Thursday, 13 December 2012

Darwin's Natural Selection in Action?

Something is bothering me...  

A new magazine has been started by a couple of Newport undergraduates.  They have produced the first issue and are now working on the second.  They are open to submissions, although (according to one of the editors) have not pursued anyone to ask them to get involved for the 2nd issue.  They have received work from the UK, Europe and even from the USA, but interestingly, for issue 2, all of those who have been in touch are of the same gender.  They are men.

Why is this?  Could it be due to the nature of the submission process?  I don’t think so.  Even though both editors are men, they have female friends within their wide social networks.  They are surrounded by girls at university.  There are girls and women on their own photography courses.  Also, the publication was launched at the recent 100 Years of Newport festivities, where, seemingly many working professionals expressed an interest, and some have even offered themselves up as potential contributors in the future.  Based on these facts, there doesn’t seem a glaringly obvious reason why there has been no interest from women.

Could it be to do with the title?  ‘Darwin’ and its associations with a bearded Victorian scientist who revolutionised our understanding of the world with his research and writings?  I doubt it - after all, girls do science too...

The two guys running the show just raise their eyebrows when I start to bang my little feminist drum (in fact, I get the impression that they -and a few others - think I am more than a bit ridiculous when it comes to my gender-centric obsession) but seriously, there is a real problem here that their ‘It’s not about gender, it’s about photography’ doesn’t even begin to sort out.  

I’d really like to know why the girls/women out there are not flooding the Darwin inbox with work...  If anyone has any theories, please do get in touch, and if you have any work that you are proud of - then send it to Darwin, and let’s hope that some of it gets into issue 3.

You can send work to Darwin at:

Check out their blog:

Monday, 8 October 2012

Le Pub 2012 - 2013 #1

I've been a bit slack this week when it comes to thinking about le pub reviews...  To be fair though, I have been totally focused on Threshold - the exhibition of contemporary documentary photography that is on at The Riverfront in Newport at the moment.  It's been all 'go, go, go' for the show and that's been the priority.

Last year, when I did the reviews, I would email the photographers and beg for j-pegs to post on here and sorry folks, I haven't done it this time...  Maybe I will get back to it properly next time...

So, a few thoughts about:

Briony Jayne Oates: 'Seed to the Soul'.  Actually - you've a great opportunity to see one of the prints from this work and the book as both are in the Basement Gallery at the Riverfront until 7.30 p.m. on Saturday 13th...  Go and have a look...

The project is all about the importance of the pineal gland to our mental and physical well-being.  The images are pretty 'conceptual' and will get you thinking...  Click here for a taster.

Michael Fitzsimmons:  He's interested in animals and humans and how we all relate to one another.  This is very evident in his work, where cats seem to feature quite a lot.  Really interesting images created through 'chaotic' double exposures work to spark the viewer's imagination.  (I might write a bit more about this when I've got a bit more time!)

At the moment, he's leaving aside the photo-bollox and trying to figure out how to express photographically, 'the weird feeling about being alive.'  I'm pretty excited about the 'zine he's working on and if there is a way of pre-ordering: put me down for one.  Click here to see some of Fitzsimmons' work.

Mario Pinto:  He more or less started by saying, 'Some people call me the homeless photographer' and went on to show how well he works with the dispossessed and isolated.  Strong stills, but even more powerful multi-media piece.  Hopefully I will be able to post a link to it at some point and you can see for yourself.

Matt Colquhoun:  Another photographer keen to ditch the art-language that can cause such problems for a viewer.  At the moment he's obsessed with fog.  In fact, it turns out that he's been fixated for a while.  His photographs communicate a pleasure in how fog looks and feels and represent the emotional and intellectual experience of being in the final year at Newport.  Colquhoun's blog - click here.

Danny Land:  Beautiful fashion pictures and a film that was gorgeous to look at, but a bit clunky in parts.  He wanted the audience to be engrossed in the visuals, to become part of the world on screen.  At various points this worked for me - I loved it.  The only problem was when the model did a 'Miranda' and spoke directly to camera and out towards us.  I'm looking forward to seeing the next collaboration between Land and the director, Mike Flaws.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Thinking about Conceptual Photography - The Source Films

The Source website's three films about Conceptual Photography are going to be one of those must-sees for anyone wrestling with their own definition of the genre.  In fact, I am mightily sorry that they only started sharing them in August, as I could have done with the input last semester when working on 'Threshold', the University of Wales, Newport Documentary Photography unit... 

Film 1 starts with a question – Is Conceptual Photography a movement, a working methodology, a historical tradition, or none of these?  By the end of Film 2, the viewer is still not quite sure.  They've cleverly managed to ask the questions, offer a range of answers and then leave it up to us to make our own decisions.

