Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vincent Borrelli Books

A couple of days ago I got an email from one of my favourite photography bookshops - Vincent Borrelli - that they now have a website up.

And quite a website it is - albeit a dangerous one for anyone addicted to the fetish of photo books. He specialises in signed and also out-of-print copies of the best photography books and monographs.

Hunting for that rare copy of John Gossage's seminal book The Pond? He has it (an affordable $350.00... ):

Lee Friedlanders Cray at Chippewa Falls ?($650.00):

Michael Schmidt's influential Waffenruhe ($1,250.00):

But not everything requires a second mortgage. He also has many still in print but harder to find books at regular prices (usually signed copies)

Such as Emmet Gowin: Mariposas Nocturnas: Edith in Panama $65.00:

or Todd Hido: House Hunting $75.00:

or the recent William Christenberry monograph (again, signed) $65.00:
And the two (of many) I lust over most...?:

Yamamoto's The Path of Green Leaves (a mere $750.00):

And Terri Weifenbach's Hunter Green (a steal at $150.00):

time to put the three year old to work :-)

And also time to stop drooling now... (and - bugger it - I just saw the copy of Billingham's Ray's A Laugh that I sold for a few bucks is now worth $650.00...)

P.S. - I'm going to be off-line for a few days. Back soon.

The ordinary heroes of HornAfrik Radio

A couple of months ago I listened to a radio documentary about three Somali-Canadians who had left comfortable homes and jobs in Canada to go back to Somalia and start a radio station in Mogadishu.

They had fled Somalia during the violence of the 1980's and built new lives in Canada. But now all three saw their homeland continuing to disintegrate into violence and chaos. And most of all they saw ordinary people as having no voice. There was no forum to begin building democracy (or even for a mother with a sick child to ask where she could get help). So, committed to civil society and the freedom of speech, they returned to Somalia and established HornAfrik radio (now TV as well).

It was essentially talk-radio for the people - news, music and interviews. The warring clans and warlords had their own radio stations - built on the model of those that incited genocide in Rwanda - which were essentially propaganda stations. But HornAfrik was different.

It allowed ordinary people to express their views. It gave air-time time to women's groups, to street children, to doctors and health programmes and eventually even to warlords.

The warlords found their propaganda stations were losing listeners in a dramatic fashion and so eventually they were forced to accept the invitations to appear on HornAfrik themselves - but they had to relinquish control and allow themselves to be questioned on-air.

Such is the power and the threat of free-speech. And sadly, if inevitably, that threat became too great.

(Canadian Ali Sharmarke (left) and Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, co-founders with Mohamed Elmi of HornAfrik, an independent news broadcaster in their native Somalia. Sharmarke was killed by a car bomb Aug. 11.)

From a documentary on CBC:

Reporter Mohamed Hassan is one of the few people to ever ask the women what's happening. "She said that we are in fear. Sometimes they come here to rape, sometimes they loot our properties. We are in fear. There is nobody who's going to protect us," Hassan says of his assignment to interview the women.

Horn Afrik is very ambitious. In a country without any government, its owners feel they have to do more than just cover the stories. They bring in community activists to help determine what collectively they could do to fix the problems exposed in the news.

Ali Sharmarke is another founding owner. He had a good job in the federal Finance Department in Ottawa before he felt compelled to return here. "We see the media as a means to do a social change, and probably I can say now Horn Afrik is one of the best instruments for social change in Somalia," Sharmarke says....

In another room, Farah Usef is working the phones for his As It Happens-style program called Today's Events. He's trying to interview warlords to ask them why they are stalling the Somali peace talks.

"The call is getting through, but mostly they don't answer. Even if they answer, mostly they speak in a very rude language," Usef says.

Usef has all their numbers as he works through his warlord directory. He has only a few hours to put together the show all by himself. So far, no interviews. Aden is more surprised that many warlords do talk to Horn Afrik and some have actually come into the studio. It makes him optimistic

"I can see people's attitudes changing from things that they never thought of yesterday that is possible today, and to me, the most powerful change comes from the mind," Aden says....

On August 11th - Mahad Ahmed Elmi one of HornAfrik's journalist/hosts was shot in the head and killed in Mogadishu. Later that day the car of Ali Sharmarke - one of the original Canadian founders - was blown up as he returned from Elmi's funeral.

This morning I listened to an interview with Ahmed Abdisalam Adan one of of the other co-founders of the station. He was in Canada visiting his family when the killings occurred. He is now planning to return to Somalia to continue the work of HornAfrik.

