Monthly Archives: September 2013

London, September 2013

With a bit of twisting, the old joke can be appropriated for Dublin: What’s the best thing coming out of Dublin? The frequent planes to London. Well, that’d be putting it a bit too harshly – I really like this place, parochial though it is. But I have to concede that its proximity to London is one of its most enticing features. Well, it has became so, ever since I discovered a) how cheap and easy it is to get from here to London and b) what London really has to offer for photographers (and any other species of tourists).

The first time I went over for a mini-trip was in February 2011 with my fabulous group of gorgeous college friends, with the express purpose of looking at the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize in the NPG and the exhibition on camera-less photography in the V&A, Shadow Catchers, and ever since I have made a point of going every year. I saw Paul Graham in the Whitechapel Gallery and a history of London Street Photography in the Museum of London in June 2011. Last December I caught Patrick Demarchelier in the NPG and a brilliant exhibition in the NG called Seduced by Art on the influence of art on photography. This time ’round I happened on an exhibition by chance that turned out to be hugely inspiring and great fun to look at, Miles Aldridge – I only want you to love me.

What I had actually printed out in advance as a reminder to see, took a backseat against Aldridge. And yet it was well worth making the trip off-Oxford Street. Not only because I had never been down London’s most famous shopping mile, but because I finally managed to find the Photographers’ Gallery, located in Ramillies Street, just off Oxford Street. What initially drew me there was an exhibition of John Hinde photographs – those tacky holiday postcards that used to be on sale everywhere in the British Isles, Ireland included. I remember those images very well from my first visit to this island. The exhibition in the Photographers’ Gallery turned out to be disappointing in the sense that only a handful of images were on show. Nicely blown-up with a postcard original beside it, they were hung in the print archive in the basement of the Gallery. Not that easy to look at, and frankly not enough images. An amusing insight, however, in what constituted a postcard image in times long gone: Typical recreational scenes, including an idyllic beach spoilt by caravans; a busy park with a magnificent fountain, obscured by the revellers; the view of a beautiful cove, egg-shaped 1960s car banged right in front of it. The trademark use of primary colours on details in the images – often manipulated in post-production – was made visible in the contrast of the original colour print and the subsequent postcard edition. Rumour has it that Hinde (and his legion of photographers) always carried a few red-blossom potted plants in the boot of their cars. A hilarious trip back down memory lane – well, before my time even (and I have increasingly less occasion to use that phrase, so there).

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Picture postcard kitsch Ireland. Not by Hinde but by me, and with the trademark red.

Artistically and theoretically more exciting was the main exhibition currently on display in the Photographers’ Gallery. Mass Observation is not just the title of the exhibition but the name of an artistic project started in the mid-1930s in Britain. This is not just a project in documentary photography, but a socio-historical experiment. The founders of the movement stipulated to record every day life in the project. Not only did they take photos of all manner of human life, but also record and categorize human activity in word and relic. In the day and age of data protection and privacy control this kind of thing would not be possible anymore: following unsuspecting members of the public around as they went about their business, jotting down all they did in a notebook. Worthy of a local history museum, the participants amassed material that gives a glimpse of the recreational activities of people in Britain from the 1930s through to the present.

In a way, the photography displayed here was incidental, often not deliberate in its framing etc., sometimes more so – depending on the expertise of the photographer, I suppose. It is a bit of a mingle-mangle of bits and pieces. Quirky. The context is simply the recording of details – but where this all is going, I am not sure.

My meh-attitude to the exhibition probably has to do with the fact that I did not have enough time to engage properly with the concept and the displays. I was en-route to a meeting and flew through the exhibition in half an hour. Not enough time to peruse the displays. It is worth seeing – as a larger project, but not as a photography exhibition, in my opinion. It is an early example of multi-media art. Or a late example of da-da? If I had had more time, I am sure I could’ve given it the due it deserves. I will say, however, that it is worth a visit.

The conclusion has to be that a London visit on photography business needs good planning – and lots of time. Possibly also alone-time – I always get slightly flustered when I am perusing photo exhibitions with non-photography friends. Just because I imagine that they do not want to spend as much time as me poring over prints, examining lighting and gauging the overall experience. Alternatively, get together a group of photo-enthusiasts. It’s high time I did that again.

The Photographers Gallery

Ramillies Street

London

Miles Aldridge – I only want you to love me

By and large, Miles Aldridge is a fashion photographer. Born and raised in the world of fashion (his father was a designer, he has two fashion model daughters), it is no wonder that Aldridge’s work is characterised by strong colours and elaborate set-ups. Women are the subject – or rather object – of all of his work. Whether they are glossy madonnas or tacky fashion divas or victims of household items, they are in each and every photo exhibited in his current exhibition I only want you to love me in Somerset House, London. Fittingly, as I visited the exhibition on Monday, London Fashion Week was in full swing in Somerset House, too, and the images created by Aldridge stood alongside the peacocky narcissism of the bold, the blingy and the beautiful. Fox pelts stapled to the shoulder of fashion victims – you would think that is a figment of a photographer’s imagination, but no, seen on the cobbles of the Somerset House courtyard on a passing fashion enthusiast. The mind boggles. What the – fashion-challenged – photographer cannot understand in real life becomes a statement of irony and deliberate exaggeration in the photographic art of Aldridge: hyper-made up, glamourous women in shrill colours, plastic-y skin and garish accessories. Woman as a victim of fashion?