There's a decent section all about the origins of the term when applied to Art practice, which is worth watching to understand the historical context.  Between the critics, Dr. Lucy Soutter (RCA) and John Roberts and the artist John Hilliard, an impression is created of individuals and groups playing with all sorts of methodologies, techniques and ideas, to come up with work that defied definition according to the critical voices of the day.  And we're back in the 1960s and 1970s, if you want to imagine the scene.

Although the past is important, and the context should be central to any discussion of art and culture, for the purpose of this little summary/reflection, I am not going to go any further with the background stuff.  For that, you really need to watch the film.

'Conceptual Photography' exists in opposition to other traditions and is, 'anti-humanist', 'anti-aesthetic' and 'even anti-photography'... So starts, Film 2. The basic premise is that Conceptual Art is about thinking... thinking and planning...  The criticism that is often levied against Conceptual Photography by those of us who just don't 'get it', is that the work is obtuse, narcissistic and too much about the idea and not enough about what is physically there in front of us.  Both Soutter and Sean O'Hagan (The Guardian's art critic) agree that there are areas of difficulty between the viewer and the work.  O'Hagan offers, 'Always start with the premise: There is something interesting here, maybe I'm not getting it.' Soutter assures us that whilst the photograph might seem to be of a man walking a hyena on a leash, it's worth working a bit harder to try to access 'the rich layering of ideas and concepts'.  It's about seeking to access 'the idea, motivation, historical references and inter-textuality' within any given photograph.

At this point in the film, I was started to get just a little steamed up.  All of this talk of being put in a position by the photographer/artist (we'll come to that distinction a bit later) that requires me to do quite a bit of work to understand what they are up to, well – isn't there a bit of a power imbalance there?  A hierarchy of knowledge and understanding?  I don't mind a bit of work, and I always am keen to learn new things, but what if I fail, what if I don't appreciate the exact historical reference or see the inter-textuality...

Luckily, the artist, Suzanne Mooney rode up on her metaphorical white charger, branding the shield of truth and common sense, with her battle cry of, 'The term Conceptual Photography is actually quite derogatory to other types of photographic making... It assumes that you aren't thinking, not researching' etc etc.  She goes as far as to name Documentary Photography as evidence that photographers other than the 'Conceptual' ones actually do think, question, consider...  (In my notes, I did actually pencil, “GOOD GIRL Suzanne!' at this point.)

There is a brief mention of Alan Sekula, Victor Burgin and Paul Graham as the narrators start to move through the 1980s (again, check out the film to find out specifics).  The basic message though is that Conceptual Art and Photography was being driven by commercial and gallery interests.  People made it, critics were interested in it, audiences started to look at it – because an actual monetary value was associated with the work.  There was a separation between the humanist thrust of other photography and the mammon thrust of Commercial, I mean, Conceptual Photography.  As Soutter identifies, Conceptual Photography was/(is?) anti-personal, anti-emotional and anti-subjective.  (I don't know about you, but little bells are ringing here.  Isn't a lot of 'conceptual work' based in the personal, emotive and subjective?  Answers on a postcard please...)

A slide pops up with the question, 'Where are we now?' and the answer offered is that, 'Complexity on its own has become a value...'  O'Hagan, who thinks that work HAS to have a humanist thrust (even though he knows this is probably an old-fashioned idea) says that 'the idea over-rides everything else'.  We are now dependent on accompanying text to enable us to access the work.  Photography that needs text, is not speaking as photography.

The final film, released on September 18th brings the viewer up to the present.  Much air time is given to the darlings of the Conceptual Documentary world, Broomberg and Chanarin and I would love to know whether viewers end up on the side of their call to photo-revolution, or on that of Sean O'Hagan who accuses them of gross arrogance...  But once again, I am ahead of myself...

I enjoyed Chanarin's opening gambit: 'There is no such thing as Conceptual Documentary.  All photography is it or isn't it.'  (Notice Chanarin looking fondly on in the background.)  

Louise Clements, 'curator', doesn't use the term at all.  In fact, she switches between 'Photographer' and 'Artist'  and herein lies another sticky one...  Cue little cross moment as she goes on to say that this title is tricky as it is all to do with how one perceives their approach to photography.  If you are an artist, you 'deal with ideas', or if you are a photographer, 'you know about your machine'.  SHOOT HER NOW.  SHOOT ME NOW to stop me shooting her.  SHOOT someone, anyone who still thinks like this!  Bloody hell.  Really?  (Go back to the observation made by Collins earlier about derogatory perceptions about photography that isn't conceptual...  Well done, Source for cleverly editing these two separately.)

The only hope for me in this little section came from O'Hagan's point that 'we may get to the point when Conceptual is the new orthodoxy and that something like Documentary seems quite radical.'  He goes on to say that the sub-genre, of Conceptual Documentary is a bit slippery, he has 'yet to find a decent definition'.

