Monday, 16 November 2015

Lost in Music

Stepping back in time! A couple of photos from Psychobilly and Rockabilly scene in 90's. Both submitted to Printspace exhibition Lost in Music. Dig out your old Skool stuff….

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Photography and Diversity. Is there still an equality issue?

"Be realistic. There's no such thing as a black photographer"

These were the words that greeted a 16 year old Dennis Morris when he spoke to his schools careers advisor. The year was 1976 and one cannot imagine those words being uttered today. The advice to a young black man may now be different but what are the prospects for someone like a young Dennis Morris in 2015?

I was prompted to write this article by a photograph I saw online. It was the new 2015 intake of a university photography course and what struck me was the similarity to my photography degree course in 1980's. There were lots of smiling and enthusiastic faces of mostly young men, a few less women but there was no one from an ethnic minority background. Was this a reflection on the photography industry in this country?

The recent Creative Industries Federation report found that people from BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds were under represented in the creative industries as a whole and this had a negative impact on the health of the sector not just socially but financially too. Sections of the industry differ but it would appear that the photography industry has very little to be proud of.

National Union of Journalists has statistics that show a breakdown of its membership and they reveal that of its photographers 4.53% are BAME. (in England and Wales 14% of the population is from an ethnic minority)  The predominant profile that emerges is of a white male photographer. Women also form a small minority at 18%. The issue of gender in photography is as real as that of other under represented groups in the industry but women do manage to form a large group of those educated to a high level. The progression of UK women photographers in the last 30 years has been helped by others who have gone on to be part of the commissioning process. Picture editors, curators and directors of photography are women in a wide variety of contexts and this is invaluable. What BAME photographers suffer from is the lack of role models but more importantly others within the industry who are in a position of power and influence. This cannot be underestimated or ignored.

There are plenty of figures available showing the gender split in the industry but very few that have a breakdown of BAME photographers. The British Photographic Council survey in 2010 had no data at all on BAME photographers amongst its 55 page report. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence which paints a bleak picture when it comes to equality within the industry. You only have to attend a talk or go to an opening and see the audience profile. Those BAME photographers who make it into the industry are more likely to be in lower paid work and consequently have a lower profile within the industry. There is no doubt that a photographer who develops through the education system is more likely to make it to the top and have a higher profile and better earning potential. It would seem that women stand a chance based on their numbers in photographic education but BAME photographers suffer from a lack of role models and real opportunities. The statements from colleges that trumpet how they are committed to equality and diversity sound hollow when it comes to actual numbers coming through the system. You can be committed to equality but in reality that is currently reinforcing a status quo of unequal opportunity. This problem could get worse before it gets better. BPC survey found that of photographers under 40 years old 25% had degrees compared to 9% of those over 40. In future the wealthy who can afford tuition fees will increasingly dominate the profession.

A photographic education is still a stepping stone to the higher echelons of photography and the rarified world where close networks and small circles of curators and image makers dictate the tastes and direction of contemporary photography. It is difficult to break into that world but for others the barriers start earlier and are a constant feature of their struggle. Photography is not alone in this problem. Other areas of the creative industry suffer from the same issue but photography cannot claim to be addressing this issue and be making progress.

Taking a photograph is an act of curiosity about people and the world around us, reflecting who we are. If certain groups are excluded from this process then photography fails in its ability to truly show the world as it is. It is no longer democratic but simply the view of a privileged few within society. Diversity is part of our society, it makes UK a rich and vibrant place to live but if photography continues to ignore this it not only will it suffer economically but it will stop being relevant and become an increasingly elitist pursuit of the white middle class male photographer and everyone will be the poorer for it.

If a young Dennis Morris asked for careers advice again in 2015 the answer would simply be  "Don't bother. The odds are stacked against you."

Ed Sykes. October 2015.

Thanks to NUJ for providing statistics on gender and ethnicity. No other photography organisation was able to provide numbers by ethnicity.

I am currently compiling answers from colleges to Freedom of Information requests and will post once provided.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Photography at Frieze London 2015

It seems as though Frieze has given up trying to understand contemporary photography or more surprisingly given up trying to sell it. At the main fair this year photography is hard to find and when it does appear you feel as though you have seen it before. Frieze Masters shows more photography even if it is viewed more safely through mists of time.

In the Masters tent ( or temporary pavilion) there are some obvious names, Horst P Horst, Herb Ritts, Jeanloup Sieff and Norman Parkinson, the type of work that can hang politely on the wall. There was some work by Robert Mapplethorpe and Man Ray that I had not seen before but two galleries stood out for me. Eric Franck Gallery showing work by Ogawa Gesshu (1891-1967) Gaspar Gaspian (1899-1966) Heinz Hajek-Halke (1898-19823) were a delight

Der Gassenhauer 1927 by Heinz Hajek-Halke (Courtesy of Eric Franck Fine Art)

Photo by Ogawa Gesshu ( Courtesy of Eric Franck Fine Art)

Edwyn Houk Gallery also showed work by Sally Mann, Stephen Shore, Man Ray and Moholy Nagy but I was struck by the work of Boris Mikhailov and his prints from Late 60's - 70's from the book Yesterdays Sandwich. It certainly feels fresh and contemporary at odds with the antiquities that pepper Frieze Masters.

Boris Mikhailov from Yesterdays Sandwich (Coutesy of Sprovieri
 Back at Frieze proper there are a couple of familiar names with Thomas Ruff and Wolfgang Tillmans
amongst the stands. I was disappointed with the new Tillmans work and Ruff's nudes were more popular than his other work but you can see why his work appeals to the Frieze crowd. The jewel amongst the hordes was the work of Paul Graham whose Benefits Office photographs glare at the audience with a relevance that seems lost on an austerity defying crowd.

