Photographers

On photographing the landscape

Wye Valley, walkerLone walker in the Wye Valley – if you can’t see him, click for a larger view!

Another very ‘linky’ post this week, but it demanded to be written! The last week or two has seen a surprising number of landscape-related things land in my inbox.  The first was Geoff Harris’ article on why landscape photography is often so boring and predictable, with hundreds of images all looking much the same.

“It seems as if many enthusiast photographers (and some of the more predictable professionals) have internalised a landscape photography checklist which they feel they always need to follow. First, they head to the coast, or popular beauty spots. Then there needs to be some of kind of rocks or boulders in the foreground to lead in the eye, then the depth of field needs to stretch to infinity.

This is often balanced by water and sea shot at long exposures, so it looks glassy or milky, and heavily filtered skies that look so apocalyptic, you expect the accusing finger of God to point down through the clouds………A layer of HDR varnish is sometimes applied by cruder exponents of this style, or the golden hour colours ‘lysergically’ cranked up in software.”

Harris does concede that this style of photography is not easy – it’s very demanding technically, and sometimes even physically when it entails rising before dawn and walking miles to get to the right spot – but he argues that there’s little personal expression in the resulting images, and there’s a danger that satisfying the technical and compositional requirements becomes an end in itself.  He calls for more originality in landscape photographs.

Harris goes on to talk about an exhibition local to me, in Southwell Minster, called Masters of Light, which he feels transcends the traditional landscape.  I went to this myself a few weeks ago, and was blown away by the quality and originality of the work there.  You can see several examples of it in Harris’ article.  There were seven photographers exhibiting, and although a couple of them were showing a very traditional style of landscape image, these had something that lifted them above the crowd, and they were anything but dull and predictable.  Of the rest, two photographers really pushed the boundaries of photography – Valda Bailey (whose work I love) and Paul Kenny – and the others spanned the spectrum between these extremes.  It was one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen for a long time, and showed beyond doubt that landscape photography can be varied, interesting, and exciting.

One of the participating photographers, Mark Littlejohn, was Landscape Photographer of the Year 2014, winning it with an image of Glencoe that stands apart from the traditional views.  I grew up in Scotland, spent a lot of time in the Highlands, and to me this image ‘says’ Glencoe in a way that the other classic views I’ve seen of it never have – it’s a place of dark rock, grim beauty, and falling water, and most images romanticise it and fail to express the slightly menacing feel of the place.  Littlejohn has written an interesting article for On Landscape online photography magazine that explains his approach to photographing landscape and displays some of his work.  The full article can only be read by subscribing to the magazine, but there’s a fairish chunk of it available free.

A link to this year’s Landscape Photographer of the Year winners then appeared in my inbox.  This has often been a bastion of the traditional landscape view, but I noticed with pleasure that a large number of this year’s winners have moved a long way away from this.  An image by one of my favourite photographers – Caroline Fraser – was included in the top 101, and it’s a double exposure which is wonderfully unlike the sort of thing we’ve come to expect.  She’s written a blog post telling the story of how it came about.

Sarah Merino has compiled a list of 200+ women landscape and nature photographers.  Female landscape photographers, on the whole, would much prefer to be known as landscape photographers who just happen to be women, and whose work is assessed on its own merit, but it’s a fact that women are under-represented at the top levels in this field.  Some of this may be the common female reluctance to push ourselves forward, but there’s almost certainly more to it than that.  (You can read more about this under-representation in Merino’s article, along with her reasons for compiling the list.)

It takes a lot of time to work your way through more than two hundred links.  I’ve been doing it in chunks since I received the article, and still have many to go.  I thought it might be a nice idea to sift out the photographers that stand out for me, and give links to a few at a time over the course of the next few weeks.  I’ll make a start at the end of this post.

Finally, I’ve just come across another couple of events featuring women in photography.  The Tate is holding a conference in November entitled Fast Forward: Women in Photography which ‘explores the complex and dynamic evolution of the history of women in photography, from early commercial practices, to the impact of World War II on women and their work, to reframing the role of the archive’.  And the Oxo Tower in London is holding an exhibition called Mistresses of Light – I do feel it could have been better titled, but it features some of the best and most interesting female landscape photographers around.  It runs from 9th-13th September and if I could get there, I would.

