Dalmatians, Hunstanton, January 2020

Dalmatians, the most photogenic dogs.  ‘The Dalmatian is a breed of medium-sized dog, noted for its unique black, liver spotted coat and mainly used as a carriage dog in its early days. Its roots trace back to Croatia and its historical region of Dalmatia.’

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Shingle Street 22

Shingle Street 191231-4

‘Well, our visitors have been, and gone, and also mother and Joan, and I think they all enjoyed themselves what little time they were here, although Arthur was afraid that he would be frozen down here, as he had never been here in winter before, but he told us last night that he has surprised to find it so warm and cosy indoors.’

Shingle Street 191231-5

‘It was blowing a gale when they arrived, just before the cold rain came on, and they told us they had not been able to sleep the night before on account of the wind.’

Charles Burwood, February 1928, from Cosy in the Winter – A History of Shingle Street, Sarah Margittai and Alec Burwood, Sigma Books, 2010

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Bus Travel

Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge, January 2020

One of the pleasures of riding on the upper deck of a bus – street photography in comfort.  Brian Sadler, one of my economics lecturers, said that if the Romans had seen a double decker bus they would assume that the people on the top deck were citizens and those below were slaves pushing it along.

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Shingle Street 21

Shingle Street 191231-1

Tuesday 31st December, the end of 2019, but not the end of the disruption to the norm that extends from around December 20th to a point in the New Year when the sales are exhausted and those that have too return to work.  Today it brought visitors down to Shingle Street: families, couples and singles; photographers, birdwatchers, dog walkers and beach combers.

Shingle Street 191231-3

At low tide two middle aged men approached me and asked how high the tide came up.  I point to the strand line of feathers, bladder wrack, mermaids’ purses and whelk shells along the top of the highest sea facing shingle ridge.  They looked skeptical, said they were looking for somewhere to fish, would give it a go, didn’t really expect to catch much, just wanted an excuse to get out into the fresh air.  Their nomad camp appeared an hour later.

Shingle Street 191231-2

Mid-morning, a straw-haired woman in white emerged from a bungalow and floated across the stones, stepped down the bank and sat by the water.  She contemplated the gently rolling sea, stripped off to a black bikini, slipped into the water and dived under.  Bobbing up, a couple of strokes took her into deeper water and the longshore drift.  She swam in, crunched up the fine shingle, donned her robe and strode back over the ridges in a tight self-embrace.

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Shingle Street 20

Shingle Street 31st December 2019

A feather-topped fetish has appeared at the end of the whelk line where the shingle ridge plunges to the sea.  At its foot feathers planted in the stones shiver in the wind.

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Analog Sea and Photography 2

Ezra Stoller, installation view of the exhibition The Family of Man.

Is the exhibition Family of Man a cause for photographic celebration?  In his introduction to the essay ‘In the Hearts of Pioneers’ by Carl Sandberg (Analog Sea Review Number 2 (2019), pp 77-80) Jonathan Simons seems to think so.  He writes: ‘…imagine you’re living in 1955…when photography remained a precious and true glimpse into the lives of others around the world.  This was a time when you could peer at a photograph and see the world looking back at you grand and strange and beautiful.’  No doubt there is truth in this; and I recall a similar reaction when visiting the 2nd World Exhibition of Photography in 1968.

The praise given here and in Sandberg’s essay needs to be tempered, however.  For all its worldwide success over eight years, it was not without its critics, including, among others, Roland Barthes, John Berger, Walker Evans and Susan Sontag, people whose views one can respect, if not agree with.  Criticisms of Family of Man included: its ‘bogus heartfeeling’; ‘sentimentalism and oversimplification’; the requirement for photographers to surrender their individuality; being a ‘self-congratulatory means for obscuring the urgency of real problems’; and its creation of a myth, ‘the dramatization of an ideological message’.  I don’t repeat these criticisms to attempt to diminish the importance of the Family of Man, rather to suggest that it does not represent some pure, prelapsarian ideal of what photography once was.

2nd World Exhibition of Photography catalogue

It’s important to see the good and bad in Family of Man.  By the same token, it’s important to see both sides in the proliferation of photography today.  (It’s arguable that this proliferation has its roots in the popularity of photography stimulated by Family of Man, The World Photography Exhibition (1965) and the 2nd World Exhibition of Photography, of course.)  In its concern for the distractions and destructive influences of images in our on-line world Analog Sea conflates all forms of imagery.  Still photography, in the sense that most of us would understand it, is not the same as movies, computer graphics and video games and so on.  Similarly, not all photography is the same – it’s important to be able to separate serious creative photography, in all genres, from advertising, social media postings and the like.  Appreciation of the good qualities of Family of Man might be a starting point for realising that photography still has an enormous amount to offer, something to celebrate.