The final section of Film 3 looks at 'Conceptualism and Photojournalism' and uses Chanarin and Broomberg's 'The Day Nobody Died' to explore the contradictions between the forms.  O'Hagan thinks that the work, made in Afghanistan is arrogant and disrespectful, and C & B think that it is subversive and political.  It is interesting that Source has chosen to end the series with this debate and I am not going to spoil it for you with the finer details...  Go and watch it and then let me know what you think!  For me, the lasting message seems to be about the potential of Conceptual Photography, especially Conceptual Documentary or Conceptual Photojournalism to challenge power structures.  Could this be a call to arms?  It's definitely the continuation of a debate anyway and one that isn't going to go away, as long as there is a market for this type of work.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Stop puffing mediocrity!

I've been to various shows over the summer, but so far haven't really felt a driving need to write anything about them.  Perhaps I will, but perhaps I am a bit bored of my own 'critical' voice.  However, I have been reading bits and pieces and I thought that I would share something with you.

It's an extract from Linda Nochlin's 1971 essay, 'Why have there been no great women artists?', well actually it is from an extract of the essay as re-produced in Amelia Jones, 'The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader' (2nd edition, 2010).  Bed time reading it isn't...

Nochlin writes about how there really never could have been any 'great women artists' because of society, culture and history.  The arguments have been made over and over, and even if you've never read them, you will be able to work them out for yourselves...  What I want to share with you is the clarion call at the end of the extract,

"What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity.  Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position.  Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that of ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought - and true greatness - are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown."

Take a deep breath, dear readers and LEAP!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Sorry for the delay... Last one of the year!

Where to start with the final 'le pub' of the year – after all, I missed the penultimate one and my rhythm has been knocked, I am out of kilter.  I could work through the evening chronologically, but I started typing this on a plane to Italy (off on an exchange to Florence, if you are interested) and I didn't take any notes...  I am reliant on memory, which I must confess is a little fuzzy.  So, I shall do the best I can with my limited resources; please forgive any omissions.

Harry Rose – and isn't that a name that could have come straight from Ulysses - is a boy usually full of bravado and offering images of semi-nakedness that make this reviewer blush.  However, this sharing introduced us to elements from a 10 volume work entitled 'Recovery' in which he bared his metaphorical soul and let us glimpse through the work into the personal process of mourning.  

Nipping out from the hospice for a brief minute at a time, to make images which did not speak of morphine drips, hospital smells and the ache of watching someone you love die, Rose's project was at once very personal and yet went beyond his own experience.  The bright blue of southern county skies, the regular architecture of suburban homes and shadows and plastic iguanas scuttling across the frame made for a set of pictures about silence, absence and at the same time, hope.  In each image was a stillness, a moment of reflection and a point through which the viewer could escape to ponder issues about life itself.

Single teacher-ties shot against a crumpled bed-sheet (the last one his father slept on at home) were poignant markers to a career which should have ended with retirement and not a hospice.  The choice of backdrop could have been mawkish, but the lack of artlessness in the images, the deliberately straight strategy using natural light made for an effective naivety.

The last series presented was for a university holiday project and had something to do with islands (I did warn you, no notes and cider affected memory...) this series as it stood at the time of showing did nothing for me.  It lacked the soul and the depth of the work on his family.  It was however, simply a taster and I hope that Rose finds a way of bringing some life into the project and in doing so, make it work.  When dealing with the personal, the boy has obvious talent: more of this please.

To see Rose's work yourself, go to the Recovery section on his website.

Now – who else?  I remember the lyrical beauty of Rosa Harvest's work about 'Finnish Disease Heritage', you can read all about it and the project by clicking here

The edit comprised one portrait – of the scientist who discovered the genetic pattern of disorders back in the 1960s – and a mix of interior scientific spaces juxtaposed with the cold and harsh Finnish exterior landscape.  The slightly de-saturated palette of blues, greys and whites made for some beautiful images that made me think about sterility.  Everything inside the research institute seemed so perfect, no finger print smudges to spoil the chrome, no footprints on tiles to suggest a bustle and reality.  The images look almost too pristine, a magazine feature advertising the perfect clinic...  The Finnish landscape, as captured in Rosa's frame, is snowbound, feathered by ice.  A pile of snow blocks a path into the trees, ice holds a lake captive.  The land is empty of people.  Where are the sufferers of FDH?  How do they suffer?

These questions will no doubt be answered in the next stage of Harvest's project: it is her intention to develop the work further and I am really looking forward to seeing the results of future trips.

p.s. Harry Rose and Rosa Harvest.  Nice names.

Next to pop back into my mind is Ania Jack's 'Heavy Metal Family'.  The portraits are of heavy metal music fans who come together once a year at the Bloodstock festival, and who 'meet' regularly via an on-line fan forum.   The set is an affectionate portrayal of Jack's alternative family.  One of Jack's intentions was to challenge the stereotypes that surround this group and she was/is very successful.  Subjects gaze away from the camera, eyes and faces are soft.  No-one is seems particularly scary.  Even when looking straight at us, the gaze is diffused through hair or by distance.  Jack varies the shooting strategy and emphasises the individuality of each subject.  There is a tenderness in the picture-making, you can tell that there is a mutual respect between photographer and subject.