 

200+ Women Landscape Photographers – a selection from Sarah Merino’s list

This is a very personal selection which won’t reflect everyone’s tastes.  Everyone on the 200+ list is worth looking at and many of the photographers not featured here are masters of their craft.  I had to sift through them somehow, however, so I dismissed most of the more traditional approaches to photography because they don’t interest me greatly, although I did include a small number that I felt really stood out.  I also left out all the nature photographers because, although I love watching wildlife, I don’t particularly enjoy photographs of it.  On the whole, I was looking for something different and something with a very individual voice – images with which I felt I’d like to spend some time.  Over the next weeks I’ll link to a small number of photographers at a time and hope you’ll follow the links and have a look round.

Jennifer Adler – Adler’s subject matter is unusual: underwater photographs taken in mainly freshwater sites.  I particularly like her Rain gallery, in which you find yourself looking up from underneath at the rain on the water.  These are a cut above other underwater photographs I’ve seen, and show a very individual approach.

Valda Bailey – Valda has to be one of the most original photo artists I’ve come across.  She uses intentional camera movement and multiple exposures to create multi-layered, textured images that are quite unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.  Her work is (quite literally) darker than I usually like, but it’s so striking that it doesn’t matter.  She pushes photography to its limits and beyond.

Sandra Bartocha – Bartocha’s work is much closer to the traditional idea of landscape photography, but it stands out from the usual.  Her light, delicate images have an appealing ethereality about them, and in places she makes use of interesting techniques and perspectives.  Her Pflanzen gallery – macro flowers – is particularly lovely.

 

 

The gasp of recognition

Water abstract

I’ve been following Joel Meyerowitz’s blog, Once More Around the Sun, for a little while now.  He and his wife are spending time living in Europe, at present in Italy, and Meyerowitz is posting one shot a day along with his thoughts about the image and what made him press the shutter.

One of the things I most like about the blog is that the pictures, while always having something of interest about them, aren’t polished and professional, as you might expect.  Meyerowitz uses the blog more as a kind of visual diary where he keeps rough notes, rather than somewhere to post finished pieces.  I find it rather reassuring to see work from a photographer of his calibre that shows these spontaneous shots rather the technically perfect finished images that we’re more used to seeing.

I’ve long admired Meyerowitz as a photographer, but hadn’t realised till recently how good a writer he is too.  In today’s post he talks about coming across a particular scene, ‘gasping’ when he saw it:

……..when I gasp I know I am in the right place, or the right moment.  I trust that gasp to be something from my source speaking without words.  Words come later, but in the moment there is only the intake of breath that means, Now!

I can relate to this totally.  Often I’ll suddenly notice something with a kind of flash of excitement, a gasping if you like, and I know I’m on to something good.  Contemplative photography instruction refers to this as the ‘flash of perception’.  I understood what this meant when I first came across the phrase, because it’s something I’ve always been aware of myself, but I’ve also wondered if it’s a meaningful way of putting it for people who haven’t yet recognised this as part of their experience.

In The Practice of Contemplative Photography, Andy Karr and Michael Wood identify the qualities of the flash of perception.  They say the perception arises suddenly, out of the blue, that it has a shocking quality due to this suddenness, and also because of this it feels disorienting.  They go on to say the perception has great clarity and richness, and the experience is joyful, relaxed and liberating.  I’d whole-heartedly recommend Karr and Wood’s book if you want to know more about contemplative photography, but I do sometimes think that greater explanation leads to greater confusion and that this is a very simple thing that’s more easily summed up by something as straightforward as a gasp.

As Meyeorwitz says, it’s something wordless coming from somewhere deep inside – the place deep inside that ‘knows’ and doesn’t have to explain why; the part of ourselves where intellect doesn’t get a look in and where words often just confuse the issue. The resulting image may be meaningful to other people or it may not be.  It doesn’t matter.  What it shows is the way that person saw something, in that moment – the gasp of recognition.

