grey sky bright light bounced around the row of white and yellow topped stupas ..... here are some pictures. Oh and Tashi Delek!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The book dummy, some pages.....

Here are some spreads from the dummy of ALL THE PLACES I'VE EVERY KNOWN. The first spread and the last and some pages in

Auckland University Bindery..... where craft still matters

I have just had the pleasure of having my new photobook dummy case bound at the Auckland University Bindery. Why I haven't used this unique service before escapes me. To venture into the bindery is to enter a world of old fashioned values where experience, knowledge and the pride of making a hand crafted object still matters. Friendly, helpful people too. In these days of digital everything I was amazed and delighted. And as for my book dummy I couldn't be more pleased..... another posting about that later. Here are some photographs I made.....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sotheby's New York, "Photographs from the Polaroid Collection"

In the 1960s about half of all American households owned a Polaroid camera, according to the company’s own estimates. And while the instant thrill of having a tangible record of first birthdays, prom nights, vacations and Christmas dinners was the driving force behind the company’s success, its revolutionary product also changed forever the way many artists worked. Ansel Adams captured some fabled images of Yosemite National Park using a Polaroid; Andy Warhol and Chuck Close took Polaroid portraits — of themselves, friends and celebrities — and William Wegman used a Polaroid to shoot his beloved Weimaraners.

Now some of those works, as well as conventional prints that Polaroid’s founder, Edwin H. Land, brought together in one of the most storied collections in photography — a visual diary of 20th-century culture — are going on the auction block.

The sale is the result of a different history, that of Polaroid. The company that Mr. Land started in 1937 became a victim of the digital age, going bust first in 2001 and again in 2008. The second time, after it was bought by Petters Group Worldwide, Polaroid was caught up in a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme run by the company’s founder, a Minnesota businessman named Tom Petters, who was convicted in December of fraud and money laundering, among other charges.

To pay off creditors, a bankruptcy court in Minnesota is forcing Polaroid to sell a portion of its collection at Sotheby’s in New York on June 21 and 22. On offer will be 400 photographs by Ansel Adams alone, along with prints by Mr. Close, Mr. Wegman, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney, Robert Frank, Robert Mapplethorpe, Warhol and Lucas Samaras. Together the 1,200 objects are expected to fetch $7.5 million to $11.5 million.

“It’s an amazing body of work,” Mr. Close said in a telephone interview. “There’s really nothing like it in the history of photography.” But, he added, “to sell it is criminal.”

While he and other artists would have liked the collection kept intact in a museum’s holdings, John R. Stoebner, the court-appointed trustee for Polaroid, said he had talks with several museums, including the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, but was never able to reach a deal.

The collection has its roots in the Artist Support Program, a project Mr. Land started after realizing how important artists’ input was in improving his products. It was a handy arrangement, the collection’s longtime curator, Barbara Hitchcock, explained: Polaroid provided some of the greatest talents around with equipment and film, and they gave the company photographs. “Experimentation was encouraged by Polaroid,” Ms. Hitchcock added. “It was a mantra — experimentation, creativity, innovation, pushing the envelope of photography.”

Rauschenberg, for instance, used bleach to make his large Polaroid 1990s prints “Bleacher Series: Japanese Sky” and “Bleacher Series: North Carolina,” both of which are included in the sale. He turned to the chemical after some black-and-white photos faded in the sun when he left them to dry.

As the years went by, the company amassed thousands of examples of work by Rauschenberg and other celebrated artists, many of whom relied on Polaroid’s 20-by-24-inch camera. Ms. Hitchcock recalls Warhol, in particular, as a Polaroid nut who frequently used the camera and film at the Factory, his studio. Land collected conventionally made prints too, believing that showing them alongside Polaroids would illustrate his products’ high quality.

For six days before the auction Sotheby’s plans to put the images on public view in an exhibition expected to take up its entire York Avenue headquarters. This is likely to be the first and last time the cream of Polaroid’s collection will be seen together.

What Sotheby’s is selling is just a fraction of Polaroid’s holdings however. There are still more than 10,000 images in a Massachusetts warehouse that could end up in a museum in the future, Mr. Stoebner said. There are also photographs from the collection on loan to the Musée de L’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland.

