Tuesday 31 August 2010

Normal Service

Posters near the Whitby Pavilion complex

Technology. Great when it runs smoothly but a pain when it doesn't. The blog has been quiet these last few days due to some computer problems. Fortunately nothing too serious, however, i did have to reinstall ALL of the laptop software and start from scratch. Important data was backed up so I'm just about back to a normal level of service. Nothing lost apart from a bit of time.

I'll be recording the podcast tonight and uploading straight away so i imagine it should be ready to download by 10pm GMT. So much to do and so little time. August has been an important month for the podcast though. A coming of age, so to speak, with the podcast's inclusion in iTunes. It's building up a nice steady following which is heartening after two years of development. More improvements will come over the next few months.

Finally, i have a dilemma I'm pondering over in the shape of the extended 'Making Movies' photobook. Filming won't commence again until November and I don't know whether to end the book now OR continue the image taking in November. Keeping the book's summer filming angle sounds like a good idea so I may be looking to release the extended photobook in September.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Herman Leonard 1923-2010

I'll finish this week with this superb little documentary that gives a great insight about the photographer Herman Leonard, who died this week. Although known as a jazz photographer, Herman Leonard was much more than that, but i imagine that it will be the jazz images that he'll be best remembered for. I don't suppose Herman would mind that considering his love of photography and jazz.

I've always had a soft spot for this photographer's work. I was introduced to the great jazz photography of Herman Leonard by a friend during my early student years. Yes, my friend was a huge jazz fan, a live music photographer, so Leonard was, naturally, his hero. The photography was just beautiful and we would study the images carefully whilst listening to jazz classics. It certainly was a great way to get an education in music and photography.

Like the musicians that he photographed, Herman Leonard was a one off, a master of his craft. Regardless of whether you love jazz or not, Herman's images captured the mood and the music perfectly. Not many photographers can claim that. A book of the photographer's work called 'Jazz' is to be published in the UK in November.

Thursday 19 August 2010

America in Colour II

Remember this lady? Another great shot from a large colour photography archive. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer
Photographers are very lucky to have the internet. For searching and discovering new work it just can't be beat. I was checking through some of the photography blogs i subscribe to and, hey presto, a blogger happened to mention that a vast collection of the American colour photos (i mentioned a while back) were available on the a Library of congress Flickr page. Brilliant!

After a look through the vast collection i came across a photograph of a familiar face. The very lady whose photograph featured in the first America in Colour post. This time though, we get a great portrait of the lady herself. This collection of colour photographs is huge, around 1,615 to be exact, and cover a wide range of subjects dating from the late 1930's into the 1940's. The quality of the images are just first class.

The Library of Congress: 1930s-40s in Color can be found HERE

Monday 16 August 2010

Profile: Martin Parr

New Brighton. 1985 - Image by Martin Parr

Photography very much relies on personal opinion. It is one of the residing strengths of visual communication and it can also be its major weakness. Over the last few years, I have posted a number of blog profile articles about photographers whose work I admire. This profile, however, looks at the work of a photographer whose photography has helped create new colour documentary styles... and yet his photography polarizes opinion. In this photographer profile post, we take a look at the work of Martin Parr.

Martin Parr was born in Epsom, Surrey in May 1952. From around the age of fourteen, Parr wanted to be a photographer and credits his grandfather, who was an amateur enthusiast and encouraged the young teenager's photography, as an early photographic influence. During the early 1970s, Parr studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic (later Manchester Metropolitan University) and finally became a professional photographer during the mid-1970s. By the early 1980s, Parr was already recognised for a couple of books, shot in black and white, documenting the north of England. In 1984, however, Parr switched to colour photography and commenced (in 1985) on the project 'The Last Resort' that would see him become a rising star in the photographic scene and something of a controversial figure within the photographic community. Right from the start, many photographers took a dislike to the work for a variety of reasons.

The Last Resort featured colourful images taken in New Brighton, a popular beach resort suburb of Liverpool.  I first came across Martin Parr's work from this project in 1987/88 when I saw a number of the photographs in a photography magazine advertising the release of the book. The combination of pin-sharp, bright contrasty colour and witty observation certainly made the photography interesting to view, but even then, I detected what I believed to be a condescension of the subjects. It seemed to visually personify the era of the brash selfish eighties. It's a pitiless representation of the north of England, summed up by one reviewer who described the 'victims' in Parr's images as “a sitting duck for a more sophisticated audience". Even as a young novice photographer it seemed rather unpleasant to me too. Almost instantly, Parr's work divided opinion in the photography world. Some critics loved the work and its 'witty and humourous photographic style'. Others (like me and many of my fellow documentary photography students) failed to see the joke.... or like the photography style much.