 

Joel Meyerowitz is a New York street photographer, perhaps best known for his images of Ground Zero.  If you’d like to know more about him, here are a few links:

www.joelmeyerowitz.com – his own web site (new version currently under construction)

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/nov/11/joel-meyerowitz-taking-my-time-interview – Guardian article – Joel Meyerowitz: ‘brilliant mistakes…..amazing accidents’.   Excellent article, with a short video.

http://www.houkgallery.com/artists/joel-meyerowitz/ – a selection of exhibition work, including some of the Ground Zero images

Cape Light – my personal favourite and quite different from his usual work.  Beautiful subtle colour and amazing light.

 

 

Llinos Lanini, and why we shouldn’t hide our light under a bushel

Sheep, Llinos Lanini

Image courtesy of Llinos Lanini

You may have heard of RedEye. It’s a not-for-profit organisation that was set up to support photographers and photography in a variety of different ways.  They’re now intending to expand out into North Wales and last week they held an inaugural meeting in Mold, with a talk by a local photographer, Llinos Lanini (which has got to be one of the most wonderful names on the planet – I’ve been rolling it around in my mouth all day, like a very delicious sweet). At around the same time, an email by Seth Godin popped up in my inbox (Seth Godin, if you’re not familiar with him, is a well known internet marketer and writer). I’ll tell you what he said first, because it connects with the rest of it.

Seth’s point was that there are two opposing attitudes that people, businesses, or organisations tend to take: the first is a kind of take-it-or-leave-it, this-is-the-best-I-can-do approach, which can easily lead to sloppy, mediocre products and services.  The second – and the one I’m interested in here –  is feeling that our work just isn’t good enough, which usually leads to nothing happening at all. As he puts it: ‘countless projects go unlaunched, improvements hidden, thoughts unstated–because the person behind the idea is hiding behind the false understanding that their work isn’t good enough yet.’

Which brings me back to Llinos and her story. Llinos was a social worker, and then a relationship therapist for most of her working life, but in 2005 she bought a camera. If I remember rightly, she wanted to get a bit more exercise, decided against a dog, and bought a camera instead, thinking it would make her go out and shoot pictures. Less than six months later, she came across the sheep you see in the photo above, and took this wonderful shot. Shortly after that she saw a photo competition advertised in the Telegraph, and thinking she may as well have a go, she entered the sheep image. And she won!

Now Llinos claims that she got lucky, and it’s true there’s always a certain amount of luck involved in these things no matter how good you are. But it wasn’t just luck – she not only took a great photo, she took action.  There have been many times when I’ve briefly thought about entering a competition and then done nothing about it because I assumed I wouldn’t stand a chance of being placed.  I often give up before I even get started. And if Llinos had thought that way, she almost certainly wouldn’t be where she is today – which is earning her living by practising her art.  Not only that, she’s doing it in the field of fine art photography, which is one of the most difficult to break into.

Winning the competition was the kind of break we all long for, but if Llinos had left things there then nothing much might have happened. But she didn’t – she knocked on gallery doors, she asked if she could exhibit, and she generally put herself out there and took every opportunity that presented itself, even if it wasn’t obvious how it would contribute to her photographic future. How many of us would have done the same? And it’s not because she has huge confidence and a high opinion of her own work – as she spoke, she seemed quite self-deprecating (see the comment above about just being lucky!), and emphasised that she had no training and didn’t really know what she was doing at the time. She just went ahead and did it anyway.

I think women are particularly bad when it comes to putting themselves forward. It was refreshing just to hear a female photographer speak, as every other photography speaker I’ve seen has been male. I’m generalising of course, but my own observations show me that many more male photographers – even, sometimes, not very good ones – are quick to enter competitions, put their work on display, give talks,  and generally take any opportunity going. As women, we tend to hide ourselves and put our own work down. I see it in so many women I know, and also in myself.  When I was exchanging emails with Llinos, and saying something to this effect, she replied:  ‘I suppose that’s who my target audience is – women who don’t realise that they just need to believe in their own ‘eye’ and ability.’