A paragraph by Robert Frank, ‘Too Many Images’, follows Sandberg’s essay (p.81).  He says, ‘There are too many images, too many cameras now…maybe photography isn’t an art anymore.’   During the road trips that Frank made in 1955-57 he took 28,000 shots; 83 of those were finally selected by him for publication in The Americans.

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Bin Art

Ramilles Street, London

Who thought it was a good idea to try to camouflage this bin. Or is it a piece of ironic Post Modern public art?

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Everyday Delight

Everday Delight, November 2019

People find every day delight in: colour, the play of light and shade, small objects, leaves and flowers, letters and signs.  Or at least those are the things, the incidentals of daily life, which delight photographers.  Shutter Hub has joined the Free Space Project, a charity supporting arts and community initiatives within Kentish Town Health Centre, Camden, to present Everyday Delight, an exhibition all about ‘the joy in the small things, finding the magic in what might at first appear mundane, and discovering the beauty in the everyday’.

Following a call for submissions the exhibition brings together 112 images from 65 photographers on the first floor of the Health Centre.  Supported by the Newspaper Club, Shutter Hub has used the new familiar newsprint technique to create economically a lively exhibition, which perhaps givees some comfort and maybe a little joy to people as they wait to be called for their appointments.

Everyday Delight, November 2019

If Everyday Delight shows the things that are delightful, it also explores ways of seeing.  The success lies in taking time to look, in looking up and looking down, in getting in close, in unusual angles, in abstraction (often enhanced by shallow depth of field).  This is about things close at hand, the quotidian: while landscapes may delight, they are a minor feature here, so are people for that matter.  I guess that some (many?) of these photographs were taken on mobile phones, but they give the sense of being the work of people who do not spend their lives walking around chasing the latest diversions on line.  The delights here are soft breaths of serenity in a hectic world.

EVERYDAY DELIGHT  Free Space Project, Kentish Town Health Centre, 2 Bartholomew Road, London, NW5 2BX,  5 December 2019 – 28 February 2020 Opening times: 8.30am – 6.30pm, Mon – Fri.

(Three of my pictures were included in the Exhibition: previously posted as Patch of Blue (15/9/19), Orange (14/10/19) and Cambridge Station (22/10/19))

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Take a Seat Take a Moment 21

Ramilles Street, London, 16th December 2019
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The Telling Image

Since photographs became a possibility in the 1830s we have become surrounded by them, never more so than in our digital age. How have we got here? How do we understand and react to the images we see? J and I ran a course for the U3A Cambridge this autumn to try to tease out some answers to these questions.   We did not aim to deliver a formal history of photography. Rather we wanted to set the medium in its political, economic, social and technological contexts; and through that to show that there is no area of our lives where the impact and veracity of the photograph is unimportant.

We explored photography as: an aid to seeing the world differently; a way of engaging with society, politics and the economy; a voluntary and manipulated creator of self and identity; an art; and as a source of fact and fiction.

Three Horses, Edward S. Curtis, 1905

Week 1 Seeing   The first session covered the following. 1. Before photography: cave paintings, drawings and the camera obscura.  2. First photographs: Niepce to Scott Archer and the wet-colloidion process.  3. Exploring the wider world: John Thompson to Edward Burtynsky.  4. Secrecy and exposure: war photography, photojournalism, spying and evidence.  5. Nature’s secrets: Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion to the Cassini space mission.  6. What we see – how we see:  Strand, Cartier-Bresson and Cindy Sherman.  7. Communicating: mass media printing technology, magazines, picture stories and the web.  8. Seeing the past: a new way of making the past knowable.

Week 2 Society  This class covered five topics.  1. Campaigning: from Lewis Hine to Friends of the Earth and Bruce Davidson to Green Peace.  2. The state: the work of the Farm Security Administration and Soviet and Nazi propaganda.  3.  War reporting: Gerda Taro, Bert Hardy and Susan Meiselas among others.  4. Applied to life: medicine, industry, advertising and fashion etc.  5. Photojournalism: Life, Picture Post and the replacement of print outlets by the web and exhibitions.