This was the last le pub when we got to hear Alexander Norton talking about his work.  As usual, most people loved his slightly idiosyncratic presentation style.  My friend Tom, who graduated last year from Gloucester thought that it was the most interesting and unique photography thingy he had seen in a long time.  Tom loved Norton and the way that he spoke about his images.  Don't get the wrong idea, it wasn't a bromance sort of love, but an appreciation that someone was actually talking about work in a 'character-full' way.  The images and accompanying commentary told the story of Norton's trip to Sweden to visit a girl that he liked.  Through the small and quirky polaroids,  Norton gave a hint of the confusion and distress that are features of unrequited love (sorry, have I spoiled the ending for you?)  Following the presentation, there ensued a lively discussion about whether or not the work stands without the commentary.  Although he had some staunch defenders, the general consensus seemed to be that it is the combination of words and images that works; the challenge now for the graduating photographer is to find a way to make this happen in the real world, and in a way that does not rely on him always being there to present the work...


p.s.  I almost 'forgot' to mention Eugenijus' 'River's bisectors'...  This work was made in response to last semester's 'Strategy' brief and is a landscape project in which Giena explores the River Usk and its environs.  Each shot is made in response to a mathematical formulae which sees the photographer marking the bisectors of each of the curves in the river.

I'd heard Giena talk about this work A LOT.  In fact, one seminar he spent an hour and a half trying to explain it to us all...  Luckily, he had fine tuned the chat and communicated the premise of the work with clarity and brevity this time.

To appreciate 'River's bisectors' properly, you really need to get your hands on the book.  The design and construction is fabulous.

Friday, 4 May 2012


Congratulations to the fabulous Chiara Tocci and Thomas Dryden-Kelsey for their inclusion in the Fast Forward list of emerging talent.  The full list of winners can be found at and also includes ex-Newport graduate, Jocelyn Allen.

The following images have been craftily 'captured' from the photographers' websites...  Forgive me for pinching them, you lovely people...

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Teargas, Targets and Tiny Teeth

After the Haiku reviews for the last le pub session, I wasn't sure what to do for the latest offering.  My favourites ideas were: in the style of James Joyce's, Ulysses (breaking conventional rules of punctuation) or as a series of Who's Who entries...  But with a 3,500 word lit review outstanding and two projects to finish, I thought...  Don't try to be clever, just write something/anything.   Apologies for the delay in getting this up here: I've been a bit busy.
The evening's photographers were Ryan Grimley,  Louise Hobson, Jack Latham, Sam Laughlin and Tim Sayer.  For some reason, no Photo Art students nor PFA students chose to show this month...
I'll start with Sam Laughlin.  What do I know about Laughlin and his work?  Well...  He has the reputation of being incredibly detailed, precise, well organised, thorough, knowledgeable about kit and processes.  He can talk about the way light can hit a lens or paper like a zealot peddling the afterlife.  Some would say he's a bit of a photo-nerd, but I think it is more than that, it goes deeper: he's a man in love with Photography.  Watch out any future partner – you will have stiff competition!  Anyway, his work reflects this ability to focus, to seek for perfection.  In this, his final year at Newport, he has worked with black and white large format.  He has worked at night with long exposures, or in his home-made studio, with meticulous detail.  If his work is 'Documentary' it is definitely 'Conceptual'.  He is an artist and one day his work will hang in shows that aren't just about the photograph.
 So, it was a real surprise for many people to see the colour work, 'Teargas Landscapes'.  I had seen them before and even on this second outing, they still made me smile.  Although of a dark subject (he shot them during a riot in Italy), they are beautiful.  Trails of mist-like vapour soften the landscape; there is no sign of riot police, nor protesters and it is only the title which gives a hint of what was going on.  Many photographers, especially those with an education that includes 'the narrative' would have made very stereotypical shots, of arms raised in anger, faces contorted by screams and shouts.  Missiles would have been caught flying, someone would have been grabbed by a policeman, blood would appear.  Laughlin's pictures, made with a fine artist's eye avoid all of the clichés.  Gorgeous.

The following image from the series is a temporary addition...  Until I can work out how to get real copies...

You can read a review of Laughlin's other le pub slot at:
Ryan Grimley  is in the 2nd year of the Doc Phot course and has recently been working on a small Danish island (I won't tell you where – I wouldn't want to start a tourist invasion.)  The selection of images he shared are part of a wider edit, with the final choices for the set yet to be made.  The work clearly communicated that this was a quiet place, where the pace of life is slow.  A man walks along the road carrying a tuba – it turns out that he hoped to start an orchestra or band on the island;  football goals are placed close to one another, unused as the island's team no longer has enough players; and a child sits, solitary in a changing room, seemingly lost in her own thoughts.
It is clear to me, that this journey was not just about finding out about the island and the life of its inhabitants (locals are worried about the school closing and the young people leaving for the mainland), but also offered Grimley a chance to develop his own working practices.  Even in this edit, you can see the experimentation, the searching for a strategy and artistic style.  The original two week shoot was extended to over four weeks, in response to this learning process and the images are stronger as a result.