During the late 1980's Parr had a couple of projects completed including One Day Trip in 1988 following day-trippers to Calais and decided to photograph the middle classes in Thatcher's Britain (The Cost of Living 1989). In Parr's defence, it can be said that the images were shot in the same of the subject as his working class-based 'The last Resort' had been. He later remarked about The Cost of Living that it was "very much examining my own position as a middle-class person who had flourished in a political climate that I felt somewhat opposed to”.  For many, if the photography's message was supposed to be critical, then it seemed to have been lost in transit. The photographer's images from this period seemed to celebrate rather than make any criticism of an era of self-indulgence and selfishness. It's pretty unfair to link Martin Parr's work with politics without knowing something about the photographer behind the work, however, some critics of his work did just that, believing falsely that Parr was celebrating Thatcher's Britain. It didn't help that the then prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, was a fan of his work.

By the early 1990's Martin Parr was THE contemporary photographer of the moment. During my years in photographic education, i would repeatedly come up against lecturers who adored his work. Parr was the influence of choice during those years, especially for those student photographers who preferred working in colour. 1994 saw Martin Parr join the Magnum photo agency, but the members voting provided some evidence of the sharp divide that Parr's work generates. The members of Magnum bitterly argued over Parr's admission for membership for six years! The photographer finally achieved the necessary two-thirds majority by the narrowest margin ever - just one vote! His work was not popular with the likes of Philip Jones Griffiths and one of Magnum's founding fathers, Henri Cartier Bresson. The legendary French photographer described Parr as "coming from another planet”. Philip Jones Griffiths went even further commenting on Parr's work that "Anyone who was described as Margaret Thatcher's favourite photographer certainly didn't belong in Magnum. His photographs titillate in some way, but the fact is that they are meaningless." That wasn't the worst quote either.

Ironically, Martin Parr has become one of Magnum's most commercially successful photographers, if not THE most successful currently. Recent work has included subjects such as luxury, photographing the rich and super-rich and holiday resorts in South America. The majority of his commissions, around 80%, come from overseas, and yet Parr still hasn't won over many of his critics back in the UK. This has been put down to the level of success that the photographer has achieved and the resulting bad feeling. According to Parr's supporters, envy is the key problem. Photographers envy his success. While that may be partially true, many photographers will have already made their own minds up about the photographer's work right from the start. Martin Parr as a photographer hasn't changed his style drastically and his influence has been immense. His style, use of colour and attitude has been favoured by many young contemporary photographers for years. Much of the criticism of the work may also stem from the easy way Parr's photojournalism work has been embraced by certain fine art photography circles - that can be an uneasy issue for many photojournalists For most people though, it is the photographer's work that remains the basis for the sometimes intensely critical regard that Martin Parr receives in his own country. Is he laughing at us? To be fair to the photographer, Parr seems to regard his subjects in the same manner regardless of geographical location.

A couple of posts ago, I commented on how I was trying to formulate why I had no liking for Martin Parr's photography. I don't hate it, in fact, I rather like some elements of the visual style of Parr's work, it's just the message the photography often conveys that I dislike. I don't see the humour. Often I just see detached cruelty, especially in his early work. I  have to admit that some of the contemporary photojournalism, taken by photographers who are often strongly influenced by Martin Parr, also leaves me cold. So in answer to the question of why I don't like photography, it comes down to the photographer's message, attitude, approach, call it what you will. I could maybe come up with other reasons too. I would be very interested to hear from blog readers about what they think about the work.  Whatever your thoughts on Martin Parr's photography, his commercial success and influential appeal reflects the fact that LOTS of people really do love his work. As an influence on contemporary documentary photography, young photographers and the culture of photography in general over the last twenty years, no other photographer quite frankly even comes close.

All Images by Martin Parr

Top Left - Martin Parr, 2004: Portrait by Bill Jay
Top Right - The Last Resort [ice cream girl] 1983-86
Middle Left - Badminton Horse Trials, Gloucestershire from 'The Cost of Living'
Middle Right - Auchan hypermarket, Calais, France, 1988, from "One Day Trip"
Bottom Left: - Russia. Moscow. Millionaire's Fair. 2007
Bottom Right - Hollywood, attendees at a charity function, 2000


Martin Parr Portfolio/ Magnum
BBC Genius of Photography
Martin Parr/ The Sunday Times
Magnum Photos Blog/ Martin Parr
The Guardian/ Photographer Martin Parr's best shot

Books by Martin Parr

The Last Resort
Small World

Thursday 12 August 2010

The Red Coat

The much imitated red coat scene from Schindler's List

Schindler's List is certainly not an easy film to watch. Good cinema rarely is. I recently sat and reacquainted myself with the film again after a number of years since the last viewing. At three hours long, it remains a fiercely powerful film that mixes a moving story with beautifully shot visuals. The cinematography is just superb and the little girl in the red coat amongst that violent sea of a black and white Krakow street remains a classic moment in cinema.

