27 Mar 2018

BST

Ah the Spring Equinox is here. No, I've not suddenly converted to pagansim, although it's somewhere in my roots. It's my time to come out of hibernation and start to take pictures again. I often wonder why I make things so hard for myself. 
I love making photographs in the sun. In London. Yes London.  
I like working during the week. The West End at the weekend just doesn't have that mix of people and purpose I love. 
Oh yes and I love film. 35mm, 36 frames. 
link to Venice images
Let's do the maths. 

Optimal light, Spring to Autumn Equinox, 26 weeks. Tops.

5 days a week. Not sunny every day. Call it 1 day a week. Average. It's London remember?
1 roll of film a day. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. It's expensive.

Makes 936 pictures by my reckoning.

Total.

For the year.

Now we can begin.

5% of those 936 are worth looking at a second time.

Half of those 46 a 3rd look.

Of those, 5 (6 if I'm lucky) might have something about them. Not always obvious but just enough.

So you can see why I'm excited. The new year is now.

Can't wait to see what it brings me.

Busy Sean Time.


3 Mar 2018

street philosophy

I see a new book on Garry Winogrand is about to be launched. Written by Geoff Dyer whose book The Ongoing Moment I really enjoyed for his lateral take on the history of photography I'm sure it'll be a good read.
Garry Winogrand is such a go-to reference for what I'll call classic - and others may call old fashioned - street photography that it's curious I honestly was not aware of his work when I started practising. Apologies if that's disingenuous. I can see my work reads like a Winogrand-lite tribute act. 
Oxford Street photograph
But my inspiration I recall was through the documentary work of Don McCullin's Homecoming and W. Eugene Smith's Minamata. Back in the day what became known as street wasn't publicly available, in the UK at least. Yes it feels a little sepia toned even writing this. Let me fetch more ink for my quill...
At that time I actually made this type of work, in style and in conscience. Now, in retrospect, it's one of those what-if questions about life (in)decisions. I know I struggled with the anthropological/us & them approach to documentary work which I why I admired for example Jim Goldberg's Rich and Poor project that found a way to break down the viewer/photographer/subject relationship into something fresh. 
I have to accept my own style can easily be seen as making no challenge to those relationships. There's no collaboration between myself and what I photograph. They are still subjects. I seek no deeper insight into their condition. My only only nod to objectivity is not to caption the picture. And yet it's that very ambiguity that I find fascinating and enduring. Geoff Dyer comments in his book on a particular Winogrand photograph from the late 50s/early 60s
In colour, people seem necessarily to be walking into the future (when the overwhelming bulk of photography will be colour); in black-and-white, they are emerging from the past (when black-and-white was considered the only medium for serious photography).
It's a question I've thought with regard to my own work. Is it simply a nostalgia trip, a re-tread of old tropes that were new and radical back in the day but now really saying nothing new? I've fallen back on on jazz, one of my favourite comparisons, and the way that standard compositions can be endlessly re-interpreted. I guess the challenge for me is to stay Miles Davis and not Kenny G...
New York City 1987 photograph
Tokyo 2017 photograph
I'm now looking back at my work from thirty years ago and, yes, those people are still emerging from the past...as they are from last year too. Does that continuity, that plus ça change, say anything worthwhile? I hesitate to use the phrase human condition as for me it's rooted in that black and white world of Life and Picture Post photography that in a contrary way reinforced social stereotypes while ostensibly celebrating them. But hey are we any more sophisticated now? 
Perhaps I just need to appreciate these pictures for what they are. Tiny breadcrumbs of my life. Watch out. Sounds like a book title...


15 Feb 2018

bienvenidos angelenos

If you've seen my work in the Los Angeles Center of Photography's latest show Street Shooting Around the World then welcome. Feel free to look around, you won't break anything...
The image selected for the show has particular resonance as I've taken it in my home town London as part of my current series New Europe  
link to new Europe images 
It's not a documentary project, more a personal response to what it is now to live in Europe. You can read more about that story here.
It's great to show in America again as my time living in New York City back in the 80s was an incredible influence on my work, and life too in lots of ways.
If you're interested in finding out more about my work you can reach me at sean@waysofwalking.net
Thank you!