Jack Latham's 'Pink Flamingo' series, shot along the Oregon Trail earlier this year is also about a journey, but this time an actual road trip of 5000  miles.  During the course of one month he drove, parked up and photographed anything that he found interesting, from the familiar shopping mall 'parking lot' and fast food 'joints' to prayer gardens dominated by 30ft high models of the Virgin Mary.  His work is about the landscape and what man has done to it, but also is about the people he meets and what connects us all.  He's having a conversation with this part of America, and its a conversation which it is a pleasure to listen in on.  

Now, there is nothing new about this sort of project.  I am a big fan of Alec Soth's work and there were definitely echoes of Soth in Latham's project; the question is – could this actually be avoided when working in daylight on an American journey and shooting 10 x 8?  I need to be clear at this point – the comparison and observation are not criticisms as ultimately, for me, the image is the thing: if I like it/appreciate it/am intrigued by it, well I don't particularly mind if it looks as though it might have been made by one of my 'heroes'.  I haven't looked at Latham's work in enough depth and detail (it's hard to do this when images are presented as a powerpoint), but I think that there was a difference in tone between them and the work of Soth.  Maybe it was the muted palette in many of the images, or the distance between camera and subject...  I'll have to get back to you on this one.  Or even better, check out the work for yourself (link to website is at the bottom of the review.)

The most lively debate about the pictures concerned one of Latham's portraits.  Made of a woman and her small dog, the image showed the sign of a well known fast food chain in the background.  The woman was rather large and one inference that could be drawn from the composition was that her size was directly related to a liking for burgers and fries.  Latham was horrified by this – when making the photograph, his eyes were on the woman and her canine friend and he did not notice the sign with its negative cultural connotations behind.  He plans to remove the sign from the image when worked on digitally.  Although I understand his reservations – he doesn't want his subject to think he was 'making fun' of her, or that he was trying to make a statement about overweight Americans and their fast-food diet – I think he should leave the image as it is.  To remove the sign would take away a couple of layers of depth.

You can read more about Jack Latham in a previous le pub review:

Louise Hobson 's work has a particular and personal resonance for me: I am from forces stock.  Grandfather, father, two uncles, aunt, two cousins – all served or are serving in H.M. Forces.  I am an army brat.  I get a bit teary-eyed each time there is a 'Welcome Home' parade, or news of another fatality.  I just have to see a green uniform and I go all funny.  So, Hobson's work about her brother and his life in the Marines interested me very much.  
For those who haven't seen 'H Hour', this is not a piece of work designed to give us an impression of the everyday life of a soldier, in fact there isn't a single picture of a person anywhere within the set.  But Hobson does give a sense of the waiting and the preparation that goes on before troops are deployed to combat zones.  Her images lead us into the unfamiliar world of the training zones and she invites us to imagine how her brother and his colleagues interact within their environments.

Hobson's intention is to talk about the the journey her brother is making and it starts back at home.  We see a target built in the woods behind their family's house, a wall hanging in their kitchen detailing an idyllic village.  She then jumps to the impersonal details of a military bedroom before moving out into the training grounds themselves.  For me there is a problem with the suddenness of the shift: I needed more images about his connection to the family home in order to really appreciate his new experience and how different it is.  (We spoke about this at the end of the Le Pub session and this 'weakness' – my word and not hers – may be rectified in her final edit.)

The most successful images for me were the ones made on the gloomy days; the muted palette creates an atmosphere of calm and control and yet, of foreboding.  Something is going to happen in these spaces and it's going to be serious.  The square format holds the subject safe (does that sound a bit odd?)  I really like her choice of format and the way the images are composed.  I am less keen on the ones made in the mock up of the Afghan village.  Shot in harsh sunlight (appropriate I guess), they almost seem to have been made by a different photographer.  There is a brutality to many of them which is perhaps deliberate – after all, this is the true training ground for current conflicts.  Hobson's brother is due to be deployed to Afghanistan and on a subliminal level, perhaps she is expressing a strong reaction to this.  

Finally, we come to the phenomenon that is Tim Sayer.  In the history of the Documentary Course I am guessing that there has never been a student like him...  

But, where to start...  Probably at the end of the le pub night...  On the way home, I turned to one of my Italian guests (lovely students over from the Studio Marangoni in Florence) and asked what they thought of the night.  They loved it.  I asked which photographers they particularly liked and they told me.  Then I asked what they thought about Tim's work:

Me: So...  Urm...  What did you think of Tim's work.
A:  You can't call it work.
Me: Yes you can.  He works hard to make his pictures.  They are staged.  He makes props.  It
takes a long time to organise his shoots.  It is work.
A: So, he 'works hard', but he does not make work.