Untitled, Jane Lynas 2004

Week 3 Image and Identity  Starting with Foster Huntington’s Burning House, we looked at eight issues.  1. Before photography: mementoes and paintings.  2. The Arrival of photography: the studio, cartes de visite and outdoor pictures.  3. The image – portraiture: truth and manipulation, combat and collaboration in the work of Julia Margaret Cameron, August Sander, Arnold Newman, Jane Bowon, Zanele Muhuli, Cindy Sherman and others.  4.  The image – on the street:  Nan Goldin, Mahtab Hussain, and Jane Lynas.  5. Identity – who we are: identity cards, social events and recording rites of passage.  6. Managing the image: voluntary manipulation and media exploitation.  7. Social media: the selfie and what we reveal through our posts.  8.  Memory and markers: family albums and family histories.

Chalma, Graciela Iturbide,1974

Week 4 Art and Photography  Tackling the always challenging issue of photography as an art form and the photograph as a work of art was dealt with in two parts.  1. An art context: the general acceptance of photography as an art form; defining art; art and communication; emotional responses; combining imagination and skill; photography as an interpretation of the world; and the use of photography by artists working in other media.  2.  A quiz:  J introduced to the work of 32 practitioners who self-describe themselves as photographers, artists or artists using photography, ranging from Tacita Dean to Michael Wolf and Jane Bown to Hiroshi Sugimoto; each member of the class was given a sheet which posed the question ‘Are these photos art?’ and asked to rate them ‘Yes, ‘No’ or ‘Don’t know’.  This resulted in a rather more animated debate than any of the previous sessions!  The result from the quiz were reported back in week five.

Bay of Sagami, Atami, 1997 Hiroshi Sugamoto

Week 5/1  Art Quiz Feedback  Twelve quiz sheets were completed.  The unsurprising overall conclusions were: photography is an art form and a photograph can be a work of art; not all photography/photographs are art; and opinions differ widely.  Work by the following ranked most highly as art: Hiroshi Sugimoto (11 ‘Yes’ out of 12), Bill Brandt (10), Sebastião Salgado (10), Sally Mann (10) and David Hockney (10).  The highest scores as not art were given to: Michael Wolf (9 ‘No’ out of 12), Nan Goldin (9), Bernd and Hilla Becher (7), Seydou Keita (7) and Herlinde Koelbl (6).

Week 5/2  Ambiguity and Veracity  The class looked at seven aspects of this.  1. The assumption of truth: the idea that the camera doesn’t lie.  2. The nature photography: how the decisions of the photographer and the editor influence what we see.  3. The intention to deceive: illustrated by the Cottingley fairies, William Mumler’s trickery and other doctored images.  4.  The need for truth: the power of documentary photography covering war, climate change and other events depends on it being beyond challenge, e.g. Capa’s Loyalist Militiaman (1936).  5. Ambiguity: without supplementary information images may be ambiguous and open to different interpretations, e.g. Harry Gruyaert’s Quarzazate, Morocco (1982).  6. Between fact and fiction:  the most effective photography sits between fact and fiction where the artist/photographer brings creative intelligence to the work, e.g. Robert Frank’s The Americans (1955-56).  7.  Does it matter: does the truth behind Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville, Robert Doisneau, 1950, devalue it as a photograph?

Pigment Study 07, Art Wolfe, c. 2000

At the end we might have asked: Whither or wither photography?  Is belief in the truth of photography dead in a post-truth world? Does any truth need to be a worldwide truth? Are we looking for literal or eternal, spiritual truths in photography? Do we need different standards for ‘art’ and ‘documentary’ photography?  We left the class with Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn., 1961, by Diane Arbus and a quote from her: ‘A photograph is a secret about a secret.  The more it tells you the less you know.’

Course stats  The course was run over five alternate Fridays from 18th October to 13th December 2019.  Eighteen people signed up; attendance was 81%.   Presentations included 144 images from 116 named artists/photographers, plus 81 that were uncredited.

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Remounting Medusa

‘In September, we removed our cast of the Medusa pediment from the Temple of Artemis on Corcyra (modern-day Corfu) for essential conservation work. Now it’s time for her to come home, with fresh repairs and a new mounting system courtesy of the team at Cliveden Conservation to ensure that she remains in place for future generations to enjoy.’

‘Our cast of the Medusa pediment was purchased in 1930, ten years after the temple and its sculptures were discovered – but our catalogue doesn’t preserve the details of who made the cast, or where we got it from. It’s a bit of a mystery. However, we are probably one of very few cast collections to have this cast. Certainly, our cast is the only one in the UK.’

‘The Temple of Artemis at Corcyra is the earliest known example of sculptural decoration carved in stone from the Greek world. The central group, repeated on both sides (although only very fragmentarily preserved on one side), features a huge 3m+ figure of a grimacing Medusa, mid-run and ready to turn those who look upon her to stone.’

