Archive for April, 2011

The Opinions of Others

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Last Thursday’s headlines informed us of the death of two photojournalists, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, killed sadly in Libya. In August 2010, on the Peta Pixel site, Neil Burgess, head of London-based photo agency NB Pictures and former head of Network Photographers and Magnum Photos was quoted as having declared that photojournalism is dead. Burgess’s point, apparently, was that news-based magazines simply were not running great photo-essays any more. If what he said is true, without intending to seem callous, it begs the question: what were these photographers doing there?

Could the old adage: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ in the era of Facebook – where images put up on a member’s wall reveal so much more than any hand-written letter – be more apposite than ever before. Are these pictures of themselves and those they’ve taken of their friends to be considered portraits? If it was indeed dead, has You-tube resurrected and become the new home of, albeit short-lived and disposable, photojournalism? Does this cheapen photography or merely democratise it?

Photography galleries and auction houses selling archive prints, for the most part produced by those who have become household names – on April 9th, a Philips de Pury auction of 261 photographs, where the top prices paid were for Cindy Sherman and Robert Frank prints, sold for a total of 5,802,250 US$ – have developed the output of the sub-genre into a valuable commodity. Currently though, prices fall far short of those that paintings and sculpture are fetching. Have sales peaked? Will a photographic print or an image that is intended to be admired exclusively on a computer screen ever be worth as much as a Van Gogh?

What I am trying to get at is that the world of photography has, in recent years, fundamentally changed to become an enormous, shifting, complex and often perplexing subject to try to understand, follow or find a clear basis to form an opinion about.

Not so long ago, a reliable colleague, friend or trusted acquaintance might point someone out across the room at an event and tell me that he/she is a new and interesting photographer. I might get an introduction, wander over and introduce myself  – in those days, before I became a full-time photographer, I was commissioning a lot of photography and was keen to work with and encourage up and coming talent – or the photographer might sidle up to introduce his/herself or wangle an introduction to me. Things were simpler when I saw one photographer at my office, at an alloted time, every weekday. Once I had chatted with them and looked at their work, regardless of whether I thought it was right or relevant for whatever projects I was involved with, I thought I could tell if they were any good. These days, I’m no longer commissioning but like to keep reasonably well informed. The ever-growing amount of stuff out makes it all the more difficult to make an immediate judgement. I want more information, I miss the personal contact; I find myself canvassing the opinions of others, looking not for guidance, exactly – perhaps I’ve grown lazy – more for them to have done an initial sift.

Having looked at a lot that I was unimpressed with, I have subscribed to a small number of on-line photo magazine sites and adopted them as my regular ports of call. None of them provide answers to the questions I would like to ask or forums for discussion about the aspects of photography that I feel ought to be discussed. However, by looking at their offerings and clicking on the links they provide to galleries, book publishers and photographers’ personal sites, I use these as springboards to what I consider interesting, and where I can keep informed about what is happening in photography. Currently, in my opinion, the best of these comes in the form of a daily, La Lettre de la Photographie, which, in the last few days led me to the following:

Patrick Tosani, photography 1980-2011
La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France. Until 19th June

Image: Talon réf. 100-40,1987 © Patrick Tosani /ADGP, Paris 2011


Michael Thompson: Portraits,
Damiani, 2011. $65.00, 45,88 €

Image: Courtesy, Jed Root and Damiani



The Feast of Trimalchio

Le Royal Monceau, Paris. Until 25th June

Image: The Feast of Trimalchio. Allegory #1. The Triumph of America. AES+F 2010-2011. Courtesy, Triumph Gallery, Moscow

The Lives of Great Photographers
National Media Museum Bradford ,UK. Until 4th September
Featuring Henri Cartier-Bresson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Capa, William Henry Fox Talbot, Weegee, Tony Ray-Jones, Fay Godwin and Eadweard Muybridge

Image: Carlyle like a rough block of Michael Angelo’s (sic) sculpture, 1867, Julia Margaret Cameron. Courtesy, The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum/SSPL

Do you have any favourite photography sites?