And this for me is one of the central issues when considering Sayer's output as a photographer.  I can see the effort he puts in, but like my Italian guests, I don't really appreciate the outcome.  

Taken singly, some of the images are actually very funny (the mother snorting coke from the belly of her baby is so wrong it is hilarious), but I just don't get the joke in many of them.  Without the narration that accompanied the images and powered the post-show discussion, they just don't make sense.  This is perhaps a reflection of my own naivety, but also highlights a real problem with the work – Sayer needs his viewers to have a certain level of background knowledge or experience to read the details within the image and appreciate fully what is going on.

The fundamental premise of the work and how it will be presented – as a series of greetings cards available on-line is pretty clever.  Ultimately, visitors to his website will be able to 'enjoy' cards that could be used to mark a range of occasions such as the birth of a child, or getting a new job.  Clicking on any of the 'cards' will then lead the viewer along to a new thread and a new project.  Choose a 'sweet sixteen' card, you will be led to a series of black and white large format nudes entitled, 'Decline of the Pubic Landscape' in which Sayer displays a variety of pubic barbering styles to comment on the deforestation of the Amazonian rain-forest.  Select 'With Deepest Sympathy' and you go to the 'Polishing a Turd' series.  Other cards will take you on alternative journeys into Sayer's imagination and view of the world.  For many people, the site will be a very interesting and engaging experience.

Sayer's aesthetic style is deliberately crude, which suits the images perfectly.  This is bad taste created by someone who really cares about it; there is no subtlety here.  In many of the images, the lighting is hard, aggressive and obviously artificial.  The 'I shot in 5 x 4 so it must be Art' Pubic Landscapes appear casually composed: we see crumpled clothes in the background which serve no purpose.  Even though the lower half of a naked woman is prone for the camera, there is nothing sexy, nor beautiful about the images.  If he's being truthful about the politics, then this is politics with no spin.  If he isn't, then the irony is cheap.

When I think that Sayer is just about to graduate, I wonder how on earth the tutors are going to mark his work.  I wouldn't like to be in their position.  When I consider his future, I imagine a series of novelty books to be sold at Christmas-time; cards purchased and passed on by blokes with a dodgy sense of humour and a career as a stand-up comedian with photography and photographers as his subject.  If he can fine tune his material, stripping out the jokes that are based on the most obvious photographic stereotypes, I can see the development of a unique comic act.  Coming soon to a comedy festival near you: Tim Sayer Polishing his Turds.

If you want to see more of the work (and I am sure that you will) check out the following:

Sam Laughlin:

Jack Latham:

Louise Hobson:

Ryan Grimley - site under construction.

Tim Sayer: Website is under construction.  But you can check out another Tim Sayer at:

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Haiku Reviews Part III

Work by Kristian Saunders, owner of a most spectacular new beer-can crunching dog:

Stills - visit the past.
Raw, bold, monochrome tension;
Lost community.

And then there is one more...  

Work by third year PFA student, Kaha.  Unfortunately, she hasn't replied to my request for anything to post on the blog - so the review will have to stand on its own.  In some ways, this was the hardest to write...

Even in haiku,
Nothing really worth saying:
Music Video.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Haiku Reviews Part II

Images by Sameli Sivonen:

Lock up your chickens,
he transforms eggs into stars:
Art from the mundane.

Images by Alexander Norton:

Family album
new made with an artist's eye.
Perfect shadow.  Bliss.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Haiku Reviews Part I

Strong boys open up,
the camera's bold gaze shows
their gentle beauty.

To catch the true song
living in each frightened soul
takes stillness and skill.

Images by Briony Jane Oates (web address to follow)

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Next review will be in Haiku...

I've been thinking about the purpose of this little blogette and the fact that somewhere in the tag-line I announce it to be a place for 'musing' about photography related things...  How did it then become so focused on Le Pub reviews (of too many words)?  It seems to me that at the moment, I am not doing enough mind-wandering around photography and this is an assertion that I SHALL START!

So, first stage in the plan is to shift focus away from the serious word count...  Next Le Pub reviews will be in Haiku...  If I can do it.  Three lines, seventeen syllables and a pattern of 5, 7, 5...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

What to do on a cold, blustery and WET Saturday afternoon in uptown Newport?  What will warm the cockles of my chilly little heart and take me away from my garret room view of stripped trees and sludge-brown roof tiles?  Ah, I know: I shall think of romance, of St Valentine and a recent Tuesday evening of carefully chosen tunes, intimate contact and gifts being exchanged.  No: not a meal with my lover, but the latest Le Pub Photo Extravaganza which just happened to be scheduled for February 14th.

The evening didn't start with romance though: no heady positivity and soft focus vibe from James Kieran Doran.  In fact, he got us ready and all set for doom and gloom with the title of his work, 'We Live, We Influence.  We Die, We Vanish'.  The Doc Phot 2nd year was very honest about the personal nature of the work charting his own emotional and thought journey.  His admission of being pessimistic and negative was supposed to be reflected in the images, but I didn't really get this at all and actually, this wasn't a problem.  Doran's work was meant to say, 'This is me; this is how I feel, but you might feel differently and read the images differently' and I did. 