While I think women are particularly prone to this, lots of us, both men and women, think ‘who are we to put ourselves forward for this?’. To paraphrase the oft-repeated quotation from Marianne Williamson: who are we not to? – our playing small doesn’t serve the world, and it doesn’t serve us.  And, yes, it’s true we’re not all going to win competitions or be able to make a living in this profession, but some of us will and some of us can. And without exception, we’ll be the ones who gave it a go.

On that note, I’d like to leave you with a selection of Llinos’s photographs, and to thank her for her kindness in allowing me to use them here.  (They are, of course, copyright and not to be used without written permission.)  I’d also like to say I’m grateful to her for waking me up and making me realise I can’t allow myself to hang back any longer, unless I’m content to remain on the outside looking in – and I’ve been there long enough, I think.

Edit: A few minutes after publishing this I checked my gmail account, only to notice in the left sidebar it said: ‘You are invisible’ and underneath: ‘Go visible’.  I’m smiling to myself.

Llinos Lanini

Llinos Lanini

Llinos Lanini

Llinos Lanini

Llinos Lanini

Llinos Lanini

Llinos Lanini

Llinos Lanini

Llinos Lanini

Getting my mojo back: the OCA residential weekend

OCA group photo, Amano SamarpanPhoto by courtesy of Amano Samarpan

Yes, that’s me, front row, second from the right

I’m not long back from a residential study weekend run and organised by OCA* students.  I’m not even going to attempt to cover every part of the weekend, partly because there’s so much to say and think about, and partly because I know that not everyone who reads this is part of OCA and I don’t want to bore you with insider stuff.  So I’m going to pull out a couple of highlights that got me thinking hard about photography.

I’m still buzzing with it all. Anyone who’s been reading along with me will have noticed the gradual diminution of blog entries over the last few months, and the complete lack of photographs in the last few, and you’ll have heard me bemoan the fact that I’d lost my photographic mojo and couldn’t locate it again.  Readers, I was depressed – more depressed than I even realised myself.  I’ve been having some treatment for that (alternative-style, not the drug kind) and was feeling a lot brighter before I went on the weekend but still not inclined to get out there and get shooting.  This weekend has changed it all about for me – yesterday I went out with my camera for the first time in months, and I’m full of ideas and enthusiasm and motivation again.  I’ve got myself back – yeeha!  (And a huge thank you to Penny and Eileen who organised and ran the whole thing with flair and friendly efficiency.)

Our first external speaker was Mishka Henner. I’d looked at his website before we went, and to be truthful didn’t really get a lot from his work, but how that changed when he started talking about it – it was fascinating and I ended up loving what he did.  It also made me aware of my own prejudices in one respect – Mishka uses photographs to make art, but they’re other people’s photographs and not his own.  Something in me wants to reject this as photography – as art, yes, but as photography, no.  I had to ask myself what it means to say we’re photographers.  For me, this involves actually using a camera but is my thinking too rigid in this respect?  For several of his projects Mishka uses photos taken from Google Earth.  Now, OK, he didn’t shoot them, but in terms of his projects he chose the frame, cropped it, enhanced it in Photoshop, and presented it as art.  That’s probably more effort than the Google people put into that particular frame, and these are all parts of the photographic process.  I must admit that I’m still inclined to feel he’s an artist who uses photography rather than a photographer as such, but old prejudices die hard and I dare say I’ll get over it.  It’s not really so different from Marcel Duchamp appropriating a urinal and presenting it as art (but then I wouldn’t have called him a ceramicist!).

One of the things I really liked about his work was that, although it was strongly conceptual, it was also very aesthetically pleasing. The images were visually satisfying even when you removed the conceptual element from them.  This isn’t necessary, of course, but it keeps me happy.  For one of his projects he would use a number of portraits taken by a particular, well-known photographer – such as Diane Arbus, Rineke Dijsktra, or Lewis Hines – and super-impose them on each other.  He selected portraits that were taken face-on and lined them up using the irises of the eyes.  The results are astonishing.  He shows the process in video form, each layer (set at 3% transparency) going on top of the others, until a final face takes shape; the faces emerge out of the blackness, slowly becoming more defined.  I find it hard to say why these are so compelling, but they certainly are, with the eyes staying strong and clear and the rest of the face acquiring a softly smudged state of ethereality.

