More Sugimoto

Hayward Gallery, London

I never knew about these metallic constructions of his. In the first image below I’ve centered and isolated the structure in black and white on its mirrored plinth, in the next I show a little more, including the reflection of a passerby and, in the final image I show the whole room with the object centred so as to cover the structure shown above (click on any of the smaller images to see them enlarged – clicking through to the web site first if you’re seeing this in an email).


Hayward Gallery, London

It would be hard to overstate the scale and impressiveness of the Hiroshi Sugimoto survey now at the Hayward. My pictures of both the exhibit and the gallery will occupy these pages for the next few days. Click on any image below to enlarge them all (you may have to click the post-title above to get to the website first if you’re seeing this in email).

FOMU, FOto MUseum, Antwerp

Once again, I’m struck by the architecture, the geometry, and the use (or absence) of colour in contemporary museums, almost more than by the photography I went to see.

Click on any of the images above to see them all bigger (if seeing this in email you may need to click on the post title above, first).

Contra Barthes: a Rant

Last Fall I read Roland Barthes’ Empire of Signs, for my MFA course work. It’s a short book, comprised of chapters a few pages long that I found maddeningly difficult to get through. Really a series of semi-poetic musings more than a true semiotic or philosophic work. I’ve ranted about Barthes in these pages before. Here’s one I found in my journal from last November.

A single 250-word sentence from the chapter, The Incident, in Roland Barthes’ Empire of Signs:

What one can add is that these infinitesimal adventures (of which the accumulation, in the course of a day, provokes a kind of erotic intoxication) never have anything picturesque about them (the Japanese picturesque is indifferent to us, for it is detached from what constitutes the very specialty of Japan, which is its modernity), or anything novelistic (never lending themselves to the chatter which would make them into narratives or descriptions); what they offer to be read (I am, in that country, a reader, not a visitor) is the rectitude of the line , the stroke, without wake, without margin, without vibration; so many tiny demeanors (from garment to smile), which among us, as a result of the Westerner’s inveterate narcissism, are only the signs of a swollen assurance, become, among the Japanese, mere ways of passing, of tracing some unexpected thing in the street; for the gesture’s sureness and independence never refer back to an affirmation of the self (to a “self-sufficiency”) but only to graphic mode of existing; so that the spectacle of the Japanese street (or more generally of the public place), exciting as the product of an age-old aesthetic, from which all vulgarity has been decanted, never depends on a theatricality (a hysteria) of bodies, but, once more, on that writing alla prima, in which sketch and regret, calculation and correction are equally impossible, because the line, the tracing, freed from the advantageous image the scriptor would give of himself, does not express but simply causes to exist.

Barthes, R; Howard, R., trans. Empire of Signs, pp 79-80, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, Inc. 1982

The subject at the outset of this sentence, “these infinitesimal adventures” appears to refer to all the little things that “happen” to one in Barthes’ imaginary Japan of empty signs. “Something always happens.” One must take it on faith that these things are true in his imagined Japan and that his imaginings should hold some interest for us.

In what way does the accumulation of infinitesimal adventures provoke an erotic intoxication? Why can they never have anything picturesque about them? How can the Japanese picturesque (presumably a style?) be indifferent to us? In what way is it detached from modernity? How is modernity the specialty of Japan? Murakami would no doubt be surprised to learn that these things that happen everywhere and all the time can never be novelistic either, because they lack narrative “chatter.” However, they can be read (semiotically, one supposes) and offer “demeanors,” which, as a result of Occidental “narcissism” are signs of a “swollen assurance,” a combination of abstract noun and adjective that it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around. You get the idea. This endless run-on sentence, with its incredible syntagm-less asides, parentheses, sub-clauses and ellipses is a meaningless tissue of nonsense. It definitely meets the criterion of ’empty.’ Imagine having to read page after page of this and then declaring it to be insightful!

Manneken Pis

Mannekin Pis, Brussels

This one eludes me. Both the allure of the Manneken Pis statue itself and, more bizarrely, the behaviour of global tourists for whom nothing is real that isn’t on their phones. That inspired me to break my usual stance of not doing selective colourisation.

Wearing a Mask Mask

National Portrait Gallery, London

The mask is by Gillian Wearing (you see what I did there?). You can see the mask on the mask face, the shadow of the mask behind, and the image of the sculpture on the phone of the viewer in front. It’s all very meta.


Last night the members of my MFA Photography course at UCA opened a weekend show of some of our work to date at the local Barn Bistro (see videos below). I focused on the work I’ve been doing on inequality with a new collage of one of the images I showed here earlier and some of my Lego constructions of inequality statistics. Click any image to see them enlarged. (If that doesn’t work in email, click the post title to open in a browser first.)