12 Jan 2018

tale of two cities

I have a confession to make. I cannot resist books about London. Not the "1001 things you didn't know" sort - although I'd make an exception for Ed Gilnert's The London Compendium and, er, Nicholas Barton's The Lost Rivers of London. Anyway you get the idea. I've written about fiction and historical novels as sources of inspiration but two books I've recently read with more of a documentary angle really made me reflect on the present day London.
link to 2016 part 2
I've been an admirer of Iain Sinclair's writing about London since I read Lights Out for the Territory. His leaps of imagination, making links across time and space, really attracted me. In fact the subtitle of that book was 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London (I know, I know, it's just another exception) and he introduced me to the wonderful word palimpsest as applied to the streets of London still bearing traces of their existence as thoroughfares for Romans or Victorians. I really connected to this vision of London as both organic and mythical: a world simultaneously virtual and real as brought to life by Streetmuseum. 
Sinclair's novel The Last London has a different tone. The layers of history he's mined are now exhausted as London's latest incarnation is populated by people living "above the city, floating on their devices" in a perpetual present tense, in a virtual world disconnected from any historic, cultural or social roots. This is a London he doesn't know how to interpret any more. His reference points carelessly uprooted, appropriated and repackaged to feed the global market.
However he also is disturbed by another consequence and, unexpectedly for me, it linked his and Ben Judah's This is London. Where Sinclair observes the evidence of immigrants sleeping rough at the side of a canal yards from an artisan cafe, Judah is sleeping alongside them in the underpass at Hyde Park Corner listening to the footsteps of the new denizens of the city in a nightmare soundscape. However he shares Sinclair's troubles that he also doesn't understand what London has become.
It's a powerful book. Judah facilitates the stories of people not in the gentle style of Craig Taylor's Londoners but in a sequence of personal testimonies you might hear from voices on a BBC World Service documentary but here in London. Today. At the Museum of London last year I heard Judah passionately narrate his last chapter about Hajji an imam who washes the bodies of the dead before burial. "There are angels hovering over Leyton". I've just checked when he spoke. It was the day before Grenfell. What's that about palimpsests again?
Perhaps I had some intuition about the relationship of the two books. Most likely it was simply two sides of the same coin but after reading them I felt something more fundamental. 2017 was a defining year for London in the way 2016 was for the country The city has always had the capacity to contain a multitude of narratives but the fear that we are all becoming party to a more institutionalised version, a place closer to Beszél and Ul Qoma, leaves me uneasy.
Not so uneasy as to leave however. I'm not going anywhere just yet.



11 Dec 2017

camouflage of colour

The National Gallery in London currently has a show entitled Monochrome: Painting in Black and WhiteIt's an interesting take on the deliberate choice of back and white by artists for their work in painting, printmaking, drawing etc over the last eight hundred years. For me it's a fascinating contrast to the role of black and white in the history of photography: initially the only means of popular expression and then overtaken by colour and identified, ironically, as the choice of artists.
I don't regard my choice as wilfully retro and have more recently enjoyed using the practical benefits of colour to work quickly. This exhibition however really explores the essence of what monochrome brings to both artist and audience. It also introduced me to a wonderful word grisaille
As you'd perhaps expect black and white was a common technique to prepare sketches for the final execution of a painting which invariably was in colour. However over time it was seen to have its own power of expression that artists began to exploit. The argument of this particular exhibition is that power was one to arrest the viewer, to make them look again and look harder by removing the everyday camouflage of colour (gosh I just thought of that phrase, there's my blog title!).
It's not a particularly novel idea but it's one I certainly support and it was developed in one particular image called Grey Mirror by Gerhard Richter. The idea is brilliantly simple, painting a sheet of glass grey and transforming it into a mirror. OK it can fall into an "is that art" argument but for me it very, very much is. Even searching for this image online plays tricks as there is no one definite image as it is forever reflecting the environment around it and, even more so, you as a viewer become implicit in the art work.
Oxford Street photograph
Grey Mirror, 1992, Gerhard Richter
For me it's a great way of encapsulating my take on street photography. Forgive my impudence but hey this is my blog after all :) 
Images of the street are just that. Reflections. They are not fixed. Atoms colliding. We, both actors and audience, perpetually shape shifting between both states. In time and out of time.  
As well as a document of a particular moment on a particular day, street photographs and, to keep on topic, black and white street photographs do something else. They literally arrest us. We are all implicated in the picture by stopping and watching. What are we looking at? 
Our selves.