Ross Howard, a former Globe & Mail journalist turned journalism educator also writes here of his work with the journalists of HornAfrik: Canada Lacks The Courage of Somali Journalists.
Simply put, the work of these people needs to be recognised.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pascal Fellonneau's Iceland

When I was 16, I spent eight weeks of that summer in Iceland (a place I would love to go back to). Most of it was in the mountains and the glaciers, but our main jumping off point was the northern town of Akureyri, just shy of the Arctic Circle.

So when Joerg posted a link to Pascal Fellonneau's images I was keen to see them (apart from the rather slow loading of the pages...)

They certainly triggered some memories. They also made me think that these were really the sort of pictures I would have liked to have taken in the Canadian arctic and sub-arctic. Despite all the years there, I never really did come to terms with photographing the urban settings in winter. If I had, this is how I would have liked to have done it. Indeed, many of these photographs could have been taken in Inuvik or Yellowknife.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Half Of A Yellow Sun

I just finished a very good book - Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

It follows the lives of group of people in Nigeria in the late sixties as civil war divides the country and Biafra attempts to secede.

By turns humorous, sensuous, moving and horrifying - but never less than human, Adichie captures not just the times but draws us into the lives of each of these characters - from Ugwo the laconic but eager houseboy to twin sisters Olanna and Kainene from a wealthy Nigerian family to Odenigbo the zealous academic and Richard Churchill a young Englishman trying to escape his colonial history.

As a boy or 8 or 10 years old, Biafra was the first major world event the seriously entered my consciousness. Don McCullin's terrible pictures from the conflict seared themselves into my memory at that early age - seen in the Observer Sunday Magazine I think, along with the increasing TV and Radio news reports of the suffering and starvation. I can vividly remember collecting some (no doubt small amount of) money to send to the international aid effort.

"This, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's second novel, deserves to be nominated for the Booker prize. What is so memorable and accomplished about Half of a Yellow Sun is that political events are never dryly recited; rather they are felt through the medium of lived lives, of actual aching sensitive experiences. To my knowledge it is unusual for a young woman author to capture with such precision and verisimilitude the feelings of a man, but Ugwu is a totally realized character—ambitious, devoted, sexual, scholarly, courageous, uncomplaining, resourceful and intuitive. These characteristics, easy to rattle off, are all dramatized and substantiated in this long and intricate but always compelling narrative. When I think of how many European and American writers rehash the themes of suburban adultery or unhappy childhood, I look with awe and envy at this young woman from Africa who is recording the history of her country. She is fortunate—and we, her readers, are even luckier."
— Edmund White

Adichie has a website here.

(Don McCullin)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Atget in context

(Atget 1924)

One thing about Atget is that his continued use of the same equipment and materials at the end of his career as at the beginning - along with his choice of subject matter - can lead to many of his pictures appearing to be much "older" than they in fact are - or at least appearing to be from an earlier time. In fact, certain obvious exceptions aside, it's frequently hard to tell if an Atget photograph was taken in the 1890's or thirty five or so years later in the mid 1920's. I frequently find that I'm caught out by the date of certain photographs until I check them.

(Atget 1921)

The two Atget photographs above were taken well after the three photographs below by Lartigue. Two of them around 10 -12 years or so later, the other 16-19 years or so earlier.

(Lartigue 1913)

(Lartigue 1911)

(Lartigue 1905)

As well, this last picture by Atget (below) was taken in the same year that Hemingway published The Sun Also Rises:

(Atget 1926)

And finally, all of these photographs where taken several years after Picasso painted his groundbreaking and revolutionary masterpiece Les Demoiselles D'Avignon.

Guest Editors - Traces

I need to produce an edit of the current selection I have up from my Traces project (here as well) down to about 15 pictures. Mainly for printing up a selection for some portfolios to go out to various places.

The trouble I often find I am my own worst editor (I think this is true for many photographers - whether they want to admit it or not), so I'm inviting readers here to suggest their edits.

The idea is still to convey the overall feel of the project while picking images that can still carry themselves as individual pictures within the smaller selection.

Now the main practical problem is that on the website it's hard to get the image number unless you hit "zoom" each time and take it from the url. So if you don't want to do that I'm suggesting labelling the columns (four per page) A. to L. with the rows 1 down to 4. So the image above would be B1 (which I realise is a bit cumbersome...)

You can either post in the responses here or email me at timatherton at gmail dot com (or just click on the link down in the right-hand sidebar)

As a minor incentive, if you happen to chose the exact same selection as I end up using I'll send you a signed 11x14 print (okay - I think that's an incentive).

