Colouring Book

A version of Colouring Book by Jeff Koons at the Royal Academy during the Summer Exhibition 2011.  One of a number of versions, apparently: ‘A page from a Winnie the Pooh coloring book featuring Pooh’s companion Piglet was the genesis of Coloring Book. Koons took a magic marker to the page and colored in various zones; in the fabrication of the sculpture, he removed Piglet from the composition, which resulted in this abstraction rendered in cheerful pastel colors.’  In highly polished stainless steel, it became an optical illusion – was the sculpture transparent or was it reflecting the surrounding buildings?

Photo: Colouring Book, Jeff Koons, Royal Academy, London 2011

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Youth, Wilfred Dudeney

Youth by Wilfred Dudeney stands, or rather kneels suggestively, outside Pemberton House, Pemberton Row, London.  It was commissioned in 1955 to stand in front of the headquarters of the Starmer Group, owners of northern local newspapers, in collaboration with the architects R. Seifert and Partners. Dudeney (1911-1989) was an academic and teacher, a member of the New English Art Club and president of the Royal Society of British Sculptors 1971-75.

 

 

 

Youth is described as an ‘example of the figurative tradition advanced by modern influences’.  The stance of the muscle-bound figure and the proud stare give it distinctly unapologetic homoerotic overtones.  It combines this with a somewhat Fascist force, not to say aggression.  That Dudeney was a contemporary of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Elizabeth Frink says a lot about the diversity of mid- 20th Century British sculpture.

Photo: Youth, Wilfred Dudeney Pemberton House, Pemberton Row, London, 2011

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Berney Arms

The station at Berney Arms has the air of a remote halt in a western movie where a solitary figure, vengeful or avenging, alights and the train disappears into the distance down a single track.  East, not west, just four miles from the sea at Great Yarmouth and two miles from any road, it’s one of the remotest stations in England.  No prairie either, instead the windswept Halvergate marshes and the floating song of curlew, skylark and oystercatcher.

Photo: Berney Arms, Norfolk, July 2011

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U3AC Photo Forum 12 – Landscape

Today the Forum discussed landscape photographs submitted by members.  Twenty-eight pictures covered mountains and beaches, hills and lakes, rocks and trees, sunshine and snow.  They ranged from carefully considered, technically accomplished views to album pictures more important emotionally to the person who took them.  Some people shared the stories behind the pictures and their intentions in taking them, enriching the discussion by making it about both process and outcome.

Questions.  B&W or colour?  To include people or not?  Is a seascape a landscape?  Does the portrait format work in landscape pictures?  Are they postcard/calendar pictures or something more?  If the area of sky is not adding anything should it be left out?  And subtlety or drama?  For me the quiet pictures of Pembrokeshire and Tuscany said more than the showy scenes of the Alps and the Himalayas.  Lesson: judge the photograph, not the subject.

Photos: 1. Chear Fen Farms, Streatham, Cambs, October 2017; 2. Ouse Washes, Purl’s Bridge, Manea, Cambs, January 2011

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Deckchair

I sat in the sun

I moved my chair into sun

I sat in the sun

the way hunger is moved when called fasting.

Jane Hirshfield

Photo: Green Park, London, 2011

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Transformations

A door is a door.  A photograph of a door is a faithful representation of it.  But not always.  Move in closer and the door becomes an abstract impression of light and shade, textures and tones, forms and planes.  Look again and the abstraction becomes an acned, lined, lugubrious face, two drooping eyes and a Roman nose.

 

 

 

 

Move in closer, focus.  A section of the door becomes wholly abstract.  Or maybe not wholly.  It might be a landscape, blue sky – or is it sea – and bleached white and ochre earth. Aaron Siskind photographed details of nature and buildings and presented them as flat surfaces to create a new image, thereby becoming part of the abstract expressionist movement.