For Sotheby’s experts, holding an auction of 1,200 works is challenging enough. “It will take nearly five months to properly catalog everything,” said Denise Bethel, director of Sotheby’s photography department.

When selecting the most valuable (and salable) photographs from the collection, Ms. Bethel said she sought a wide price range in the hope of attracting new or young collectors. Thus the auction includes a Wegman dog image estimated at $3,000 to $5,000 and an Adams mural expected to bring $400,000 to $600,000.

The sale offers a particularly strong look at Adams’s work. He met Mr. Land in 1948 and was so taken with him that he became a friend of the brilliant inventor and served as a consultant to the Polaroid Corporation. In Adams’s autobiography he recalled his introduction to a Polaroid when Mr. Land took a picture of him with a prototype camera. “As it was peeled from its negative after just 60 seconds, the sepia-colored print had great clarity and luminosity,” he wrote. “We were both beaming with the satisfaction of witnessing a photographic breakthrough come alive before our eyes. For Land it represented confirmation of a dream; for me it was a thrilling experience relating to the future of my craft.”

Sotheby’s will be selling some much-loved images Adams took with a Polaroid, like “Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite” (circa 1949), estimated at $100,000 to $200,000. The rarest works will be 30 murals that he completed before the invention of Polaroid and that once hung on the walls of the company’s Massachusetts headquarters. Among the most coveted images are “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” (1941), which is expected to sell for $250,000 to $350,000; “Clearing Winter Storm,” (1938) estimated at $300,000 to $500,000; and “Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, 1944,” also expected to fetch $300,000 to $500,000.

The auction will also include portraits by contemporary artists. Lucas Samaras took self-portraits with both large- and small-format Polaroids, manipulating the image before the emulsion dried. Three of his classic works, taken with an SX-70, are called “Photo-Transformations” and they are estimated at $5,000 to $7,000 each.

The sale will include a nine-part self-portrait by Mr. Close, made up of 20-by-24-inch prints from 1987. It is expected to sell for $40,000 to $60,000. Mr. Close said the invention of the Polaroid “revolutionized my work,” giving him a tangible print to paint from as he is composing a portrait. “I don’t know what I have till I see it,” he said. “When I pull that 20-by-24 print and put it on the wall, I can change the framing and slowly I can get what I want, incrementally making it better.”

That sense of immediate gratification is not lost on other artists. The New York photographer David Levinthal said he found that using a Polaroid “lent itself to experimentation” in a way that other cameras didn’t. Over the years he has used a Polaroid for some of his most popular images. The Sotheby’s sale will include selections from his “Wild West” series, a 1987-89 project in which he created his own imaginary universe using toy cowboys and Indians. There will also be photographs from “American Beauties” (1989-90), in which he shot buxom, bathing-suit-clad dolls from the 1940s and 1950s. All are 20-by-24-inch prints and their estimates range from $500 to $7,000.

Although an initiative in the Netherlands called “The Impossible Project” is working on introducing its own version of the Polaroid, most photographers like Mr. Levinthal have moved on to digital cameras. “I love it,” he said, of shooting digitally. But he’ll always have a soft spot for Polaroid

“The tactile and tangible quality of Polaroid is unique,” Mr. Levinthal said. “There’s still something magical about seeing that instant image.”

The images: David Hockney’s “Imogen & Hermione and “Avalanche,” by William Wegman

From the New York Times, February 10 edition, by Carol Vogel

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gerry Badger and Martin Parr on the Photobook

Writing in the British Journal of Photography with their respective lists of the decades best photobooks, Gerry and Martin have this to say about the genre.

Gerry Badger -
Despite the frequently expressed, gloomy prognosis about the health of the book and the future of the printed page, one area of publishing seems to flourish unabated. Indeed, interest in the photobook has never been higher and is, if anything, intensifying, at a time when photography is subject to great sea changes and a marked degree of uncertainty, especially in traditional editorial markets.