And while I'm sure if thirty people respond I'll get thirty different selections, I'm hoping for a bit of consensus - so knock yourselves out...


PS - one interesting thing - which isn't exactly news - but you can never quite tell how something is going to look until it's been printed. I've spent a lot of time looking at these pictures in Photoshop - adjusting, cleaning dust spots, sizing etc (as well as looking at the large negs) but the picture above was one I thought was okay but I'd never been that taken by it. Until I printed it up yesterday that is - even at 11x14 it just sings!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Stephen Gill's Hackney

Don'tja just hate it when something like this happens - I'd a got a post for today about Stephen Gill's work all roughed out, some nice quotes etc and then last night Christian Patterson goes and posts nearly the exct same thing... doh

So basically here's a link to Christan's stuff and some info bleow from various book spiels and reviews. I first came across Gill's work through his project and book Hackney Wick (I sure wish I'd bought a copy then) and have been atching what he comes up with next. Each time it's something with a bit of a new twist.

Such as Buried (book here):

"When burying my first batch of photographs, a passing man spotted me and asked what I was doing. Not only did I not want to give the location away of some of my buried pictures, but It just sounded a bit weird to say that I was burying photographs so replied that I was looking for newts. As soon as I’d said that I looked down and saw a newt at my feet."

'The photographs in this book were taken in Hackney Wick and later buried there. The amount of time the images were left undergournd varied depending on the amount of rainfall. The depths that pictures were buried at also varied, as did their positioning. Sometimes they were facing each other, sometimes back to back or sometimes buried singly.'Not knowing what an image would look like once it was dug up introduced an element of chance and surprise that I found appealing. This feeling of letting go and collaborating with place - allowing it also to work on putting the finishing touches to a picture - felt fair. Maybe the spirit of the place can also make its mark.

"Stephen Gill has again used his surroundings as the inspiration for this beautiful and evocative series. Hackney Flowers has evolved from his series and book Hackney Wick. This times Gill has collected flowers, seeds, berries and objects from Hackney, East London, that were then pressed in his studio and re-photographed alongside his own photographs and found ephemera, thus building up multi-layered images extracted from the area.

Some of the base photographs were also buried in Hackney Wick, allowing the subsequent decay to imprint upon the images, stressing this collaboration with place. A parallel series also runs within this finely produced volume, showing members of the public in Hackney with floral details on their person. This is a warm, poetic and visually exciting book containing images that leave an overwhelming sense of colour, emotion and rhythm extracted from a single borough of London."

Or Archeology In Reverse (book):

"Stephen Gill has learnt this: to haunt the places that haunt him. His photo-accumulations demonstrate a tender vision factored out of experience; alert, watchful, not overeager, wary of that mendacious conceit, 'closure'. There is always flow, momentum, the sense of a man passing through a place that delights him. A sense of stepping down, immediate engagement, politic exchange. Then he remounts the bicycle and away.

Loving retrievals, like a letter to a friend, never possession... What I like about Stephen Gill is that he has learnt to give us only as much as we need, the bones of the bones of the bones...' - Iain Sinclair.

Continuing to photograph where his award-winning book Hackney Wick left off, Stephen Gill has made Archaeology in Reverse in his cherished area in East London. Still making pictures with the camera he bought at Hackney Wick market for 50p, this time he focuses on things that do not yet exist."

and from Christian Patterson:

"I consider “photographers” to be “artists,” and I often use these two terms interchangeably. Still, there is something to be said for choosing to describe someone as a “photographer,” as an “artist,” or as an “artist who uses photography,” although the latter term is a bit much. It’s very “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” isn’t it?

The photographer Stephen Gill is an artist."

which sums it up prety well I think

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dreams Like This Pt.II

Boy oh boy - some folks certainly work themselves into an awful tizzy about this.

Over on the Landscapist (among other places) we have:

""Different photographers incorporate different approaches, and embrace
or abandon concept and/or narrative to varying degrees, but aside from subject
matter, there is often little else that distinguishes the work ..." (

This notion has been rattling around in my head ever since and it
seems to me that the entire construct is hanging by very precarious thread - the
razor-thin caveat of subject matter aside.
How does one view a picture and set subject matter aside?"

"In the medium of photography, in which a picture is inexorably linked
with that which it depicts, how does one set aside subject matter?

I believe it is near impossible to do so, especially so re: the
discussion referenced in yesterday's entry, straight photography...