Photo: Kardamyli, Mani, Greece, May 2011

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U3AC Photo Forum 11 – Street Photography

‘Street photography: observing or connecting?’ was the question Jane Lynas and I posed to the U3AC Photography Forum yesterday.  Our starting points were that street photography: pictures people and everyday life in public spaces; relies on serendipity and ambiguity; explores new insights and relationships; celebrates and challenges; creates pictures unique to the medium; and is where aesthetics rubs up against ethics.  We presented a three part narrative: background and history; examples of my photography; and a portfolio of work by Jane.

The background looked at the development of street photography, from the earliest example by Louis Daguerre (1838) through to modern work by Harry Gruyaert (2012).  On the way it embraced: early forays onto the street (Charles Negre c.1855); views from abroad (John Thompson, c. 1973-84); the democratisation of photography (Jacques-Henri Lartigue, 1911); the organised picture (Andre Kertesz, 1928); news content (Bert Hardy, 1951); the sad ballad of American life (Robert Frank, 1958-9); street photography culture (Joel Meyerowitz, 1975); and remote photography (Philip-Lorca Dicorcia 2001).  We ended with a picture of the Market Square, Cambridge, by David Runnacles.

My part included photographs from four projects, travels, ruckenfigur revisited, travellers and mannequins, which considered street photography as observation. The pictures illustrated my approach, which is to focus on individuals and small groups picked out from the crowd, showing relationships between them or with their surroundings.  The pictures are not complex, though I aim to reveal subtle relationships and provoke thought.  They are often reflective and capture quiet moments.  Sometimes a quirky vein of humour emerges.  My challenge as the photographer is to become invisible, to wait and work around opportunities without being seen to loiter.  A long lens is a no-no; getting in close is the answer.

Jane spoke about street photography as connection, introducing this through the work of Diane Arbus, William Klein, Martin Parr and William Eggleston.  She explained how her work, which started as a project to photograph the hands of people in the street, evolved into paired photographs of hands and portraits.  This could only be achieved by: assessing whether potential subjects would be likely to respond well to a request to take pictures; and connecting with them, often in lengthy conversations. The hands reveal a lot about the people she met and the portraits take this further, sometimes in surprising directions.   Jane’s stories of the people she met were an essential complement to the pictures.

Oour presentation and the discussion in the Forum showed that street photography can embrace both observation and connection and our title suggested a false dichotomy.  The two approaches require different mind and skill sets and they exist along a continuum of street photography, not as discrete activities. With integrity, good luck and some technical ability both can achieve something that goes beyond the record.

All of the pictures in the presentation will be published at www.zimbushboy.org.

 

Photos: 1. Market Square, Cambridge, David Runnacles, c. 2010;  2.Jardin du Palais Royal, Paris, Brian Human, 1990; 3.  TGV Lille-London, France,  Brian Human,  2011;  3 & 4 Pictures from hand and portrait study, Jane Lynas.

 

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Keeping On

EPSON scanner image

On Monday I went to see ‘Cezanne – Portraits of a Life’ at the Cambridge Picturehouse.  It’s a Screen Arts production based on the exhibition showing at the National Portrait Gallery.  Fascinating insights into an extraordinary body of work, if a little over-analysed at times.  Cezanne had the wonderful life affirming view that he got better as an artist as he got older, right to the end, and died painting.

 

That’s one of the gifts of the arts: you don’t have to retire, to give up.  But to keep getting better, that’s a challenge.  Is my photography better now than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago?  I’m not sure (and I’m not the best person to judge).  It would be nice to think that it is.  If it isn’t, worse would be for it not to be different.  Well, I believe it is that: a photojournalistic approach has morphed into something that might be called conceptual, for want of a better word.  I’m content with that – for now.

Photos: 1. Huntingdon Races, September 1986; 2. From In Plain View, 2016

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U3AC Photo Forum 11 – Wildlife

Jane Greatorex on wildlife photography today.  Lots of practical advice about: equipment and how to use it; dressing comfortably for the conditions; selecting the viewpoint and catching the light in the golden hour; knowing and respecting your subject (field craft); ‘portrait’, action and semi-abstract pictures; and minimal post processing.  Also the need for patience and a seeing eye.  Nice pictures with lots of oohs and aahs.  The Amethyst Deceiver, Laccaria amethystine, was a minor revelation.