Not all of the publishing activity is with 'regular' publishers. Indeed, large mainstream publishers such as Thames and Hudson and Phaidon, have reined in their photo-publishing programmes, sticking to tried-and-trusted names. The small independents, who are lead by the inimitable Steidl (if Steidl can be called 'small') and for whom a 1500 to 200 print-run is the norm, remain the bedrock of photographic publishing.

As with everything else, the digital revolution has made an enormous impact though. Thanks to online print to order companies such as Blurb, making a photobook is now within everyone's reach. We haven't seen the first online classic but we soon will, and at the very least online printing allows photographers to make great calling cards for regular publishers.

In the last ten years some extraordinary photobooks have been published. Picking out ten to showcase as the 'best' can only be a matter of personal preference, and if ten people were doing it perhaps few would be chosen by more than one selector. I might even choose a different ten on a different day.

A number of elements go into making an important photobook. Firstly, the work. It is possible to make a successful book from less than first-rate images, but in general, the better the imagery, the better the book is likely to be. Secondly, the package presenting the work - design, typography, and so on - can make a crucial difference. Thirdly, the sequencing and narrative drive of the book is vital - that, after all, is why photographers make photobooks, to play photographs off against each other, to create a plausible and telling narrative of some kind. Fourthly, there is the 'X factor', where these elements come together to create a special narrative world of their own, making the book stand out both as a physical and intellectual object.

As in any other artform I'm also on the lookout for newness, although not novelty for its own sake. Perhaps I can call it freshness - a pushing of the envelope, a new twist on an old tale. Here, in no particular order, are ten books from the last decade that I feel meet these criteria in an outstanding way.

Martin Parr -
This has been the decade when people have rediscovered the book. And that's been prompted by some important new references, starting with Fotografia Republica, published by Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia to coincide with its exhibition during Photo Espana in 2000 and edited by Horacio Fernandez. It was really the first to publish actual spreads from books and magazines, so we must always credit him for getting the ball rolling. Next was Andrew Roth with The Book of 101 Books (PPP Editions, 2001), whose list was predominantly American, with a few Japanese thrown in. And then of course there was my and Gerry Badger's contribution (The Photobook - A History, published in two volumes by Phaidon in 2005 and 2006), and since then there have been many others.

So suddenly the status of the book has improved dramatically and people now take it a lot more seriously as a contributing factor to our understanding of photographic culture. I have always maintained its significance, being a photographer and knowing that I and other photographers always cite books as their inspiration. History is so subjective; it's constantly in flux. It's usually written by theorists and academics, who don't have the same regard for the photographic book that photographers do. So we think of our (Parr and Badger's) contribution as being a revision of history, taking on board many books and photographers that have been somewhat marginalised and overlooked, and bringing them to the attention of a wider audience.

Better by design
First off, a good book consists of great pictures. Secondly, you've got to have the production and the narrative that really makes those pictures come through to the viewer most effectively. Every aspect of the book has to be working in its favour. One of the criteria I've used here, in my selection of books from the past decade, is whether the book explores different ways of printing, different narratives and different looks and feels. The way that Dash Snow organised his books is integral to the understanding of his work. Others are more traditional. Rinko Kawauchi's book, Utatane, is not dynamic in terms of production values, but the photographs are nonetheless beautifully laid out and simple to read.

Photographers and designers are exploring creative possibilities a lot more, but all we're doing really is catching up with the great achievements of the Japanese. They were doing all this in their post-war publishing period in a way that was so far ahead of the west it was quite remarkable. The thing that still completely stuns me is that we chose to ignore this. So until I went there in 1992, I had no idea how spectacular the books were. I'd seen the work of many of the photographers, in books such as Mark Holborn's Black Sun: The Eyes of Four, Roots and Innovation in Japanese Photography (published by Aperture in 1986) and curated into shows such as John Szarkowski's New Japanese Photography in 1974, and I liked the pictures. But it's only when you see the books that you realise how amazing they were as vehicles for ideas within photography.

Now we've caught up, and the design aspects of books are so much bolder and more adventurous than in the 1960s and 70s. That was the great heyday of American photography but the books they were producing were not as exciting as the actual work, and you'd have two white pages with a picture on the right. At the same time, the Japanese were exploring full bleed, special cuts and all kinds of other things. Occasionally in Europe and America you'd have someone like William Klein in 1956, who would tear up these rules and do something radical, but in general we were much more conservative. Now the playing field is much more level and we are learning what the Japanese learnt 30 or 40 years ago. This is evident in some of the books in this selection.