Maybe in the hollowed halls of academia, where the fetish of 'concept'
reigns, subject can be (and is) set aside but isn't that what leads to the
making of pictures that are mostly self-referential academic crap?"

So, I wonder exactly what it was that Tina Modotti is showing us in the top picture here. Only the camera could have seen this slightly surreal scene of the giant peasant overlooking the city. Her eye (and ours if we were stood beside her) simply wouldn't have seen or registered the scene this way. Only the camera could convey it. Of course, Modotti was the very opposite of any kind of inhabitant of the halls of academia - even while she was very much a photographer of ideas.

Then again, on the issue of "setting aside subject matter"

Let's take the humble apple.

Does anyone looking at any of the rest of these pictures scattered through the post seriously think they are about apples? None of them are really about the apparent subject matter, which is essentially incidental... This hasn't been an issue since some time before Van Gogh, so I wonder why photographers seem to cling so desperately to it and feel so threatened that the apparent umbilical chord that they (mistakenly) believe connects them to reality is about to be severed?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

To Combine Things Together

I recently came across the work of Jan Stradtman (via Intersecting Images) and especially his collection of work called To Combine Things Together.

I quite like these - the subtle shifts in viewpoint and perspective (as Matt Niebuhr put it tilt/pan/shift). Looking at them is a bit like looking at one of those children's puzzles "find the 8 things that are different between these two pictures".

(note: the effect on the website is better than on blogger)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Before Digital/Dreams Like This

(When We Go After Anything We Get It)

There has been a bit of a storm in a teacup among the photo-blogs recently (which makes me think they are all limited to teacup size really...) in part growing out of an essay by Mike Johnson (who now apparently seems obliged to go on and on about it at length).

(Taking Our Geese to Market)

Some have come out loudly for him

Others against.

(My own limited response - because after a while it just gets terribly, terribly boring - was merely to try and remind people that photographs are essentially about appearances which may often be something rather different than reality. That the belief that "there is a measurable degree of connectedness to the original scene (aka ‘reality’) that some people find important" is a as much a social construct as is any one of the several forms of Renaissance perspective. And that essentially, such arguments as those above simply miss the point withpeople seeing it as an either/or argument with two ends to a spectrum, rather than the fact that throughout the history of photography it has always been a both/and situation:

“Cameras are just boxes for transporting appearances… What is not so simple is to grasp the nature of the appearances which the camera transports. Are they a construction, a man made cultural artifact, or are they, like a footprint in the sand, a trace ‘naturally’ left by something that has passed? The answer is, both”. John Berger

(County Fair)

Which is all a rather roundabout way of getting to a recent email I read by the inimitable Luis Gottardi about the very captivating work of William H. Martin (links to details of all the images there) which I had never before encountered:

(The Modern Farmer)

"These masterfully executed "Tall Tale" images by William H. Martin do much more than tell photographic fibs. They subverted the program of photo-as-evidence, while simultaneously mocking themselves.

The fantasies they depict are of a paradaisical land of plenty. A cornucopiary of endless Super-Sized game, crops, bounty, a place where there is enough for no one to ever go hungry or wanting, where every hunter bags his limit, and fishermen stop fishing because their arms are sore from catching Leviathans, a land brimming with flowering life, blessed by God.

Mr. Martin did tell of a dream, a universal human dream that played itself out with every major human movement in history, in this case, under the guise of the "American" variety.

The poignancy lies after the suspension bridge of disbelief's gossamer woven wish cables break, and it collapses, awakening us to the reality. In a sense, these are closely connected to, and yet the opposite of Robert Frank".---

(Duck Hunting)

"This postcard was sent to Leon Custard of Mendon, Michigan on May 8, 1909. The message on the back asks, "Did you ever have a dream like this?"

And about "When We Go After Anything We Get It":

"One of the most animated of Martin's photomontages, this rollicking rabbit rodeo is convincing because of its attention to detail. The sketched-in ruts beneath the car and the shadow under the humongous hare add an extra dimension of realism. In the sky to the left of the tree is a tiny flying object that appears to be a hat, carried off by the wind."

What is so interesting about all this is that in a way "Dad" Martin was really so much more free to do this - his own thing for his own reasons - than he would be today. There wasn't really the established framework of photographic rights and wrongs and establishment to hinder his choosing to do so.

P.S. When we took our break at the cottage, for the first time my six year old son and I read our way through Alice's Adventures in Wonderland every evening; and in that light, these pictures seem entirely normal...