The 'journey' along a disused railway line took the view through paths overhung by threatening branches, under bridges and out into the open.  An alternative reading could be that the rich palette of browns and greens speak of abundance (even in Winter) and a promise of yet more life to come in the future.  He wanted to 'use landscape to illustrate the cruel fact of mortality', but actually he simply made me want to go for a walk in the same environment myself!  The work could also be seen politically: this line once served the industry of Ebbw Vale, an industry which supported thousands of workers and their families.  With the destruction of the British Steel industry, the plants closed down and have since been demolished; all that remains are gaps in the landscape and the ghost of the railway.

(Apologies for the 'grab and paste' images and the fact they are not necessarily in the right order...)

And now for something completely different:  Eugenijus Giena Barzdžius' portraits of monks from Palendriai Monastery of St. Benedict.  Presented as 'work in progress', the series will eventually form part of a larger body of work which focuses on the spiritual community in Lithuania.  The photographer's strategy was to remove the monks from the context of their surroundings, in order that the viewer could focus on the subject without distraction.  Presented as individual portraits, shot with controlled studio lighting (Barzdžius was able to explain EXACTLY what he did – including distances between subject and light source) we notice how each man holds himself and how each black garment falls; we see the twinkle in one monk's eye and the tension held in another's neck.  There is a respectful intimacy to the portraits, we are close enough in our imagination to reach out and touch the hem of their garments (out of shot) and perhaps attain some kind of absolution.

It would have been so easy to produce a series of images which are the cliché of religious portraiture, but  Barzdžius manages to avoid this.  There is no 'light from Heaven' bathing each man in metaphorical glory; the lighting is more subtle than this.  By shooting the bodies 'side on' and allowing each man to look where he wishes, we are allowed to see a little of the private world; the monks are not instructed to look directly in to camera and therefore seem more 'real': they are individuals who have made a pact with God, rather than just representatives of faith.

My favourite is definitely the portrait of Brother Kazimieras: there is something about the life in his eyes that suggests a monk with a sense of humour and I am strangely drawn to the delicate folds in his neck.  Is that a bit odd?  (Let's leave that as a rhetorical question, shall we.)

The evening then shifted from the contemplative and holy to the cruelty of a political system which treats women as breeders who need to be controlled (almost at any cost.)  Claire Kern's work, made in India and entitled 'Silent Genocide' deals with the sterilisation of Tibetan women as part of the Chinese policy to control population numbers.  The body of work which was over a year in the organisation, saw Claire in India for three months last year, befriending Tibetan women who had fled their home country and who were seeking refuge in India.  Presented as a multi-media piece, the photographer offered a series of photographs accompanied by harrowing text and a soundtrack made up of birdsong and first person testimony (untranslated.)

The combination of the simple, almost macro close-ups of eyes, scars and jewellery and the sound of real women sharing their stories was a powerful combination.  The images hinted at lives led, hopes shattered and dreams yet to come; the musicality of the speech patterns played with imaginations and invited the audience to write each individual's story.  One fellow photographer summed up their response to the work with the phrase, 'It hits me quite hard' and another acknowledged how the strategy 'makes you search harder for the meaning.'

The discussion surrounding the issues highlighted in the work was the longest of the night and it was fascinating to find out more about how Kern worked.  She shared with us stories of political prisoners and the horrors of the 'Chinese Ring' and had a powerful effect one women and men alike.

After the last Le Pub session, I described three of the contributors as 'The Big Boys', a tongue-in-cheek bit of nomenclature which was meant to reflect their status within student photographic practice and now I find myself of adding another of their cohort to the 'gang'.  Jack Latham's sensitive project about his grandmother and the loss of her health and home was powerful, moving and memorable.  

I particularly loved the colour images made inside the walls of her former family home and felt more than one little twinge of emotion when I thought about the personal objects left behind to be destroyed by rising damp and the property developers loitering aggressively on the sidelines.  What is it about a cardboard box and a paper carrier bag filled with possessions on a bare mattress that is so powerful?  Actually, it isn't just those objects which literally suggest a life packed up, but it's the strange light fitting with its shade that appears to have  a craned neck as it searches the room for someone to illuminate.  I'm guessing that this used to be grandma's reading light: how sad that it is now redundant.

Latham forces us to look at the stains on walls and floors, on a chair which once was comfortable and a vacuum cleaner leaning in a corner.  Quiet elements of domesticity, marooned in the silence of the empty home.  Whilst the work is personal and filled with love for his own grandmother (now in her 90s and living with his family), it also stands for every older person who is forced to make a choice, who needs to leave their own home to live out the remains of their days in a different form of accommodation.  This usually requires 'downsizing', a curiously unemotional term for something which can be so incredibly distressing and Latham's images make us imagine what this would be like.  