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My Variation on a Theme by Miles Aldridge

Aldridge works on film – Kodachrome and Ektachrome – and deliberately so, in order to manipulate his images in post-processing and arrive at a “brutal simplification of the images”. Primary colours scream from the prints. It is hard *not* to be drawn (by the signal colours) to the photographs, and as soon as you set your gaze on the image, you are drawn into the stories: a seductively open mouth with a pink-clawed index finger offering a smattering of caviar to the gaping chasm. The domestic goddess in defeat, tray of smashed dinner plate in front of her. Stepford Wives, identical and exchangable, shopping in the supermarket. It is so overdone that it is simply fun to look at, to enjoy the colour, the superficial, polished beauty of it all.  But the elaborate set-ups contain whole stories, as superficial as they may seem upon first sight. They make you think, continue the story in your own mind, prompt your imagination: For whose benefit is the caviar seductress suggestively licking her finger? Why has the yellow housewife smashed her chicken and peas, and for whom are the Stepford Wives buying shopping-trolley loads of Heinz beans???

Yes, we can put a suitably sociocritical superstructure on the message of the images. The searing wounds of oppression by fashion, body image and advertising, inflicted upon the 20th century woman. The dichotomy of domestic goddess and sultry seductress that all women have to live. The pastiche of the Madonna, crying empty tears for the loss of autonomy. They are all victims, wounded women. Oh how ironic Aldridge puts it all. I find his way of addressing the problems of female alienation too simplistic, possibly too lurid, even though that’s what we might *like* to see when looking at oversimplified imagery like this. There are a few quotes by Aldridge throughout the exhibition, and frankly, I wish they hadn’t been there. Such as this one: “My understanding of wounded women, I think, began with my mother.” Does he really understand? Or is his irony perpetuating the on-going wounding of women?

Don’t get me wrong. I did not look at this exhibition expecting to see a documentary on the state of women’s lib in the 21st century. I quite simply enjoyed the wonderfully oversaturated colours, the lurid scenes, the Barbie-doll artificiality of his subjects. I felt blissfully removed from these fantasy creatures. Nothing in my life can even remotely relate to the scenes depicted. And I thought to myself, “can we please just see this as pop-art fun?”. Yeah, I *am* interested in the issue of gender equality, but that does not mean I cannot savour simple aesthetics or over-emphasised irony. Therefore I almost enjoyed the most sexist of Aldridge’s work the most – his fashion editorial for luxury watches was simply splendid – implicitly explicit scenes of male domination where all that is visible is a male wrist (always with the clunky precious-metal watches on view) on the thigh of a be-suspendered woman, pubic mound lurking behind the lacy thong; the male thumb invading the seductively opened mouth (again); the male hand splayed across the woman’s cheek. Oh yes, woman in chains of oppression and sexual submission. In the name of advertising. That is actually more (worth) telling than the implied imbalance between the genders.

What you make of it depends on your own personal taste. If you need the cloak of an artist’s statement that assures you “oh no, this is all meant ironically”, then there it is. If you are happy enough to look at highly aestheticised images with a twisted sense of humour, and you can take sexism without putting on your purple dungarees and employing your bra like a catapult, this exhibition will make you smile and allow your eyes to feast. If, however, you have a feminist agenda, don’t go. It’ll get your back up and your knickers in a definite twist. Lacy-see-through or not.

Miles Aldridge – I only want you to love me

Somerset House

Until September 29, 2013

Nerd Alert

It doesn’t happen very often that I literally can’t wait to download my pictures from the card *and* start editing and post-producing them. Usually, it takes something really special for me to be impatient about checking the booty of a shoot – or a commercial project, of course. But would I have ever expected to be turned on by one of the nerdiest photo ops *ever*???

I have spent all afternoon today on the roof of my house. Sheltered by the two apexes of the roofs and in the wind shadow thus created, I had a fabulous vantage point from which to follow the fly-past of the Flight Fest. Despite rain in the morning, it stayed dry all afternoon, and wrapped in my winter fleece and cozy under a Breton woolly hat, I defied the wind bite.

Flightfest 2013 (43 of 741)

Consider yourself teased – there are better shots than this. But this at least gives you the context.