However, this post isn't about the film's brilliant cinematography, but the use of photography within the movie. One scene from Schindler's List stands out for me as a photographer. It conveys the whole evil purpose of the Nazi final solution in one camera shot and it uses old photographs to do it. The scene moves from the suitcases left behind on the Krakow railway station platform to the inside of one of the station buildings where the contents of the suitcases are being systematically processed by the SS.

Anything of value is being taken for the Reich. There are piles of glasses, shoes, watches, jewellery, children's toys and as the camera finally pans along, the film suddenly cuts to a massive pile of old family photographs in large suitcases. Even these unique family photographs, with incalculable sentimental value, are being processed. In that one scene it shows how the Nazis intended to wipe out the Jews complete with their history, their culture and even their memories. No past. No trace. Nothing.

Does this photograph scene hit me more because i am a photographer? No.  Family photographs transcend value compared to other items like gold and jewellery. Family photographs show where we are from, our past, who we are, where we belong, and to erase a people of its past only sends out one message, a message that should be fought vigorously wherever it's found.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

America in Colour

A riveter working on a Vultee A-31/A-35 Vengeance dive bomber in Tennessee, February 1943. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer

America in colour is a fantastic collection of images featured on the Denver Post photo blog. The photographs, taken by photographers for the Farm Security Administration and the War Information Office, cover an important period of U.S history from 1939-43, the era when America started the transformation into the industrial super power we all know today.

Much of the photography from that period was shot in black and white. Good quality colour shots are a very rare commodity from this period, but i have to admit that the image quality of these photographs is sublime - I imagine that they were taken using Kodak's then recently developed (1935) Kodachrome film. It really is a shame that Kodak stopped making such a brilliant film with such a rich and diverse history.

The last roll of Kodachrome 64 to come off the production line was ceremoniously shot by Magnum photographer and Kodachrome shooter Steve McCurry. There can be no doubt that this superb film was a victim of the digital photography age and the general decline in sales of colour film.

This collection of images is really well worth a look, as is the Denver Post's photography blog.

Sunday 8 August 2010

Fishing for Answers

Fishing for crabs - Wells-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk, UK

Currently I'm engaged in the writing of the next photographer profile post that will be released around the middle of the month. Over the years I've written a number of profiles and I've really enjoyed exploring the photography and life of the great image makers featured. This month's profile marks a first for the blog though, because the profile is about about a photographer whose work i have no real liking for.

So why do it? Well, the photographer in question has probably been one of the most influential photographers of the last twenty five years. His work has received critical praise and has helped create a new stylistic output for documentary photographers. He is successful...and yet in the many years I have been viewing the work created by this individual, i have never really warmed to his work or the way he shoots his subject matter. It wasn't just me either. His photography was disliked with a passion by all of the members of my documentary photography group at college.

What is infuriating is the fact that i can't figure out exactly after all these years what i don't like. Is it the photography style or just the way he treats a subject or topic? The topics he chooses? I don't know!!! There are many photographers whose work i have come to appreciate in my 'older years'. I have already posted about my stupid lack of respect for Richard Avedon's work during my somewhat ignorant photo purist student days. Maybe the blog post will provide some of the answers I've been looking for.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Recycle Time

Boat undergoing renovation - Morston Quay, Norfolk, UK

The final finishing touches have been made to the new blog layout. Considering that I never intended to alter the blog's design, i think it looks a lot better. It's modern looking, fresh and, dare i say it, easier to read now that it fills the screen more. I'm glad i started fiddling with the blog's setting now, although it could have all ended in disaster. It wouldn't be the first time that I've altered a website a tweak too far. Fortunately everything went smoothly.

Last Sunday i was shooting portraits for the vampire film. The light, however, was terrible due to thick overcast/rain clouds that covered the sky over York very quickly. The light dropped so fast that my only option was to get out the Nikon flashgun to light the actors. The only problem i had was the recycling time. Modern flashguns really do draw a LOT of power very quickly so the internal battery pack is only good for ten minutes shooting at medium power... if that!

I really will have to buy an external  battery pack to cut down the recycling times during shoots. I have one in mind that will reduce the recycling times by 66 percent and enable me to work quicker. It will also save me money in the long run. Perfect.

Sunday 1 August 2010

All Change!!!

After over three years online with the same design, I've decided to make some visual changes to the blog page. It's still a case of getting settled in to the new look and there are bound to be a few subtle changes over the coming weeks. Some aspects need tweaking but overall I rather like the blog's new layout look.