Friday, 2 October 2015


September's theme at the Democratic Camera Club was on Territory.
I tackled this from two angles in my introduction. The first was territory as a photographic theme and the second was the medium of photography as a contested territory in itself.

The photographers I showed for first part were Fay Godwin, Luisa Lambri, Robert Adams and Jo Spence. 
Fay Godwin
Fay Godwin Tethered Caravan, Easha-Ness, Shetland, 1987
Themes of private land ownership are playfully and wryly portrayed in Godwin's images of the British landscape. She beautifully chronicles our attempts to control and repackage nature, as well as highlighting environmental issues. A book to look out for: Landmarks 
Luisa Lambri Untitled (Darwin D. Martin House, #02),2007
Luisa Lambri Untitled (Darwin D. Martin House, #02),2007
Luisa Lambri,  b. 1965, addresses the territory of modernist architecture, traditionally a male preserve. She creates intimate, subtle and mysterious images of details of famous buildings by Le Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright. The repetitive quality of her series refuse clarity, unlike the buildings themselves which remain static, material and defined. Her work was exhibited in the recent Constructing Worlds Exhibition at the Barbican in London. The catalogue is available at the Edinburgh Art and Design Library. Or check out her website here. 

Robert Adams From What we Bought: The New World
Robert Adams From What we Bought: The New World highlight
Robert Adams documents the territory of expanding suburbs in America and its effects on nature. His photos appear beguilingly sober, but the 'empty' natural spaces, fragile human presence  and signs of encroaching exploitation convey an emotive tension.  Of this series he said 'The pictures record what we purchased, what we paid, and what we could not buy. They document a separation from ourselves, and in turn, from the natural world that we professed to love.' To see more of his work click here.

There are artists who explore the body as territory and the politics of space in their artwork: Jo Spence, Sophy Rickett's pissing women series and Lili Reynaud Dewar, to name just a few.
Jo Spence and Terry Dennett: The Picture of Health?, 1982-1986

For the second part of the talk I focussed on the territory of photography as a medium in itself.
The BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art Photography at Glasgow School of Art, which I attended in 1990  was the first of its kind in the UK. Photography seemed to have an inferiority complex about being accepted as art, i.e. on a par with painting and sculpture. It became important to define photography as art, rather than photography for commercial or private use.
John Baldessari, Frames and Ribbons 1988
Meanwhile painters were incorporating photography into their work, like the artist John Baldaserri.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 12.16.58
Gerhard Richter
Whilst Fine Art Photographers were working to make photography more exclusive and collectable, painter Gerhard Richter was using photography as a way to deal with the increasing mass of photographic images in the world, which he describes as a "Bilderflut". He has been collecting photographs, cuttings and sketches since the 1960s in a work called Atlas.
Today 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, a veritable tsunami of images. The distinctions between amateur and professional photography become harder to maintain, if they should be maintained at all.
Freedom from the Known
Wolfgang Tillmans, Anthony , 2005
Some of the most interesting photographic work being made today questions the role of photography. These photographic artists question the value of photography, addressing the 'Bilderflut', by using appropriated images from the Internet, using new technologies to usurp the idea of the"maker", and revisit analogue approaches using different materials to create negatives and see the photographic paper itself as a sculptural form. In fact these were the themes of a recent exhibition in Berlin called Photo Poetics which will be at the Guggenheim Museum in November.
Lisa Oppenheim The sun is always setting somewhere else, 2006
Lisa Oppenheim The sun is always setting somewhere else, 2006

Here is a link to a short video about Lisa Oppenheim, explaining her use of appropriates images, and her use of new and historical techniques.
Claudia Angelmaier, Betty, 2008.
Claudia Angelmaier, Betty, 2008.
(And in a reversal of the idea of "Bilderflut", this image by Claudia Angelmaier references Gerhard Richter)
Crying, 2005
Anne Collier, Crying, 2005

Thanks for everyone for coming to this month's meeting at the Democratic Photo Club, the interesting discussions and photography responses to the theme.

This post first appeared on the website of the democratic camera club. 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Peace Lily

What comes between Picasso and Lee?
- The pale, mildly mannered Peace Lily
The muse it holds in a green embrace
As for the master, it blocks out his face

The poster is from an exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery about the friendship between Lee Miller and Picasso which ran from 23 May - 6th September. The poster was at the Fine Art Public Library in Edinburgh, which apart from having nice plants, has a room dedicated to photography. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Park Life

This is the story of the bush in this photograph taken at the Berlin Tempelhof Freiheit (freedom) Park in July. I like to think that even when the Tempelhof airport was in operation, this bush was lying there under the tarmac waiting for its chance to break through. When the airport closed in 2008 it realised that it could sieze its chance now those pesky planes were gone. But first it had to wait, as there was a fair bit of bureaucratic nonsense to wade through: a people's vote to decide whether the land should be snapped up by developers or made into a park for everyone. "No brainer" it thought, but still it bit its imaginary nails and tried its best at thought transference into the minds of Berlin residents. Then the results in. Its bud shook with glee when it found out that the land would remain a park! Utopia would be built right here bordering Neukölln and it was at the centre of it, the bellybutton of a new dawn. There would be groovy allotments and windswept runways, where skaters, joggers and cyclists would fly as if on air into the unfathomable distance (386 hectares) to become minute specks. Picnics, barbecues, yoga enthusiasts and acrobats would be accommodated. There would be a bird sanctuary, a nifty moveable classroom made from shipping containers and recycled Bauhaus windows and even a beer garden with excellent hot dogs*. Young dreamers would wake up here arm in arm lying on the taxiways cradling wine bottles, oblivious to the busy traffic of early morning dog walkers. Then there was the stupendous architecture of the airport itself, which if you forgot its its fascist origins as the dream of Albert Speers and Hitler to be the "gateway to Germania" and thought about its role in the Berlin Air Lift, was really kind of cool looking. It was in this ecstatic frame of mind that the plant began its ascent through the concrete, and took, what it felt to be its rightful place, amongst the yellow floor markings and pink upright signs.