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Site Under Construction

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Building work

We knew there would be a lot of mess and dust. This week the builders are in, taking out two sections of stud wall that partially divide our main, open-plan living area from the kitchen, which we are replacing and expanding. Before they arrived, we pushed all of our furniture to one end of the space and took the precaution of installing a polythene curtain across its width. Suffice to say, the shot above, which I took in the calm early morning just prior to the builders’ long-awaited arrival, belies the truth and is a gross misrepresentation of what was to follow.

The UK-based architecture and design photography agency, Arcaid, are now taking the interiors pictures which, as an extension of the garden photography I’m known for, I’ve begun to produce.

Do you have any builder stories you’d like to share?

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Happy Alvar Aalto!

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Aalto vase: 75th anniversary

It still looks like it was created yesterday but, arguably the best-known vase in the world – it could very easily be a product of the 21st century architecture/design practices of  Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry was designed in 1936 by the most important Finnish architect of the 20th century, Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). Famous as much for his characteristically, curvy furniture designs as for his distinctive architecture, Aalto was a modernist, who fused the ideas developed at Germany’s Bauhaus and of the Dutch De Stijl group, for example, with traditional Scandinavian humanism. The result was that certainly his early creations, whatever their scale – from the Paimio Chair, 1933 – devised to ease the breathing of tubercolosis patients to his undulating, glass-fronted, Finnish Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, 1939, where, incidentally, the vase made its debut – were more user-friendly, far less remote, than those of the other more rationalist moderns.

The organically-shaped glass vase was originally given the surreal name ‘The Eskimo Woman’s Leather Breeches’ by Aalto but became known as the Savoy Vase after a new luxury hotel in Helsinki that opened in 1937. Finnish glassware manufacturer Iittala market it eponymously as the Aalto Vase; each item individually mouth-blown, the design comes in a multitude of colours and sizes. It’s called a vase but apparently the most boring use for it is as a container for flowers; the owner is required to stamp something of his/her own personality on it. To me, diktats of any sort are like a red rag to a bull so, with that particular one in mind, I went out purposefully and came home with two bunches of beautiful, deep pink-red tulips, half-filled our Aalto with water and unceremoniously, pushed the stems into it. They looked colourful but, perhaps, a little sterile. Okay, I thought, maybe I should have been a bit more creative. Overnight, however – and I like to think it had something to do with the eskimo woman’s leather breeches – they sprang to life and arranged themselves prettily and naturalistically for my camera.

Do you have an Aalto vase?
What do you put it?

Please post a comment and, better still, send a picture


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Hotel Gio Ponti

Friday, April 1st, 2011


Parco dei Principi
Sorrento, Italy

A few years ago, on a writing and photographic assignment for The Condé Nast Traveller, the magazine had booked me into the Parco dei Principi in Sorrento on the Bay of Naples. I had never stayed in any other hotel where each of the plants and exotic collection of trees in the garden were labelled in Latin. The hotel had more surprises – the biggest being that it was/is a 1962 design classic by legendary Italian creative genius, Gio Ponti. Like a latter-day Philippe Starck, while Ponti was the architect, he was also responsible for the design of every item of furniture, the ceramic floor tiles in the many rooms – each has a different variation on the same blue and white theme – the shell and pebble murals and the white, angular, animalesque diving platform that juts out over the angular, blue swimming pool.

Between treks off to photograph gardens on Capri, Ischia and at Ravello above the Amalfi coast, I took a few snapshots around the hotel. The opening piece in the Traveller’s current, April issue, Where to stay section, is illustrated by one of my Parco dei Principe images. A print was made for them, while the others above are a selection of unretouched, scanned contact prints.

Visited the hotel?
Anything interesting to say about Gio Ponti?
Any impressions of the many gardens in this area?

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