Photo: Amethyst Deceiver, Wild Food UK

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U3AC Photo Forum 10 – Cityscapes

Mike Morrish led today’s Forum meeting.  He said that the whole city is rarely the subject for photography, rather it is the context for work around architecture and human activities.  He argued that cityscape photography only starts in the early 20th century with the likes of Steichen and Stieglitz; and then moved on to the work of Paul Strand, Rene Burri, Elliott Erwitt, Denis Stock and others. (I’m surprised he omitted Nadar and Atget from the earlier history.)  The pictures he chose emphasised: environmental issues; serendipity and luck; contrasting new and old; the play of light and shade; including people to give scale; the use of B&W to create atmosphere; and how essential colour can be to some pictures.  He stressed the importance of seeing this as the photography of distinctive places.

Photo: Paul Strand, Wall Street, 1915

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Grave Humour

Fritz Spiegl trawled Britain’s graveyards and collected a mass of comic and curious memorial inscriptions.  They were collated into A Small Book of Grave Humour, first published in 1971.   Among the entries was: ‘Here lays John Tyrwitt, / A learned Divine, / He died in a Fit, / Through drinking Port Wine.’  Spike Milligan famously wanted his epigraph to say, ‘I told them I was ill’.  The inscription had to be carved in Gaelic to get the approval of the Chichester Diocese.

The humour is sometimes unintentional.  There is a gravestone in San Michele Cemetery, Venice, that simply says, ‘He left us in peace’.  These two stones in Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery, Berlin, Maryland, USA, raised wry smiles.  The name Coffin is all too appropriate; and Indiana Jones plainly faced a mortality not shared with his cinematic namesake.

Photos: Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery, Berlin, Maryland, USA, April 2011

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Flags

This house in Berlin, Maryland, displays three American icons: a stoop, a Bald Eagle and the Stars and Stripes.  I can’t claim to know the United States very well – just three visits as a tourist – but I get the impression that the Stars and Stripes is flown or worn by ordinary people as an unselfconscious sign of genuine patriotism.  In Britain flags were flown traditionally from public buildings and rarely elsewhere.  In recent years the Cross of St George and the Union Flag, or Union Jack, have become ubiquitous, the first associated with the lost cause of English football, the second with strident strains of English nationalism.  There is a self-consciousness about these domestic displays of chauvinism.

Photo: Berlin, Maryland, USA, April 2011

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U3AC Photo Forum 9 – Portraiture

Today the Forum blind-viewed around 20 portraits submitted by members, from formal studies to snapshots and street photography to documentary shots.  As such it was like comparing apples and oranges and pears and melons and posed the overarching question, ‘What is a portrait?’  Answering this required more information than was given about the intentions of the photographer and the context in which the photographs were taken. There was perhaps too much emphasis on formal considerations and how the picture might be improved by post processing.

The U3A Photo Forum now has a web site: www.zimbushboy.org

Photo: David Horan, Abbots Ripton Hall, 2016

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Assateague Island

‘After breakfast we drove from Berlin to Assateague Island, which lies off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia.  It’s a long – 37 miles – sandy barrier island with dunes and wind-formed pine trees between the Atlantic to the east and Chincoteague Bay to the west.  We parked and walked the saltmarsh, woodland and dune trails.  Hot. Ospreys hunted over the marshes and waterways.’

 

‘Picnic lunch on the beach behind a white-gold sand dune.  Gulls called shrilly overhead; in the background waves crashed and rumbled.  We strolled back along the beach ankle deep in the chilly sea – white foam, pale sand and grey-green sea beautiful in the sun.’  Berlin, Maryland, USA, 24th April 2011.

Photos: Assateague Island, Maryland, USA, April 2011

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Contrails

‘Contrails present a bit of a dilemma for cloudspotters.  On the one hand, they are both interesting to observe and often very beautiful. …. On the other hand, there is growing evidence that the preponderance of contrails is having a significant impact on the temperatures down on the ground, and yes – you guessed it – the overall effect seems to be a warming one.’  The Cloudspotter’s Guide, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, 2006

Photo: Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, April 2011

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