MUSINGS & MISCELLANY
June 2021 - Despatches from the Plague Days
Mostly it is the more industrial and less gentrified areas of outer London that tend to supply me with the spaces and materials for my imagery. The pandemic inevitably restricted my radar to the confines of my immediate South London neighbourhood. After a few months of daily walks it became increasingly hard for me to find inspiration among the prim houses and empty residential streets. In the end I decided to re-evaluate some of my more recent material and work out selections that could work together. This has resulted in two book dummies under the titles: ‘Suspended’ and ‘Penumbra’.
(Some images from the latter can be found among the galleries here).
It was of course disappointing that August 2020 I was unable to visit the PH21 Gallery in Budapest and again later in January 2021 Millepiani in Rome. Both had exhibitions that included works of mine. The former, entitled ‘Photographic Visions’ featured three of my images from my series : ‘Agent Cloud’.
The latter, curated by Loosenart under the theme ‘Post-Industrialism’ enabled me to exhibit photographs I had taken in the now defunct industrial complex of Ostrava in the Czech Republic. This large site of former heavy industries with its impressive brick buildings, enormous metal structures and clusters of imposing chimneys that once darkened the skies with its clouds of black smoke so reminded me of my mother’s hometown Bobrek by Bytom near Katowice, Poland just a few miles across the border, a place that had been inaccessible to me for much of my life. I had found it very satisfying to photograph some of these structures almost forgetting that under my feet were miles of deep shafts and tunnels that for many decades had served the mining of coal.
More recently, I was delighted to receive the news that my image of a row of garden refuse bags will be included in Shutterhub’s new book ‘Poetry’ featuring 100 photographs and available from Shutterhub after July/August 2021.
There was a cartoon in a newspaper a while back that showed two people on a sofa watching the latest news on the pandemic and one of them sighing: "Goodness, don’t you miss Brexit?"
It’s January 2021, and we are in our second major lockdown. The Central London group exhibition I was curating that should have taken place last Easter, was postponed to February this year and has now had to be postponed again to October this year. It’s theme: ‘Strange Familiars’ will most likely resonate with people still. Let’s hope the Espacio Gallery will survive until then and that the exhibition won’t become yet another sad casualty among so many creative undertakings.
Expecting things might have eased up by now, last year I submitted works, taken a couple of years ago at the former industrial complex in Ostrava, Czech Republic, to LOOSENART (Rome) who, defying current restrictions, are keeping up an impressive program of exhibitions. Hats off to them! Two of my images are on show at the Spazio Millepiani between Jan 8 - 18 as part of their POST-INDUSTRIALISM exhibition ending on February 4. Obviously, I won’t be able to see it in the flesh.
In the meantime the book B-SIDES OF ARCHITECTURE, curated by Markus Lehr (Berlin), arrived just before Christmas. It is a solid, large hard-back book with a very nicely designed cover containing works by 32 photographers, each represented by three photographs. The layout is beautifully done and the matte paper makes it a pleasure to leaf through its pages. Self-critical as I am, I feel that my photographs appear somewhat flat on the page, especially the one taken in London. Several other images in the book could also have benefitted from a stronger contrast curve. This highlights once more the problems relating to sometimes significant differences between how images look on the screen to how they appear in print. Many variables come into play and it is rare that this can be done without requiring a range of adjustments. It may be costly, but proofing each image with the printer is, in my view, a necessary step if one wishes to end up with a consistently high quality product.
As a fan of Luigi Ghirri’s work and writing, it was a true delight to see recently the original prints from his ‘Colazione sull ‘Erba’ series, here in London at the Thomas Dane Gallery.
The images, tiny in comparison to the current vogue for large exhibition prints, depict mainly windows, walls and fences featuring a variety of plant arrangements, just as one might find walking around any Italian suburb. As such, they could be described as depictions of the banal, but Ghirri’s delicately attentive compositions, wrapped in those particular warm tones and their intimate size, made rather precious objects of these unassuming prints. Underscoring the pleasure of the viewing experience were the unobtrusive framing and generous spacing on the walls of this modestly sized gallery.
Print sizes in relation to subject matter or genre, framing and the spacing and/or grouping of individual works are some of the key issues I need to pay close attention to when curating a show, which I am shortly to do for members of the London Independent Photography Central Group.
It is the second time this group of 18 photographers, who meet monthly in central London, have approached me to curate their annual show. I like the fact that it is a very mixed group, including photographers with professional and MA level expertise at one end of the spectrum and amateurs and newcomers to the medium at the other. The main challenge is to manage such diversity in a way that makes for an interesting and cohesive show and which aspires to a high overall standard.
Given that it is a self-selecting group, many of whom are pursuing their own individual projects, it is not easy to find a theme or title specific enough to be both interesting and thought provoking whilst general enough to accommodate such diverse interests. One way of getting the majority on board is through a democratic vote on the half dozen or so titles I have drawn up, which already take into account some of their concerns.
In the months preceding an exhibition, I try and engage with everyone on an individual basis. I see my role mainly as a facilitator, encouraging each photographer to think through a wider range of options than those they may have initially considered, and occasionally proposing alternatives, with the understanding that the final decision on the images rests with the photographer. However, when it comes to the hanging, whilst I am willing to engage in preliminary discussions with exhibitors, the agreement I have with the group is that all the decisions do ultimately rest with me.
The group has now voted for 'STRANGE FAMILIARS' to be the title of their next exhibition.
It is due to open during Easter week 2020 and will again take place at the lovely Espacio Gallery on Bethnal Green Road, a vibrant part of London’s creative East End.
Previous curated exhibition : 'Factual Enigma' for Central LIP
Scroll down to: 'Factual Enigma - Central LIP 23-28 April 2019'
It is interesting to look back at work one has done some years ago and the thoughts that have accompanied it. I have written very little about it, mainly due to the belief (contested, I know) that images speak for themselves. I have not changed my mind regarding this and continue to rebel against the pressure on all photographers, regardless of the genre they work in, to explain their images and/or to tell stories through them. For documentary work text and context are indeed crucial, but photography isn’t only there to provide a visual record of a person, place or event. On its own, an image has the potential of opening up experiences that reach beyond words or concepts.
Photographs are very different to paintings, they do however share the fact that they are images or pictures. Gerhard Richter, whose artistic output often uses, simulates or plays with the perception of the photographic image, once stated:
"A picture presents itself as the unmanageable, the illogical, the meaningless. It demonstrates the endless multiplicity of aspects; it takes away our certainty… It shows us the thing in all the manifold significance and infinite variety that preclude the emergence of any single meaning and view." Notes, 1964-65, Gerhard Richter: Text, Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, Thames & Hudson, London 2009
Like music or dance, photography has its own language. Using this visual language I am, with each image, somehow trying to build a particular bridge between the external world, myself and any fellow human being who cares to engage and look. Once there, the bridge can be crossed from both ends, it can be observed in part or as a whole, from below or above, crossed half-way or not at all. I cannot control the bridge, nor wish to, I do not own it. And the key for me is that each one of them depends entirely on the external physical world and my being receptive and tuned into it when wandering through streets and alleys, just as all the flaneurs with cameras have done before me.
Looking into Urban Parallels, my very first self-published book, I see on its frontispiece a quote by Dorothea Lange, which still resonates with me:
“To know ahead of time what you are looking for means that you are then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting.”
And there is another quote:
“I look outside myself and the tree inside me grows” Rainer Maria Rilke