 "What will be my meaning?" the bush asked itself when it was fully fledged "now that I stand here, not just as a bush, but as a sign amongst signs". 

It felt proud to be the first organic sign on the Tempelhofer Freiheit Park in Berlin. Others joined it of course, the grasses, the trees but that was later, much later when everyone had lost interest in organic signs.

"What edict will I convey?" 

 It thought long and hard as its tendrils grew and made a shape full of meaning and clarity. Nowadays, people and dogs who pass the bush obey the bush's edict without knowing what it is, for it is a secret. If you go to the Tempelhofer Freiheitpark, and pass this bush or should I say sign, just be aware that is absolutely essential to obey this sign, or if you are the generation of '68, please feel free to deliberately ignore it. 

The sign's edict for me was to take two photographs of more or less the same thing, one with a digital camera where the results appear analogue, and one with an analogue camera where the results looks digital as the scan is extremely crass. 
I cannot say what the sign will tell you to do. 

*this may not be completely accurate about the hot dogs

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

"Ach, bist Du auch neugierig?"

This area of the former Kindl brewery in Neukölln, Berlin, is now an arts centre. If you visit their website, you will see from the nice photos there that many of the original features have been retained.

I came across the brewery by accident, on a mission to track down some friends of mine who live nearby.

"Ach, bist Du auch neuguerig?",  a man in cycle gear asks me. Here is where the Kindl area comes to an abrupt end at a yet to be filled gap. I am not the only "neugierig" or "nosy" one.*

I snapped this photo from a U-Bahn station wall: The photo is courtesy of the Museum Neukölln, and shows the brewery as it was around 1930.

* Actually "neugierig" can be literally translated as "greedy for the new", gierig means greedy and neu means new. The man used it to mean I was also curious or inquisitive, and despite its quite negative word root it is often used in a positive way. There doesn't seem to be a German equivalent for "nosy" though. One word suffices for all; A nosy neighbour is also "neugierig".

In German there also doesn't seem to be quite the equivalent of "Mind your own Business". If you do have the misfortune of having to use this phrase in German, it may be quite a mouthful: "Kummern Sie sich um Ihre eigenen Sachen/ Dreck". By the time you have said this, the moment will have probably passed leaving you mumbling incoherently to yourself. I have observed a higher sense of civic duty in Germany. This may be why I haven't heard this phrase used often, for example, when a stranger admonishes someone for crossing the road when the pedestrian signal is red. (I like the London phrase "to stick one's oar in", which means to meddle in other people's business.)

"Neugierig" could just as well be "altgierig", if you are greedy for the old, like I seem to be for old industrial buildings. That could sound quite conservative though. I like the way the word nose-y is such a physically descriptive word. I often follow my nose to the scent of an interesting place when taking pictures. No, I think I'll stick with nosing around as everyone knows what curiosity did to that cat.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Teaches of (Lidl) Peaches

I have been staying in Berlin with my friend Kate. Our days seem to start and end later and later, but when they do start, it is usually with one of these delicious flat peaches (Plattpfirsiche) freshly picked from the aisle of our local Lidl.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Your Voice is You

Some photos from the opening night of HIDDEN DOOR in Edinburgh, which is a non profit arts festival which takes place in abandoned or hidden places in Edinburgh. This year it is at the old street lighting depot on King's Stables Road, right in Edinburgh's old town, near the Grassmarket. On until Saturday 30 May.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Sagrada Familia, Stained Glass and Selfie Sticks

I am not a religious person, but still when I walk into a church I expect to feel a sense of reverence. Although architecturally fantastic, the atmosphere of the Sagrada Familia was, somehow, inexplicably dead. I couldn't feel the mystery that surely should be part of the religious experience. Everything was wonderfully and colourfully lit. Illuminated plastic looking transparent nodes on columns blinked down at me like compound insect eyes. There were organic flourishes and details and, looking skywards, the columns grew like a forest canopy. 

Perhaps it was the hordes of tourists (including myself) in the church and the din of the ongoing building works (the church will take another 40 years to complete) that had displaced any atmosphere of religious feeling. In fact a sign recommended worshipers go down to the  chapel in the crypt where they could pray in quiet and contemplation.

I sat down on one of the stone benches lining the edge of the church and instinctively began to take out of focus images of stained glass windows and became more and more carried away until I was in a kind of trance. I think I was trying to recreate the mystery that I felt was absent in the church but soon my pictures became more and more about integrating the tourists into the pictures.

I have been fascinated by tourists and their rituals for a while. The tourists were involved in a ritual of taking selfies, almost religiously. They were unified in a common gesture, not of hands held together in prayer, rather holding the arm gracefully curved and aloft, cupped around the phone or wrapped around the selfie stick. I felt like an atheist to their cause, not having a selfie stick to hand to give blessing to our visit so that we may be granted eternal virtual life through our uploaded images on our social media pages. As a  ritual, it is perhaps profane in its self worship, but nevertheless still a ritual which responds to the fragility of being a human with an expiry date.

I found this vista of the Sagrada Familia (see last photo) where building is still underway and cranes were sweeping through the sky to be the most arresting part of my visit. "Why shouldn't a crane be as uplifting spiritually as a church spire?" says Momus in a piece on the industrial area of Osaka docks in Japan. You can make the pilgrimage to see the cranes at The Sagrada Familia until the building work is finished in 40 years and have your spiritual cake, and eat it.