Friday, 31 August 2007

Inside Outside

The city always offers moments of cool, sumptuous gloom – if you know where to look...

Meanwhile, outside, just a few hundred yards away and an hour or two later, the 'urban beach' enthusiasts were being offered another way of staying cool...

Monday, 27 August 2007



Laurence Broderick's bronze bull has become a city centre landmark. Like everyone else, I'm drawn there time after time to watch what's going on and to take pictures.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

A canvas to work on

I remember reading a comment by Joel Meyerowitz – see his work here and here – to the effect that when he was starting out as an independent photographer he spent hours, days, working New York's parades and festivals as a way of honing his skills and overcoming his self-consciousness. He talks of photographing so close to people that he could hear them breathe.

This had a huge impact on me – not because the idea of photographing at parades and festivals hadn't occurred to me, but because looking at the pictures Meyerowitz talked about helped me realise that street events can be approached as a kind of canvas upon which to work rather than necessarily as subjects to photograph in themselves.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Leonard Freed: RIP

Leonard Freed – Magnum member, street photographer, news photographer, photojournalist, photo-essayist – died from cancer aged 77 on the 30th November 2006. According to 5b4 his last words to his wife were: "No more pictures." How incredibly sad.

Freed left an archive of over a million negatives. There's a lengthy and informative piece about the man and his work in the Photography News newsletter #131.

He also said:
Photography is like life... What does it all mean? I don’t know – but you get an impression, a feeling… An impression of walking through the street, walking through the park, walking through life. I’m very suspicious of people who say they know what it means.


Memory vs. film

Sometimes I find that the circumstances surrounding a photograph are burnt as clearly on my memory as the picture is on the film. I can remember every nuance. Would this be the case if there was no photograph? These photographs fall into that category.

Visual coincidence

Monday, 20 August 2007

Negotiating with chance...

The pursuit of fleeting moments of visual order is central to what street photography is about, but I'm increasingly convinced that capturing them is as much about editing as it is anything else – it's about knowing what to look for after the event as well as during the event.

Willy Ronis, the French street photographer has said of his own approach, "I negotiate with chance". It remains one of my favourite statements about street photography technique - but it also makes me realise just how bloody good you have to get before chance will be negotiated with.

Richard Kalvar joins iN-PUBLiC

Richard Kalvar, the great Magnum street photographer, has joined iN-PUBLiC, one of the best (and most stringently edited) street photography websites there is. Kalvar's iN-PUBLiC gallery is here.

And this one and this one are two of his most glorious photographs.

Kalvar's Magnum gallery has lots more to wonder at...

Sunday, 19 August 2007

One recent Saturday...

Just when I thought I had finished photographing for the afternoon:

This happened:

The bus pictures were exciting to take – for a while I could photograph as closely as it seemed safe to and I was only moved back when the emergency services arrived. But when I looked at the scans I was disappointed to find that although the pictures were perfectly acceptable of their kind - hey, a burning bus! – they didn't 'take off'. They were what they showed.

That was a useful lesson. It showed me that sometimes even the dramatic remains obstinately literal and mundane and the pictures – no matter how exciting it seemed at the time – refuse to rise above or extend beyond what they describe. What gives a picture wings and makes it worth repeated viewing is one of the most mysterious aspects of photography.

But at other times you get lucky. Other layers unfold within the picture and it offers what I think I'm always looking for in street photography: room for interpretation, for other 'stories' to emerge, room for the picture to breathe and assert its own life...

Friday, 17 August 2007

"So we fall asleep clutching a Leica"

I came across the following recently quoted in Ferdinando Scianna's lovely book "Perchance to Dream":

So we fall asleep clutching a Leica,
To impress our dreams on its lens
And recognise ourselves in a photograph,
Awakening to a longer life.

-- Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

I wish I could find the rest of it but I don't have a collection of Brodsky's poems. I must get one.

Scianna is a marvellous photographer and unusual amongst Magnum's membership for the volume of fashion work he has done - especially photographing Marpessa, the model who has become a kind of muse to him.

But my favourites are his pictures of religious festivals in Sicily, taken during the early 1960s and published in 1965 as "Feste Religiose in Sicilia". These austere, grainy, crepuscular black-and-white images are haunting and powerfully atmospheric. Many have a kind of mythic quality. That they also seem to belong to a simpler and more innocent time in which obscure, elemental passions are being played out adds to their mystery.

"Feste Religiose in Sicilia" is currently out of print and copies of even the 1987 reissue change hands at over £150. It seems a great shame that these images can only be seen at present in small low-res scans on the internet – grateful as we must be to Magnum for this. It's a book which really ought to be republished.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

No Whisper No Sigh

One of the most fascinating experiences to be had in photography – for free – is watching the extraordinary progress that the Magnum co-op is making in adopting multimedia technology as a further means of presenting members' work.

The Magnum in Motion site is building up a wonderful archive of 'In Motion' essays that mix still photography, audio, video footage and other techniques.

One of my favourites - and certainly one of the most mysterious – is No Whisper No Sigh, an introspective essay on the theme of silence – the silence of madness and ageing, of emptiness and isolation, the enforced silence of political oppression. It is simply gorgeous.