We need and require mainstream publishers, but their books tend to be a lot more conservative. So the real workshop, and the place where people can experiment with ideas, is small publishers, or indeed self-publishing. The quality and variety of print-on-demand books is improving. When people like Blurb first appeared they too were very conservative, but they are constantly improving. In another 10 years time, you'll find many more photographers self-publishing their own Blurb books.

One thing that's problematic with all this is that all photographers believe they deserve a book, and that it will have a dramatic affect on their careers. Sadly, very few of these books capture the imagination and become a cult item. For most books, if you sell 500 you're very lucky. Few have the momentum of some of the books here, which are celebrated and collected and known as being important signposts in photographic publishing.

The reason Japan was so successful in the post-war Provoke period was that designers were literally given pictures by photographers and asked to come up with the ideas. Total collaboration with amazing designers such as Tadanori Yokoo allowed photographers to create these incredibly exciting books. But the potential is still underexploited - as is the capacity to be bold, to be exciting, and to really think and problem solve. It's getting the balance right. You've got to have the right project and the right vehicle to bring it to its full potential, and that's not such an easy thing to determine. Photography is often a problem-solving exercise and so is making a book, thinking of ways of making the work you've got come out and sing on the page more effectively. So often conservative design holds things back.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Auckland - the Edit, the Book.....

..... at last a chance to concentrate on new work and new projects. And do something with old work. Back to the book edit for my new book.... as usual pictures made here, there and everywhere pulled together into a loose narrative. This book, only thirty pictures but printed large, one to every right hand page. Shown here are various mini sequences of three pictures. I have photographed the post card prints that I use to edit and make the sequence and here too a picture of the overall edit.....

Auckland - AUT ST PAUL St photography workshop 2011

At our final meal together before leaving to go back home to winter in Amsterdam and New York, Rineke, Paul and I tossed around possible names of photographers for the 2011 workshop. I wrote a short wish list on the back of a napkin which you can see here. Other suggestions include JH Engstrom and Roe Etheridge both of whom I'd already thought of and whose work I like and respect. If any reader has any other ideas please let me know......

Monday, February 1, 2010

Auckland - Rineke Dijkstra shoots Zoe Benge

These days I mostly have to bribe and generally coerce my daughter Zoe into allowing me to photograph her.
Why was it then that there seemed to be a magnetic attraction between Zoe and Rineke? Here are a couple of "polaroids", well ok Fuji instant pictures, that Rineke made yesterday just before we headed to the airport for her flight back to Amsterdam.

Auckland - Rineke Dijkstra shoots in Helensville

Helensville is a country town 50 minutes drive North of Auckland, it sits on the tidal Kaipara River and is known for its thermal hot pools and John Parry's eccentric collection of mostly Kiwi memorabilia housed in the old Helensville cinema. I usually take visitors to Helensville as the place has a charm of it's own with an ambience you won't find in Amsterdam or New York. So it was that I took Rineke Dijkstra and Paul Graham on a tour of the town. Inevitably we came across a bunch of the local teens that Rineke wanted to photograph. Of course that day we didn't had a single heavy duty camera between us and Rineke had left her 4x5 field camera in Amsterdam. Undaunted, after a few calls to friendly sympathetic colleagues I was able to borrow the gear, and a plan to head back to Helensville was hatched.

Special thanks here to John and Karen at UNITEC who lent us their Speed Graphic field camera. Chris and Steve at APIX PHOTOGRAPHIC SUPPLIES who lent an Elinchrom Quadra lighting kit, which Rineke raved positively about. Becky from Whitecliffe School of Art who lent a bunch of dark slides and was happy to load them.....

Here are some pictures from the shoot: Paul observes, Rineke shoots, the kids wait, and Zoe and Rineke look at some results....

Rineke has taken the 4x5 film back to Amsterdam for processing, I'm waiting to hear the outcome.