6 Nov 2017

tokyo drift

One of the many highlights of my last visit to Tokyo were trips to the wonderful photo bookstores of the city. It's not that I needed another stimulus to photograph but the culture those places represent is powerful. I felt the classic crisis of choice where there was just so much inspirational work I could have walked away with nothing except a, rather wonderful, headache. However I did manage to select two beautiful books by Naohiro Harada and Michio Yamauchi.
cover of Naohiro Harada's Drifting
I am immediately taken by the images of Harada's book Drifting. High contrast, displaced snatches of figures. Elusive. The sequencing of images resonates with the push-pull rhythm of city streets.
"All these people are drifting, on the surface of the silent jet black film, my body drifts inside them; and their bodies keep drifting too, inside me."
This sense of flow is something I've spoken about. It has unavoidable echoes with Zen in the Art of Archery which has its advocates, and detractors too I admit. Nevertheless it's fascinating to see the realisation of a sensation like this into a body of work that can leap off the page at me. Subarashī!
cover of Michio Yamauchi's Tokyo Up Close
My love of candid, black and white photography from the street is well met by Michio Yamauchi's Tokyo Up Close. It's a great collection of images, very much what is says on the tin but none the worse for that. 
"The photographs I take are all photographs; even so, I believe that 99% of them are pretty much equivalent to garbage. It's the remaining 1% that intrigues me and causes me to wonder at my reaction to those instances of reality. And then another person, looking at photographs I've taken in response to my arbitrary reactions, reacts too. Other people are able to feel my reactions - that's even more intriguing."
Again another quote and another connection to reflections I've made. The subjectivity of meaning, and the sharing of those interpretations, were my motivations to create the Ambiguous Book Project!
Photography in book form is regarded as an art form in itself and I'm really privileged to have two such examples in my collection. Time to think about some new ideas...


8 Oct 2017

clips with everything

The recent launch of Google Clips struck me as another moment to reflect on the nature of candid photography. In essence it's an evolution of the always-on life blogging camera that when activated indiscriminately records everything before it. The trick with Clips is that it's smart enough to know what and when to record based on what is worth recording. How does it do that? Well it's programmed to recognise what a good picture is of course. Let that sink in.

We're well aware of the literally mountains of images that have been created thanks to the rise of digital photography. Access to that technology has created wonderful opportunities for people to document and share their own daily lives. However the innate problem is the access and distribution of those images. 
One significant consequence of this latest phase of digital image creation is the means to "outsource" the taking and initial storage of pictures to a device using artificial intelligence. The decision making part of the equation, literally the decisive moment, is removed from us. It's another fascinating example of how the social relationships around photography develop through the technology of the day. In this instance we are seeing what's is essentially the conduct of an intimate act taken over by a corporate entity. What was private becomes public. This isn't surveillance as we know it today but it doesn't take much imagination to see where this could go. 
link to 2016 part 2
As a street photographer I'm in no position to be sanctimonious. I myself have documented those intimate moments. I'm comfortable with the usual it's a public place, guv defence but I confess it's made me think about what I then choose to do with them once they are taken. The public recording of images of people is now more than ever a very sensitive topic. In a contrarian way it helps that I still take the majority of my work on film and the production process around them means that details of the time and location are diluted. 
For me the role of street photography in these circumstances retains its relevancy more than ever.  
The eye in the sky needs another witness.