Dutch Tulip Fields, 2012, Mishka HennerMishka Henner, Near Julianadorp, 2012

It’s not my intention to give any kind of comprehensive overview of Mishka’s work, and I intend to come back to some of it in due course, but I must just mention his Dutch tulip fields.   These are views of the tulip fields, taken from the air, and transformed into dramatic abstract shapes, reminiscent of modern paintings.  It struck me that here is a very different view of spring.  When I was putting together my first assignment on the Landscape course, which was to portray spring, this might have given me some food for thought – although I’m not sure my budget would have run to aerial photography.  I don’t know whether he took these shots himself, or if they’ve been taken from Google Earth again, but either way, they’re stunning.  However, as someone pointed out, OCA students wouldn’t get away with submitting photos for our assignments that we hadn’t taken ourselves.  It seems there’s one rule for students and another for when you’ve gained some sort of a reputation – fair enough, I guess, although I wonder if that’s the case in all degree courses.

One of the other sessions I found really interesting was from tutor Jesse Alexander. He took us through the process of development of his MA submission, from its early beginnings to the finished work.  Interesting in itself, and again I loved the fact that his images are visually stunning as well as having conceptual meaning.  His project is called Threshold Zone and is all about underground landscapes, the transition from light to dark, and the myth and meaning surrounding journeys into the underworld.  However, it’s not the images I want to discuss but the fact that he told us that he found these places pretty scary and had to face up to these fears while carrying out the project.  In a similar vein, another of the other students on the workshop showed us pictures of pollarded trees during the critique session, and said that even though she hates to see trees like this, and finds it almost painful to look at them, she feels compelled to take shots of them.  I don’t think I have any instances of this in my own work, but I wonder how many photographers are drawn towards subjects they find painful, distressing, frightening, and so on.  In a way, Jesse’s underground shots could also represent for him a journey into the underworld of his own psyche – it’s an interesting parallel.  By photographing these things, are we looking for a way of coming to terms with them, or perhaps simply expressing a reflection of some inner process of our own?

I’m leaving it here for the moment. I have loads more to say, and a huge number of things to think about, and a lot of that will no doubt find its way into this space in due course.  As you’ll have gathered by now, it was a terrific experience and has turned things around for me in so many ways.  This is due in no small way to the other students on the course.  It was a real joy to have such a diverse and interesting group of people to talk to, knowing that you wouldn’t bore them by rambling on about photography too much.  And it was just great to finally meet people whom I’ve mostly only known as avatars and user-names on forums.  It’s a strange experience – you feel as if you know someone already, but it also feels like you’re meeting a stranger.  People are very much as you imagined them, but also in some ways very different.  Weird.  I can only hope that we continue to have weekends like this.  Well done Penny, Eileen, tutors Peter and Jesse, and OCA for their support for the venture, as well as our two guest speakers Mishka Henner and Peter Rudge from duckrabbit. (and more of duckrabbit later).

 

*Open College of the Arts

Abelardo Morell – ‘A book of books’

recent07_openingpagefarewellOpening page: A Farewell to Arms, 2011

I love books – love them. An unhappy childhood led me to find escape in reading, and whole new worlds were opened up to me in their pages. I escaped into story after story, stuffing the empty spaces inside me full of words, identifying with characters that, like me at that time, were a little mousy on the surface but burned with vitality within. In these stories, they were always recognised eventually for what they were – they came good, they became valued. There were alternative lives in these books that made me see how things might – just might – be different and gave me hope for a happier future.

I gorged on non-fiction too, and it has always seemed like a miracle to me that a few black marks on a white page can pass on to me all the knowledge and experience that someone else has spent years acquiring. I love nothing better than to learn, and with access to books I could learn about anything I wanted. When I found out at the age of six that I could be issued with a library ticket and take books away to read for free, I simply couldn’t believe my luck. Books held such promise and an unread book was something to be anticipated and savoured – it still is.