VideoPoster from Instagram


Coming to Farnham, 16th – 18th of June. If you’re in the area, please stop by next weekend to see a group show with my fellow MFA Photography students. (Click to enlarge or, if seeing this in email, click the post title, “New Show” first.)

On Politics and Photography

My internal debate about how deliberate and composed I want my images to be continues. One purpose of planned pictures for me is that they be overtly political, in the sense that they make a contribution to the betterment of life on Earth (unlike my working career, spent helping companies wring dollars out of pockets).

Geoff Dyer’s The Ongoing Moment remains indispensable, with an encyclopedic knowledge of (Western) photographers. Commenting that Walker Evans was explicit in his policy of “NO POLITICS whatever.” Dyer then footnotes Cartier-Bresson saying in the 1930s, “the world is going to pieces, and people like [Ansel] Adams and [Edward] Weston are photographing rocks.”

There’s a point for the deliberate politics side! On the other side, of course, there’s always Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels.


After setting up yesterday’s post on my foray into ‘intentional photography,’ I came upon Geoff Dyer’s* The Ongoing Moment at school. So whilst I am busy aiming at intentional photography, Dyer quotes Dorothea Lange to the effect that, “to know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting.” A page later he quotes John Szarkowski saying Garry Winogrand’s best pictures “were not illustrations of what he had known, but were new knowledge.”

But does this mean I should simply continue wandering about with a camera capturing sights that look interesting? It seems to me anyone can do that (and with excellent phone cameras most people do!). My pictures might be slightly better crafted than theirs, based on my years of experience and technical knowledge, but not necessarily any more interesting to an audience than their own pictures already are to them. What’s the point of an MFA if all I’m doing is capturing ‘new knowledge’ that I don’t ‘know ahead of time [is] what [I’m] looking for’?

I’ll continue to ponder this dichotomy, perhaps in these pages. Stay tuned…

* I was already highly favorably inclined towards Dyer after having read his novel, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi – highly recommended.

Centre for British Photography

The Centre for British Photography opened just last weekend so I went up to London to see it. Our course leader, Anna Fox, had one of her books featured (My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words), as well as a role in the exhibit you see upon entering, curated by Fast Forward, of which she’s the Director.

It was an interesting mix of strong conceptual work and, in the basement a more traditional set of documentary photography, The English at Home, by well known names in British photography (like Martin Parr). I was particularly taken and inspired by the Jo Spence exhibit and Heather Agyepong’s Wish You Were Here. If you’re in London it’s well worth a look.

250 Images You Need to See

Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol, UK

I can’t say enough good things about the Justine Kurland workshop I was fortunate to attend at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol. She was a fantastic workshop leader, full of inspiring and insightful things to say about both photography and making art generally. The book I brought to cut up was Photobox The Essential Collection: 250 Images You Need to See, which exhibited the usual prejudice for male photographers (although, as I scoured it for useful material I found more women in it than I had noticed at first).

Above, the collage I started under her tutelage. I look forward to finishing it. You may recognize bits of some famous images (or their outlines) in the work above. I recommend Girl Pictures and the SCUMB Manifesto highly.

Al Zoe Leonard: Al río

The day after we went to Paris Photo we went to the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris and got tickets to the Zoe Leonard exhibit, Al río / To the River, recommended by classmates who had seen it the day before. It’s an immense show that goes on and on for rooms and rooms, vast expanses of white space, perhaps conveyed by the images above. We arrived late morning and were, initially, the only ones there, other than the guards. I was almost more impressed at the opportunity to wander through the vast, empty white space of the museum (reminiscent of my trips to NY’s Metropolitan as a kid, when it was often so empty you could go bowling without disturbing anyone) than I was by the photographs.

The images look at the US/Mexico border area, as loosely defined by the Rio Grande/Bravo. On each wall is a series of pictures, looking at a particular scene, over the course of time (seconds, or minutes, I would guess). Some of these are very affecting; cumulatively, they certainly are. But I was unable to guess at the reason for some of them. One entire room was dedicated to pictures of the swirling water taken, perhaps, over the side of a bridge. While they are far from identical, they are all the same. Another follows a man on horse from a distance, behind, as he travels a short way. The final room is a series of color pictures of a laptop showing security footage of people crossing a barbed-wire-surrounded bridge. No indication of whether this is a public website, or if she’d been granted access to a security control room. Beyond the brochure materials about the exhibit (shown at the link above) there are no placards, captions or other text to explain what you’re looking at or why – which is, in itself, a kind of statement, I suppose. I confess, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Of course, the same might be said of my series of images of the exhibit.

As always, click any image to see them all full-size.

William Klein at ICP

Just about a week before he died, I went to see Klein’s retrospective at ICP – an excellent show that gave a great overview of the breadth of his creative vision. Here are some impressions, not so much of his work but of the exhibition itself. (Click any image to see them all enlarged – from the browser – if you’re seeing this in email click through to obBLOGato first.)