Mary Ellen Mark

And so we must say goodbye and thank you to Mary Ellen Mark, one of the giants of compassionate and concerned photography and an inspiration to me and countless others.

Mary Ellen Mark’s work for me has always been a standard by which all great documentary photography can be judged: engaged and engaging, compassionate but objective, the stories she sought to tell were always captivating and her ability to get ‘under the skin’ of each subject was startling. Whilst the stories were often hard hitting and difficult, the photographs were always direct and to the point, beautifully seen without any need for trickery or unnecessary complexity. From the raw honesty of Ward 81, Falkland Road and Streetwise to the joyfulness of Indian Circus and her commercial film stills right up to the exquisite 20/24 polaroid portraits of ‘Twins’ and ‘Prom’

One of the true greats has gone and will be sorely missed, but we must say thank you for all the extraordinary photographs she has left behind and for the flame that she lit in so many younger photographers of my generation and beyond.

Here’s a tiny reminder…..

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On documentary photography and some current exhibitions

There’s certainly some good photography around in the UK just now. Especially if you can get a little bit off the beaten track.

I had the pleasure last week to go to the opening of ‘Landscapes of Murder’ by Antonio Olmos at Rich Mix in London: a poignant and powerful reminder of the problem of violence in London. The work is presented as a series of landscapes of everyday places and street scenes: ordinary, familiar and unremarkable locations that serve only to heighten the tragedy that has happened in each. Reminiscent, of course, of Joel Sternfeld’s work ‘On this site: landscapes in memoriam’, Olmos photographed the site of every one of the 210 murders that took place in London from 1st January 2011 to 31st December 2012. One telling difference between the two series is that as a news and documentary photographer Olmos visited each site very shortly after the murder took place: after the media had left, but whilst emotions were still raw. Here we have lone bunches of withering flowers, torn remnants of ‘Police: do not cross’ tape, groups of once tough looking teenagers drawn together in their grief all amidst shoppers and motorists going about their daily lives. Life goes on in these landscapes, but there is always a disturbing reminder that life has been lost here too.

It is the very ordinariness of each photograph that makes them all the more shocking: a powerful and fitting expression of the senselessness of murder on the streets of London.

Friends of Negus McClean gather near the spot where he was murdered on Sunday Night. McLean was stabbed to death by a gang of youths on Westminster Road in Edmonton, North London. McLean is the 4th teenager to be stabbed to death in London in 2011.

Friends of Negus McClean gather near the spot where he was murdered on Sunday Night. McLean was stabbed to death by a gang of youths on Westminster Road in Edmonton, North London. McLean is the 4th teenager to be stabbed to death in London in 2011.

At Rich Mix, London until 30th May: http://www.richmix.org.uk/whats-on/event/the-landscape-of-murder/

Book available here.

On a connected theme as part of the Look/15 photography festival in Liverpool is American photographer Richard Ross’s heartbreaking series ‘Juvenile in Justice’: a compassionate and powerful portrayal of a justice system that has gone very, very wrong. Ross has photographed teenagers and young people (as young as ten!) held in detention centres in 31 US states. In each photograph the face of the youngster is blurred, obscured or photographed from behind, magnifying the sense of isolation and fear they must feel. Accompanying texts in the young persons own words are desperate.

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Both extraordinary and important bodies of work – documentary photography at it’s very best.

I fear sometimes that photographers can get too obsessed with the ‘idea’ or ‘concept’ of what they are doing or otherwise overplay the process – photography about photography. There seems to be a lot of naval gazing going on these days.

If, as photographers, we want to document and communicate, then surely we want our work to reach and connect with as wide an audience as possible. If we require that the viewer has a degree in visual anthropology or is extraordinarily well informed about the latest movements in contemporary art then we may be doing our subjects a great disservice. This is not to say that documentary, art and conceptualization can’t all work together and there are some fantastic examples of new and innovative approaches to what is essentially documentary photography where the results are challenging, engaging and very rewarding. I’m thinking here of Max Pinckers’ work ‘Will They Sing like Raindrops or Leave me Thirsty’, a small selection of which is at St Georges Hall in Liverpool as part of Look/15. The work is a mesmerising mix of Bollywood theatricality and keenly observed documentary interwoven with old torn newspaper cuttings – all telling the story of the ‘Love Commandos’, a small group of men in New Delhi whose mission is ‘to help India’s lovebirds who want to marry for love’, often against the wishes of family and the tradition of arranged marriage. A fine piece of work and well worth looking out.