I also get huge pleasure from the physicality of books. The feel of them in the hand, the weight, the heft, and the paper – whether it be the crinkly, almost transparent paper of old bibles and dictionaries, the thick, card-like paper in a book of poetry, or the slick, glossy sheets of an art book. And the smell of them……the wonderful smell of a brand new book, with its smooth edges and untouched possibilities, or the rich, musty smells of old books and the people who have handled them. What lives have they touched before they got to me?

books39_fore-edgeFore-Edge Book, 2001

Despite the fact I love them so much, I’d never tried photographing books. I think perhaps I lacked the imagination to see how I could make something visually interesting of them. Then, while browsing in a Whitstable bookshop, I came across a volume of Abelardo Morell’s wonderful photography. This was itself a very large book, projecting out over the shelf edge, and it was called appropriately enough ‘A Book of Books’. AM (as I shall refer to him from now on) uses photography to bring out both the aspects that delight me about books – their physicality, and their potential to transport you to other times and places. He has been kind enough to allow me to use some of his images here.

This one is a book of proverbs produced for the blind. Apart from the visual interest of the raised lettering with its shadows, what draws me to this image is the band of sunlight falling across the page. Ironically, this book was created for those who will never be able to see this sunlight; you wonder if they can feel the extra warmth on the page as they move their fingers across it.

books02_proverbs-blind1840 Book of Proverbs for the Blind, 1995

Have you ever dropped your book in the bath and then, once it dried out, been left with stiff, corrugated pages? This image makes you wonder what happened here; how did this book get so wet, so damaged? At the same time, you can’t help but admire the wonderful shapes that the distorted pages create.

books23_damaged-waterBook Damaged by Water, 2001

AM also does a good line in juxtaposing pages and books together. This is one of my favourites, the telescope in one book studying the stars in the other.

books53_two-books-of-astronomy_96Two Books of Astronomy, 1996

By photographing pages of an open book from a particular angle, and using  a shallow depth of field, AM manages to visually create the feeling of being lost in the interior world of the book. In this one, you feel as if you’re there, riding through the streets of Pompeii.  This image manages to bring together the physical book with the felt experience of its contents.

books03_ornati-piranesi1Diversi Ornati di Pompeia by Piranesi #1, 1994

In a similar vein, he has also done a whole series of images on Alice in Wonderland, which merges together the insides and outsides of books, and cut-outs of Tenniel’s illustrations of the characters, in a surreal and totally entrancing way. This is one of my favourites, with the White Rabbit peering down a perfectly circular hole that promises to lead us right into the heart of the story.

Alice01_RabbitDown the Rabbit-Hole, 1998

In the following photo, a face peers upwards just inside the pages of the book. It’s almost as if the characters are alive in there, waiting for us to go in and join them.

books43_inghiramiPortrait of Inghirami by Raphael, 1993

Some of this work also seems to imply that books both transmit and distort the truth of things. In this more recent work, a self-portrait of Van Gogh over two pages disappears into the curving of the pages and the binding of the book. Things in books appear to represent reality, but inevitably must end up distorted to some extent by the medium itself.

Van GoghTwo Pages: Van Gogh, 2011

Finally, the light reflecting off this plate of Breughel’s Tower of Babel gives it a transcendent glow that makes it come alive with meaning.

books22_tower-of-babel_95Tower of Babel by Breughel, 1995

Abelardo Morell’s work is by no means limited to books and I love it all; he’s got to be one of my all-time favourite photographers and I feel lucky I discovered him on that day spent browsing in the bookshops of a small seaside town. If books are not your thing, or even if they are, please go and have a good look round at the wonderful photography on his website; I think you’ll be glad you did. His other work includes a similar approach to money and maps, a series on people and museums, photograms, a large body of work using the camera obscura, and even a series of photos taken with a tent camera.  All of it’s interesting, and it’s well worth spending some time there.