Mind you, three hours of solidly spying the sky for planes, and keeping Marky Mark plus heavy 300mm zoom at the ready has been quite an exhausting experience. At the end of the afternoon, my wrist hurt really badly from cradling the equipment to keep it from shaking in the gusts of wind and blurring my shots. I will get into that in-depth on another occasion, because as yet I am still in the middle of post-production. Crop tool here I come. There’s a lot of sky in these images, and rather minute aircraft, especially the fighter planes that tended to bank towards the North, while I was sitting towards the South *hmph*. A few of the smaller aircraft thankfully banked in a tight bend and more or less flew directly over our heads. I stole a few good shots there, but it remains to be seen in my post-production what kind of images I can crop from the 80 percent sky/20 percent plane I captured in most.

Until then, I am off to the Big Smoke for another one of my annual trips to London. Catching up on lots of exhibitions. There’s some really cool stuff on, at the mo. But who am I kidding – there *always* is some really cool stuff on in London. How to get it all into my tight schedule is the question.

 

Food Photography

Despite my generous proportions, I am really not that much of a foodie, myself. I eat to live, I suppose, but food preparation has never been one of my interests or fortes. Given the chance, I would probably not cook at all, hateful, hateful bane of my housewife-ly existance *hisses*. And hence, food photography has never been a particular interest of mine, either.

But photographers are not picky when it comes to jobs. We take what we can get, and on the back of the photographic high we will get enthusiastic about pretty much everything that gets popped in front of our lens. Ok, I draw the line at mug-shots of criminals or politicians (pretty much one and the same species), but whether it is photographing a GP clinic, producing marketing material for designer blankets or providing portfolio shots for make-up students – I enjoy it all. But the shoot I did for my friend Ellen of Splendor – Cakes and More literally made my mouth water as well as get my creative juices flowing.

Ellen had been asked to submit a cake design to *the* industry magazine for sugarcraft professionals which only considers photographs of professional standard for their magazine. A case for Marky Mark and Sonja… The difficulty with shoots like this is that they need to be done on location – cakes don’t really travel that well. So armed with reflector, tripod, collapsible softbox and flash we set up a temporary studio in Ellen’s kitchen. Well, house, more like, as the shoot quickly spread to other rooms in her house in order to find well-lit areas where I could get atmospheric shots of the cake. Tricky: The cake was white and reflective, glittering bronze and gold. The backdrop needed to be muted in colour, i.e. white, really. We styled and photographed for at least two and a half hours. A nice collaborative exercise in which the art direction was with Ellen.

The result were about 250 photos, close-ups and full-size shots, all sorts of angles, three or four set-ups. In the end I opted to shoot with natural light only as the softbox did not fit our “studio space” and the unfiltered flash was too harsh. On the plus side, the hues came out pretty realistically, so the post-production was easier. The photos had to be edited down to a tenth of the total, which Ellen then had to choose her final submission from to send in. Both cake and standard of photography found the editors’ approval, and the Valli-inspired cake made it into the magazine and onto a double spread. And this is the mouth-watering work of art:

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Tearsheet from Cake Central Magazine, September 2013

If food looks that good – I’ll have no problem with food photography! Congrats to Ellen for making it into Cake Central Magazine!

PS: These cakes actually taste as good as they look.

Coincidence or a Sign?

I was walking up Nassau Street, yesterday, rushing out on a last-minute errand, pushing my bike on the pavement in the one-way-street. Although in a hurry, I noticed a sticker on the pavement in passing – a worn-down sticker with the easily recognisable NOH8 logo on it. “Hm, about time  that we heard from *that* venture again”, I thought to myself, and happily went on my way. The shoot had taken place on the 30th June, with me posting about it here on the 1st of July.

Well, lo and behold, but what should I find in my inbox the very same evening but an e-mail from the NOH8 campaign. ” We know it’s taken just a little bit longer than expected, but we’re happy to announce the photos taken at the open photo shoot at the Independent Theatre Workshop are now online.” Coincidence? Kismet? Telepathy? Whatever! But as part of the deal from back then, we were sent a download link to one of the images that were taken at the shoot to download and re-post as we see fit. So in complete ignorance of my usual rule of only posting my own work on this blog, I bring you an image of Miss Piggy posing for NOH8.

NOH8 Adam Bouska

NOH8
Image (c) Adam Bouska

I will resist criticising the image to death – it’s main flaw is that I am in it. Otherwise it is just like all the other NOH8 images – white blown out background with subject dressed in white in front. The logo really stands out quite well from my rosy piglet skin although I think there has been altogether a bit much skin filter applied to me. It really does nothing for the lack of definition along my jaw-line, but hey, the purpose of the shoot was not to get a beautiful portrait of me but to advertise the campaign.  And in all fairness, the campaigners write in their e-mail “We want you to be proud of your photo, so if you have any issues with your photo then please feel free to follow up with us.” Nah, it’s fine. I like the defiant, proud look in my eyes, the correct shade of blonde of my hair (all real, btw *haha*), and the dynamic feel of the image. Not a great fan of those (Asian?) smile gestures (the finger V), but that’s merely niggling.

So there we are. International campaigner for gay equality. I stand proudly beside such luminaries as George Takei, Liza Minelli, Alan Cummings and etc. Or rather – they can stand proudly beside me! NOH8!

More info on the campaign here.