 The disappointment is that Frieze does not seem overly interested in photography but maybe it is a blessing in disguise. With the success of Photo London photography is discovering a growing interest in photography and sales reflect that. Although this is in the established market you feel as though when the penny drops (or the dollar flutters) photography will suddenly be Frieze's best friend. I won't hold my breath.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Problem with Portraits

Two recent discussions about portraits seem to have antagonised many photographers. The first remark which incurred the wrath of many was from J F Leroy ( Director of Visa Pour l'Image Festival) "Portraits are a lazy way to tell a story" and this was then posted by Monica Allende on Facebook and inevitably a backlash came from photographers. There were comments about how much hard work goes into portrait projects which slightly missed the point to me. Portraits and storytelling are at odds with each other although even World Press Photo Award introduced a section devoted to them which reflects how important they have become in today's media. If photojournalism documents events and is an eyewitness in a narrative then a pause created by a portrait interrupts that natural flow. The photographer is part of the intervention rather than a fly on the wall. Portraits of people in extreme news situation often produce strong images but do they tell us more about a situation than a scene full of nuances and ambiguous gestures? The portrait often feels like a statement of fact but it is a single point bluntly made and as a narrative or as a series the point is simply made over and over again. That repetition cannot compare with a well laid out story that takes you on a journey of understanding. In response to the "lazy" accusation I posted a Don Mc Cullin photo rather than make a comment on Monica Allende's page. In this case it is a portrait but rather than the photographer pausing an event it is the soldier himself who is frozen by what he has experienced in the theatre of war. He has not presented himself to the camera and it feels as though there is not the self awareness on both sides that goes into the usual photographer and subject relationship. It is a portrait as document as opposed to a portrait as an event within itself.

Shell shocked US Marine after Tet offensive, Vietnam  (Photo by Don McCullin)

Andy, West Bromwich,England (copyright Bruce Gilden/Magnum Photos From "Face", Dewi Lewis Publishing )

The second debate that raged was about Bruce Gildens new work. This is firmly in the land of confrontation without subtlety or nuance. The straight posed portrait has been mastered by the likes of August Sander, Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe (self portraits in particular) and Gilden in some way follows that tradition. His technique in his book takes starkness to a new level through harsh flash, sharpness and vibrant colour. It is obvious that the tightly cropped headshots with the person looking straight into the lens could have only been done through a dialogue and agreement. The photographer obviously delights in seeing his subjects every pore, spot and blemish. It would be a retouchers dream assignment for long term wealth. This to me is the point. The biggest development in portrait photography in the last 20 years has been the use of retouching. Awhole new language has seeped into our visual understanding. Everyone now has easy access to airbrushing techniques for profile photos, selflies and that is before we start with professional photographers. It has become accepted in magazines and newspaper supplements to clean skin, brighten eyes or do something about the less than perfect teeth. It is done minimally and subtly but it has changed our view of reality as delivered by a portrait. This is how Gilden delivers such a devastating blow visually and it feels like a rage against how society has marginalised the ugly, the spotty, the quirky or indeed anyone whose face does not "fit in". We are not used to seeing this and comments from photographers included "striking" "stark" "unforgiving" but also said that the photographs showed "no empathy" or were "respectless".  One photographer mentioned how "Avedon was able to bring the pure beauty out of every face". As photographers is that the goal or is there room for different approaches that actually challenge the viewer?

Portraits in todays media have largely become as selling tool. Faces appear on websites and in magazines to promote a new film, a new play, a new restaurant and the same celebrities appear if their publicity machines are slick enough year in year out. There are thousands of technically brilliant portraits produced that reveal nothing new about that person. They are simply a visual reminder of their product. Portraits can be powerful and they can reveal like a carefully woven psychological profile but rarely are those difficult questions asked by photographers through their photographs. When a photographer asks those difficult questions it stands out a mile.

The media is stuck in a narrow view of how people should look and it is therefore the photographers challenge to ask difficult questions through their work and to show how everyone else has become lazy in their views and assumptions.


With thanks to

Monday, 4 May 2015

Black and white

This was shot in an underground car park looking overhead through a partly covered mesh skylight. Printed on Ilford Warmtone at Photofusion. Pattern, form and structure are still important elements to me and probably were 30 years ago!

Monday, 27 April 2015

The other side of Lanzarote

Lanzarote is an island with some sharp contrasts between man and nature. A volcanic past and present hangs over the place. Construction often hesitates and remains incomplete.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Lanzarote on an iPhone

Lanzarote is a special landscape mostly due to its volcanic past. It was a wonderful opportunity to do some large format landscape photography. With such a cumbersome set up you always need something else handy to capture other fleeting moments. On this occasion it was an iPhone.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

On location

I have found driving round the home counties that a camper van will only get you so far. Private roads, rural car parks with height restrictions or simply the tarmac running out means ditching motorised transport. My bike comes into its own as walking would mean time lost in the valuable hours of daylight. A backpack with large format camera and tripod stowed in a pannier gives me the freedom to access the landscape quickly before moving locations. I now never leave London without my trusty two wheels.

Friday, 6 March 2015

My work recently has involved more nature whether it is isolated in a still life or in a wider context and environment. Form, structure and texture increasingly play a part in these photographs. Kind words and encouragement from a respected picture editor have helped inspire me to develop my photography and it's link to the many forms of nature.