What’s On, University of Cambridge, December 2019

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Analog Sea and Photography

Further to my post about the omission of photography from Analog Sea (22nd November), an interview with Canadian film maker Peter Mettler by editors Jonathan Simons and Janos Tedeschi in Analog Sea Review Number 2 (2019) suggests some inconsistencies in its approach.

Undertow, p.37

Mettler says the using cameras ‘does make me see more deeply into things’, though acknowledging the risk that it can be like taking poison ‘if you want to be extreme’.   Jonathan Simons responds by referencing Wim Wenders, who said, ‘he just couldn’t bring himself to take pictures anymore because they’re everywhere’.  Wenders published a book of his Polaroids taken during the 1970s and 1980s, to accompany an exhibition at the Photographers Gallery, London, in 2017 – presumably he still thought photography had some value!  Mettler in turn acknowledges the work of photographer Robert Frank, ‘who’s made great documentations of real life on the streets, and it’s an epic body of work for its time’, then goes on to regret that ‘now everybody is doing that….it’s no longer so special’.

Undertow, p.49

Simmons makes an eloquent reference to the importance of analog working: it ‘…maintains at least some connection to nature and physicality.  Recording sound or image on analog media is an organic process…’  Mettler agrees: ‘The different processes retain different connections to the original experience.’  He explains how he used analog material to film the Kogi people in Colombia, because he saw it as being more in tune with their way of life.  He also describes the relative complexity of modern digital cameras; and Simons agrees that ‘an analogue camera seems limited to drastically fewer technical distractions’.  Mettler accepts the challenges posed by the surfeit material, yet says that it’s worth carrying on, ‘like stepping into an immensely mysterious dancehall and using whatever tools you have to understand the nature of the dance’.

What do I take from this?  Well, an acknowledgement of the value of photography in the first place.  Then support for analogue film processes, which is consistent with the case I made for analogue photography in the first post.  More broadly, the implied support in the interview for Mettler, faced by a glut of moving images, seems to me to be an argument for not being distracted by the perceived glut of still photographs.  Analog Sea could shine a light that illuminates great photography for its off-line audience  In part of the interview that explores the importance of things outside the ‘familiar system’, Janos Tedeschi says, ‘Ultimately, it’s about being fully open to whatever emerges…’

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Take a Seat – Take a Moment 20

Mill Road Winter Fair, Cambridge 191207-1

Mill Road Winter Fair, Cambridge, Saturday 7th December 2019.

Mill Road Winter Fair, Cambridge 191207-2
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Ralph Gibson

Quadrants, Ralph Gibson

I’ve spent time recently researching photographers to include in my ‘Telling Image’ classes at the Cambridge U3A.  At the back of my mind has been a strong, simple graphic image of the edge of a wall that I might have included.  Unfortunately I couldn’t remember the photographer, only that I associated it with my involvement with the Cambridge Darkroom in the early 1980s.  It niggled away and this afternoon it suddenly occurred to me that I should look at some old copies of the Creative Camera Year Book.  I didn’t find the picture, but found a feature on Ralph Gibson in the 1975 edition and knew that was the name that had eluded me.  The picture, from Quadrants (1975) is shown opposite.

Wikipedia writes of Gibson: ‘Ralph Gibson is an American art photographer best known for his photographic books. His images often incorporate fragments with erotic and mysterious undertones, building narrative meaning through contextualization and surreal juxtaposition.’  He is still active, but seems to receive little notice these days.

PS How we miss the wisdom of Peter Turner and Creative Camera.

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Issues Photography

Undertow, p.103

We discussed photography and art at the U3AC Telling Image session last Friday (29th). Several people expressed regret that photography is increasingly dominated by issue based work (the same might be said for other art forms too).  I don’t have any empirical evidence for this, but it feels right – Nan Goldin and Olafur Eliasson at Tate Modern, Eco-Visionaries at the RA and Shot in Soho at the Photographers’ Gallery point in that direction.  Is this at the expense of more conceptual work and art for art’s sake?  I don’t know.

Cambridge Cattle Market, 1987

History shows that the essential nature of photography makes it the ideal medium for documentary work, a way of shining light on issues facing society while still aspiring successfully to be art.  For example:  Street Life in London, John Thompson, 1877-78; the work of the Farm Security Administration, 1937 onwards; many of the stories covered by of Magnum photographers from 1947; and Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis, 2013.  The nature of such work and how it is used and displayed means that it’s likely to have a higher profile than more contemplative work, like that of Atget and John Blakemore, say.  It’s more newsworthy, if nothing else.

I’m not sure it matters.  The best issue based photography can be art; and all works of art in any medium can be interpreted in terms of their aesthetic, social, political and economic contexts and content.

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