'Empty Houses' is actually in three parts.  The second is further large format images, but this time outside the home and shot in black and white.  We see the remains of his grandmother's garden – the overgrown brambles and trees and plants cut back (shockingly, by the potential developers who did not have permission to enter the land and wreak havoc.)  The skeletal interweaving of plant-life reflects the chaos and destruction of the Eden that used to be so important.  

In the Q & A session afterwards, Latham was disparaging about the inclusion of the single telegraph pole standing cruciform in the back ground of more than one image: he hadn't even noticed it when composing the original frame, only discovering the shape on processing and printing the negative.  He referred to the cliché of the religious iconography and poked gentle fun at himself for his lack of observation.  My feeling is that sometimes a cliché is absolutely fine within an image and he really shouldn't be so hard on himself – after all, he is a big boy now.

Finally, the series ended with a picture of his new born niece Ruby.  He described his work as being similar to poetry – 'It doesn't say a lot, but it can suggest many things': the little girl invites the viewer/reader to consider the obvious ideas such as new life and hope, but perhaps too the idea that it isn't actually the material things that are truly important in life – it is the people we love.

Onto Oliver Norcott, 1st year Photo Art...  Norcott presented work that was designed to show his development as an Artist, and his move from Graphic Design towards a style which incorporates photography and other art forms.  He was obviously a very good designer and if I were him, I'd be feeling pretty confident about a future marriage between the different disciplines.

The work on Reality and Representation, using the 3d mirrored cube amongst the natural world was a big hit with some of the audience.  Aesthetically playful, the images were inspired by 'Plato's Allegory of the Cave', but as I don't know what this is and I haven't got the time at the moment to find out, I can't comment on the work's success in relation to philosophical ideas!  (Call myself a 'reviewer'?)  Another viewer suggested that the work was an exploration of photography itself and the importance of the mirror within the camera, helping the artist to reflect upon the world and its concerns. 

However, I did understand the work on 'Postmodern Dystopia' -well, the dystopia that is the large out of town supermarket.  The headless bodies of staff and customers are both unsettling and 'real'.  The brutal cropping speaks of a faceless, brainless humanity moving amongst the aisles.  But how many of us do actually look down and refuse to make eye contact when in those places?  How about a challenge – next time we go to Tesco or Sainsbury's smile at and say hello to everyone...

Norcott confessed that he likes visual experimentation; joining the Photo Art course has allowed him to explore what it means to be restricted to photographic processes.  To be tied to one discipline could be seen as a hindrance, but to Norcott it should bring real freedom.  I look forward to seeing his work in the third year!

Meg Beaumont offered a gentle and rather lovely end to the evening.  The work in progress that 'really is not finished' came with apologies and a plea to 'not rip me apart'.  The audience, already in a fine mood after a series of discussions and a few drinks was very happy to oblige.  It was Beaumont's work that made me remember it was Valentine's night as so many of the images were PRETTY.  Now, don't even begin to assume that I mean this in a negative way and that I am suggesting a saccharine, easy to swallow sort of aesthetic – not at all – I just mean that the work was visually and emotionally rather lovely and many of the images made me feel all warm and fluffy inside.

I can't remember who said that good work should elicit some sort of emotional response in the viewer (if it comes back to me I will let you know), but these uncomplicated images of coast paths, flowers and objects associated with beach huts definitely moved me.  It could have been her strategy of using a 1950's Ilford Sporty and the resultant softness of focus that suggested a dreaming and other worldliness of her experience; it could have been the slightly surreal colour palette – but whatever it was, she had me hooked.  I absolutely loved the incorporation of family slides into her work – an unidentified woman resplendent in bathing costume pins down 'her man' to the grass, her foot firmly planted against his chest.  He is bare chested, yet still wears his rather smart trousers: rather coy in the face of such a potentially amorous attack.  The image is so wonderfully joyous and innocent and I wish the world were still the same in many ways.

Later work becomes more enigmatic, and Beaumont captures bird footprints on the ground following the death of a beloved grandma (grandmothers are proving incredibly important to our photographers: if you still have one, grab her and hug her!)  We see flock wallpaper and gently billowing curtains.  The work talks about memory and nostalgia, about how things change and shift and how photography can help capture moments and hints of moments so that they won't be lost.

The work is truly lovely.


p.s. Additional highlights of the evening included the rather successful print swap and the mobile phone link with a certain Mr Norton who was unable to attend the event in person.  Thanks Alex, once again, your contributions brought a smile to our faces.

Interested to see more?  Here are some links

Jack Latham:             


Meg Beaumont:        

Claire Kern:                

Palendriai Monastery of St. Benedict:

Tibet and the control of birth rate:

p.p.s. Don't forget ffotogallery's Book Arts Fayre on Saturday 25th Feb...  You'll be able to purchase work by some of this week's featured artists and many others.