Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

3rd Prize Winner

The run is now coming to an end at the National Portrait Gallery.

A good year I think. Better than the last few; which to my mind have been too in-crowd, with no chance of anyone not on the art circuit making a showing.

The actual top 5 were not my favorites, except for the 3rd-place image by Dona Schwartz. Overall though some really good stuff this year. Well done to the judges and the photographers.

For the first time in many years I bought the catalogue – only £15, so the reproductions are not of the highest quality, but still a worthy purchase.

Amazon – Salgado at Somerset House

Extended until December 18th.

Sky is sponsoring a save the rainforest thing with pictures by Salgado and Per Anders Petterson.

There is a free mini-catalogue with a couple of Salgado’s pictures. He is as good as ever. Lots of pictures of the very disturbing Zo’e rainforest tribe who shove these huge bones through their lower lips. I really couldn’t get used to it at all. There’s nowt as queer as folk.

Free entry, great venue – with an ice rink, free mini-catalogue. Interesting pictures including a few stunners by Salgado.

Get yourself down there.

Real Venice at Somerset House

One more week to go…

Fourteen internationally renowned photographers were invited to visit Venice and create a portfolio of images. Each photographer has donated an edition of their portfolio to be sold in aid of Venice in Peril.

Real Venice is an exhibition of a selection of photographers who have donated these images to raise funds to preserve the sinking city.

These are very good photographers. Not all to my taste, but all excellent in their own way. The exhibition itself is testament to the power of photography as art and documentary and the astonishing variety which is possible within the broad scope of this assignment.

The full website with prices and for the original artwork can be found here. The site also has decent resolution images for web viewing, so if you cannot get to London for the show then they can be seen here.

I particularly liked Hiroshi Watanabe, Jules Spinatsch, Mimmo Jodice, and the street work of Tim Parchikov. Standing above the others for me though were Nan Goldin and Philip-Lorca Dicorcia.

The catalogue is available on Amazon. I didn’t buy it on the day for two reasons; firstly my bag was already very heavy and I still had quite a bit of walking to do, and secondly at £35 it’s a bit dearer than usual. If a catalogue costs less than £25 and I like the images I will always buy it, but £35 requires a bit more thought – I have to really really like it. I think I probably will get it from Amazon at some point.

Overall – Highly recommended!!

World Press Photo Awards 2011

Came a bit late to the London exhibition this year, in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall as usual, and it’s only on for a few more days now.

World Press Photo Awards Website

A lot of the photos were familiar to me this year.

If you can’t get to an exhibition there is an iPad app, for $5-ish.

Overall though, I’m not sure whether I’d recommend going. Beautiful photos of terrible events. Does the aesthetic power make those terrible events more or less relevant or interesting? Does a beautifully composed, exposed, focussed, coloured, etc image of a head in Mexico (sans body) have more impact than a “straight” BW documentary image?

Or the winning image this year of a woman in Afghanistan with her nose cut off. The image is composed and lit like a professional portrait. Can we really get desensitised to this? Does the contrast help or is it simply a sensational mis-application of technique? Should this kind of photography get prizes?

Anyway, the experience is pretty nasty and unsettling. Don’t take young kids!!

The print room at the V&A

Is open most days. Level 4 above the Sackler wing.

I just kind of wandered in, one of the staff suggested it. They have thousands of photographs in the collection. You have to have something in mind because it’s a museum after all. You just arrive, sign in and then head over to the computer terminals where you are faced with this website:

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/

So what would you look for? Well in the face of such uncertainty and completely unprepared? I figured I’d go for Kertesz; he is after all my favourite photographer.

So I found a few items listed. Got the box number. Went over to the desk. The helpful curator did some more digging. “Looks like there are three boxes.” she said. “Would you like to see all of them?” Still somewhat unbelieving that such a thing was possible I said “Yes please, that would be wonderful.”

About thirty minutes later… Recognise any of these? The prints were acquired by the V&A in 1976. There is no charge for this service. You can just go in there and as long as you are polite and quiet, and see some museum-quality prints of some of the greatest photographs ever made. I’m still in shock. (The collection of course is not only photographs, in fact the photos are probably one of the smallest parts of the collection.)

I love this city.

Victoria & Albert Museum

I had the day off. Two choices – either go to Somerset House to see the Venice Photos, or to the V&A to the photo galleries.

Dithered a bit then decided on the V&A because it was closer and I’d read a review, and it was recommended in Time Out. Will get to the Venice exhibition next week.

The layout of the V&A is very confusing, the photos being split across 2 locations. The temporary one being downstairs in Level 1 and the more permanent upstairs on Level 3.

Apparently the section on Julia Margaret Cameron has been recently revised or included. Interesting. All very and intentionally soft, and quite unsettling for it. As you move towards them from across the room they go from seeming reasonably sharp to getting very soft and ghostly. Obvious metaphors abound and it really is refreshing to see some classic prints that eschew the camera enthusiasts’ obsession for sharpness at any cost. Even in her day this was true, and her pictures were a reaction against that to some extent. No doubt she would be an exponent of Lomography were she alive today.