A truly inspiring photographer


Well, after feeling sorry for myself all day yesterday because of this RSI thing, I came across this video of a woman who lost both arms in an accident as a child, but is still managing to make a career in professional photography.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget how lucky I am.

Kertesz, the Polaroids, and the Royal Academy

 

Kertesz polaroids

A selection of Andre Kertesz’ still life Polaroids

I went to the Royal Academy recently to see Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century.  I so enjoyed this exhibition – the Hungarian photographers have a style and visual language that’s very close to what I love to do myself.  I’ve always adored Andre Kertesz’ work – he’s got to be in my top ten list of favourite photographers – and there was lots of it here as well as loads of other amazing stuff.

I like pretty much everything Kertesz has ever done, but my absolute favourites are the series of Polaroids he took towards the end of his life.  In many ways Kertesz is a sad figure – after considerable early success in Hungary and Paris, he emigrated to New York and then war broke out in Europe leaving him unable to go back.  Unfortunately New Yorkers didn’t appreciate his distinctive style and approach, and although he continued to work for magazines there were frequent disputes with editors and cancelled commissions, and he also found himself too busy to work on his personal projects.  It wasn’t a happy time for him – he never really learned to speak English very well, which added to his isolation, and he always felt like an outsider.  Many of his New York photographs reflect the sadness of that time.

His wife Elizabeth, whom he adored, died in 1977. There’s a terribly poignant photograph called “Flowers for Elizabeth”, taken while his wife was in hospital.  In the book ‘Kertesz on Kertesz’ he says: “I wanted the apartment to be painted for her when she came back, but she never came back.”

More or less confined to his apartment, and depressed after Elizabeth’s death, he started playing with a Polaroid camera that was lying around.  In his own words:

Years ago I was given a little primitive Polaroid camera and I didn’t like it – it was for snapshots.  But one day I took it out.  I had discovered, in the window of a shop, a little glass bust, and I was very moved because it resembled my wife- the shoulder and the neck were Elizabeth.  For months and months I looked at the bust in the window, and finally I bought it…….And I took it home, put it in my window, and began shooting and shooting with the Polaroid camera – in the morning, in the afternoon, in different lights.  Something came out of this little incident, this little object.  They made a book of all the pictures I took.  It is dedicated to my wife.

Kertesz on Kertesz, 1985

I think these photos are small and exquisite treasures; they represent everything I’d like to be able to do with still life.  I’ve been trying to get a copy of the book, which is out of print, for some time now and was thrilled to get an email from Amazon this morning saying that it’s on its way – I can’t wait to see it.

After going round the exhibition, Eileen and I sat outside in the forecourt for a couple of hours, talking, people-watching, enjoying the evening sun, and taking photos.  Here are a few.

 

Buildings reflected in Jeff Koons' sculpture

Buildings reflected in a sculpture by Jeff Koons, at the Royal Academy

Cooling down

Splash!

Colour reflections

Last of the evening light

Evening sun

Mending spider’s webs and renovating mushrooms

I came across the work of photographer Nina Katchadourian a while ago, and was really taken by two of her projects: in the first, she mended spider’s webs with red thread and the in the second, she patched cracks in mushrooms with bicycle repair kits.

The spiders would often react to the repair by pulling out the red threads, leaving a pile of them on the ground below.  You can imagine them being disgusted at the standard of workmanship and outraged at the use of red thread!

There’s something very playful and whimsical about this that I find  enchanting, but it does pose some more serious questions about our interactions with nature.  Should we intervene?  Katchadourian says that she often destroyed the web further in her efforts to do the repair.  Sometimes we just blunder in and make things worse.

It reminds me of the story of a man who saw a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon and ‘helped’ it by pulling the cocoon apart.  What he didn’t realise was that the struggle to emerge was designed to force fluid from the butterfly’s body into its wings and that, without this struggle, the butterfly’s wings would never form enough to fly.

Putting all that aside, I do think there’s a wonderful innocence in the notion of repairing webs and mushrooms that takes us back in time to childhood when magic was around every corner and everything was possible. It’s refreshing to come across work that just has to make you smile.

Photo challenge: what could you do to ‘repair’ nature and then photograph it?