Another compelling work that uses differing approaches is the intensely personal series ‘When I was six’ by Phil Toledano which was shown recently at the Format Festival in Derby and is available as a book from Dewi Lewis. The title refers to the death of Toledano’s sister aged nine when the photographer himself was six. Many years later after his parents died, Toledano discovered a box of his sisters possessions that his parents had neatly packed away after her death. The work takes the form of a series of still lives of items from the box and imagined ‘landscapes’ of outer space that occupied the young boys mind in the years after her death. Beautiful!

So, there it is: a very small selection of some great work that’s out there just now. There are myriad ways of making powerful documentary work, but please, please, please, make it both accessible and compelling.

I’ll finish with some words from Michael Craig-Martin, the great cheerleader for conceptual art and the Young British Artists. In his new book ‘On being an Artist‘ he writes:

“I dislike jargon intensely and cannot stand people who think that complex ideas need to be expressed in a way that is obscure or rarefied. I believe the opposite is the case.”

Here, here.

Heathrow Airport Campaign for Saatchi Masius, London

New work for Heathrow Airport, all shot on cold and blustery late winter days in UK! Brrrr. Commissioned by Saatchi Masius London

Many thanks to all the participants who braved the cold, the mud, the wind and the rain: Louis Barnett (Chocolatier), Martin Corr (Sound Moves), Paul Brown (MHI, Bristol), Anna Goodband (Liverpool School of English), Chris Baker-Brian (BBOXX), plus of course my super assistants Wayne Pilgrim, Peter Scarratt, Anderson Lamb.

Art Directors: Ian Otway/Tom Kennedy

Copywriters: Richard Carman/Laura Fullerton

Production: Sharon Daly/Luke Jackson

Post Production: Michel Groot/Craig Easton

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For behind the scenes videos by Barney Edwards/Kalectiv please visit:

http://your.heathrow.com/soundmovesuk/

http://your.heathrow.com/bboxx/

http://your.heathrow.com/lse/

http://your.heathrow.com/louisbarnett/

http://your.heathrow.com/mailhandlinginternational/

 

Game of Thrones – part two

More from Northern Ireland. Is there anywhere better than the North Antrim coast when it’s wild and windy?

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Game of Thrones

Been shooting some landscape work around Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland. Mostly using PhaseOne kit, but fortunately for this one I was using an old Nikon D3X – they take some battering those cameras!!!

Ballintoy Harbour, Co. Antrim….

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and half a second later….
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more to follow….

Mazda Cars shoot, Fogo Island, Newfoundland

It’s been a busy few months at the end of 2014, beginning of 2015. First up a lovely car shoot for Mazda in Canada. Essentially designed as a ‘road-trip’ shoot with a Mazda 3 Sport. The location was Fogo Island off the Newfoundland coast, traditionally a close knit fishing community that was suffering after the long and ongoing moratorium on the Northern Cod Fishery on the Grand Banks in the north Atlantic. The community had been struggling for years with the impact of the collapse of the fishing and recently native Fogo Islander Zita Cobb who had left and made her fortune on the mainland returned with an extraordinary project to breath life back into the island: The Fogo Island Inn is a spectacular modernist luxury hotel and the symbol of Fogo’s reinvention of itself as a hub of cutting edge art and design.

All in all a fascinating story and fabulous backdrop for a car shoot.

Here’s some pictures…..

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One from the archive….Polaroid Type 55

Just came across this in the studio from an old polaroid Type 55 neg. (fantastic film and much missed) Shot on a Sinar ‘Norma’ 5×4 believe it not – really a studio camera but I used to take it on the road sometimes…..

Scouse wit with roadsigns…..

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