I also discovered the print room. But that deserves a post of its own.

Took the X100 along of course, made a few random shots. The V&A is a beautiful building crammed full of beautiful objects.

Even managed a self portrait.

Eyewitness – Hungarian photography @ Royal Academy

I felt like I really needed a day off.

So this morning I saw a screening of the latest cut of Trishna, which my wife is editing – wonderful film. And then swung by the Royal Academy to catch the Eyewitness exhibition.

Pretty good photos of course. Lots of good photographers. But to be honest I would have been happier if they had that many photos all devoted to Kertesz. His photos, even in that distinguished company just blew everything else away.

Took along my X100 of course, which caused two movie types to say how cool it was and started a long conversation. Everyone LOVES this camera. Took a few pics.

Figures & Fictions @V&A

I went to the V&A Museum today on the recommendation of a friend to see the “Figures & Fictions” exhibition of Contemporary South African Photography.

Just a quick escape from home as my wife had taken the kids to the gym and swimming, I had a couple of hours to myself.

Overall I was very impressed: A mix of old and new and different styles. David Goldblatt had some pictures of course, but with him it’s always about the content, never really the aesthetic. A documentary photographer not a fine artist. Representing the same thread; Jodi Bieber and Sabelo Mlangeni were good and fairly traditional in feeling.

In a more contemporary vein were Zanel Muholi, Jo Ractliffe, Berni Searle, Mikhael Subotzky and Roelof Petrus Van Wyk and Nontsikelele Veleko. All good and could have emerged from any contemporary European Photography department. Solid and interesting; mixing current portrait and social documentary styles. Amazingly I actually recognised Yo-landi Vi$$er of the South African band “Die Antwoord” in one of the Van Wyk portraits. (I didn’t have the faintest idea who she was until a few days ago.) All high-resolution digital images, printed very large, for no good reason but full of impact for all that.

But head and shoulders above the other fine photographers stood two:

You have probably seen Pieter Hugo’s photographs of the Hyena Men from Nigeria, and he had some other deeply affecting photographs on display. He is extremely accomplished, and undoubtedly brave beyond measure to got to the places he goes and make those images. This is post-apocalyptic photography without doubt. Africa is perhaps not years behind the rest of the world, perhaps they are instead a thousand years ahead and there lies our bleak future. Whoever imagined hell could be rendered so beautifully?

And finally Guy Tillim – with a series on a village in Malawi that was astonishingly good. Full colour images that yet seemed to represent every shade of brown, monochrome in full colour. Images containing astonishing movement and simultaneous stillness, and composition that takes a ball-peen hammer to that part of your brain where the aesthetic sensibility resides. Stunning images, reminiscent of Sebastiao Salgado; finding great classical form and beauty in the poverty of an African village. The subject matter not so stark as Salgado and less jarring for that. This goes beyond documentary photography this is very fine art indeed.

Guy Tillim is not just one of South Africa’s best photographers, he’s one of the very best photographers I have seen, surpassing in my view some of the acknowledged greats. Seek out his work, you will not be disappointed that you did.

And of course I took my X100 along. The young man who sold me the ticket to the exhibition asked if that was the “new hybrid camera”. I said it was and he asked how it was. I paused for a second and said: “It’s excellent, really amazing.” “Is it good at high ISO?” He wanted to know. “Yes,” I said, “though I don’t shoot it that way very much.”

Shooting today in RAW mode only, which certainly speeded up write times. Also with ALL power saving modes disabled, turning the camera off when I wasn’t using it for a while. This is surely the way to go, for startup times are now in the region of 0.5 seconds. Today for the first time it went beyond the merely acceptable to actually feeling pretty snappy in operation. And oh so silent. Just beautiful to use, no one takes any notice of you at all; this is the opposite of in-your-face photography – it seems calm and genteel.


Paul Graham exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery

I have seen this exhibition recommended in a few places.

I was not very familiar with his work, but it was very impressive and the display was exceptionally well done.

I bought the catalogue. (A bit expensive at £35, but I felt I needed to spend some time with the images to get a better understanding of what’s going on.)

Highly recommended. Runs until 19th June.

Update: Having had a chance to properly peruse the catalogue I’m of the feeling it’s pretty marginal at £35. Some of the images are reproduced in a teeny-tiny size; I understand why they’ve done it – to try to give a feeling of how the images should be displayed in the gallery, but really on a 12×12 page having an image smaller than 2×2 is a bit much. The impact would have been much stronger if the images had been reproduced at decent sizes one per page, leafing through would serve as a nice substitute for walking along the wall. Also the reproduction of some of the colour images is poor – they are too dark. Sometimes you get the two evils combined!! My favourite part of the whole exhibition – the man mowing the lawn loses 99% of its appeal in the book. Pretty poor job on the book, which I stupidly bought on the run because I needed to get back to work before the end of my lunchbreak.