As part of the Ulster Festival of Art & Design at Ulster University, I dropped in on a 30-minute photobook lab. Inside a pop-up style workspace on the ground floor of the Belfast campus were a few tables strewn with miscellaneous books, magazines and newspapers.
The objective was to create your own photobook with these random objects.
It reminded me of David Campany’s article, “So what is a photobook?”, published in Source magazine, in which he discusses the relatively recent development of the term ‘photobook’ to describe publications where the photograph is the main subject, not just books with photos in them:
“What chancer would dare try to coin the term ‘wordbook’ to make something coherent of all books with words in them? But here we are. The field needs a name and until we find a better one we’re stuck with ‘photobook’.”
So I started with a prepared, stitched orange covered A5 booklet. Grabbed a few publications and tore out images that stuck out for one reason or another.
Found the aforementioned source article and knew that would be my cover image.
I stalled on my editing process — like the black thread holding my booklet together physically, what theme could I weave through my eclectic selection of images?
Among my pile was a small publication, Favourite Irish Proverbs. Folksy expressions were juxtaposed with calm and cute images of idyllic countryside and heartwarming poses of people. It is a type of item that one gets as a wee gift for one’s auntie who admires the quaint.
I decided to subvert it, by substituting some of the expressions with more insightful images. Or at least to cause a double-think on the ordinary. Here, the conceptual artist Barbara Kruger came to mind.
The result is nine images with nine Irish proverbs.
Concluded with an index pulled from a world atlas.
So what is a photobook? I don’t know. But I’ve made my first one.
“Don’t see migrant community as ‘them and us’”: High Sheriff of Belfast
by Allan LEONARD for Shared Future News
6 March 2015
At a launch event for a photography exhibition at Belfast City Hall, the High Sheriff of Belfast, Councillor Gareth McKee, told the audience not to see the migrant community in Northern Ireland with a ‘them and us’ attitude, but instead “identify with migrants on a more personal level as one human being to another”.
I have not studied photography formally, but take solace that many of the 100 photographers featured in this thorough volume of the urban landscape and its people have learned their craft from the harsh realities of the street.
Author Jackie Higgins has done a masterful job. The structure of the book is geographical, by world region. Each photographer gets a page or two, with a pertinent selection of his or her work.
As one would expect, most images feature people. Some are candid; others are posed. And some photographers concentrate more on the physical environment — the human influence without the presence of any inhabitants themselves.
What I like is that there’s no need to read the book from cover-to-cover. You can peruse the pages and stop and inspect more of what captures your eye. (Perhaps not unlike the behaviour of a practiced street photographer.) The biographical entries are well written and easy to digest.
Max Kozloff sets the global scene in his foreword. I particularly like his statement of how “photographers have reacted with a discursive strategy of their own”, including a response to “post-modernist scepticism towards documentary forms”.
Because street photography tells stories, of the photographer and the photographed. Some stories are easier to decipher from the images than others, but story telling is one of man’s longest-running habits. Long live the documentary style, updated for the 21st century.
And that is my only mild criticism — there is no modern signposting of any of the photographers. Perhaps these acclaimed artists are beyond Flickr and Tumblr, but I would have appreciated links to at least portfolio websites. There’s also no bibliography or further reading section.
Yet The World Atlas of Street Photography should be on any self-respecting street photographer’s bookshelf. Jackie Higgins achieves her objective of showcasing illuminating juxtapositions, as she puts it, providing the reader with ample inspiration and insight of a wide variety of techniques and styles.
Recently my brother asked me where were my favourite photo locations.
I don’t know if “favourite” is the right word. Photography encompasses many genres, and photojournalists let their curiosity and ambitions take them wherever they’re called, whether on assignments or self-motivated journeys.
My photography journey started at home, in the rural village in northwest Ohio. I’d go out and image document where I went running — the roads, fields and barns. The local folk at the summer fairs.
Then, with camera in hand, the urban discoveries of New York, Washington, and Boston.
Onwards to my first solo journey to Ireland — and while the images I took are not so aesthetically remarkable, they are a recording of a significant moment of my life (see also Flickr set):
Beyond the personal to the newsworthy — I took myself to Berlin in December 1989. Although I wasn’t there for the original event, there was a reprise of the opening of Brandenberg Gate, with hundreds of thousands of people exhilarated with new freedoms (see also Flickr set):
My profession isn’t photography; but I am a photographer, in my desire to capture the aesthetic in my world. I have a camera with me wherever I go.
This allows me to bring an added dimension to my vocation of politics and peace making.
For example, my international work has placed me in Mitrovica (Kosovo), Baghdad (Iraq), and Kaduna (Nigeria) (see also Flickr set):
Like press photographers before, I’ll take images for official purposes, as well as for my own pursuit.
So “favourite” for me is anywhere, to make the most of my innate curiosity yet learning as rapidly as possible the essence a new place. People are universal in their fundamental hopes and fears, but behaviour is conditioned by culture and environment. Trying to capture this on a short-term visit is not easy! On the other hand, I have found that if you wait too long, your inquisitive eye gets too normalised.
It’s a challenge. But one I enjoy. It’s called discovery.
God can sanctify photography. With a poem by Pope Leo XIII, Colin Ford explains the basis for how Irish Jesuit Frank Browne acquired a camera from his bishop uncle, at the age of 17, and kept making images throughout his priestly life.
Browne took his camera everywhere. His early trips to Europe were the apparent source of his self-teaching of technique, analysing the works of Masters’ painters in Venice and Florence.
He travelled widely, to the front lines in France and Flanders during World War One (serving as chaplain) and further to Australia (where he went to recuperate after suffering mustard gassing).
Yet I would argue that it is his persistent images of Ireland over the decades, emerging as a new republic, that leaves a significantly valuable legacy. Photos of countryside life are complemented with ones of industrialisation.
Browne is known primarily for photos that he took during the maiden voyage of the Titanic. His first class ticket was only for Southampton-Cherbourg-Cobh (his uncle never intended for him to emigrate to America!). With the sinking of the ship, his precious images were in highest demand by newspapers.
Kodak thanked him by offering a lifelong supply of film. Yet Browne was responsible for developing the film and paying for any prints. Consequently, many of his photos remained unpublished, until Father Edward O’Donnell discovered a large trunk, long after Browne’s death.
But Frank Browne: A Life through the Lens, by Donald and Edwin Davison and the subject of this review, is a more artistic critique of his best work, copiously illustrated and drawn from his trove of 42,000 images.
In a chapter titled “Father Browne photographer of the twentieth Century”, Donald Davison explains how Father Browne was influenced initially by pictorialism but also with modernism.
Browne was not constrained by any particular photographic style, though reportage-style stands out. Even here, he didn’t always obey the decisive moment – sometimes he would get children and take off their shoes and socks for his more desired, rustic look of the countryside.
One could argue that because Browne did not concentrate on any particular method, he never mastered his craft.
But I don’t believe Father Brown was ever seeking photography perfection; his formal training was spiritual, remember.
Instead, we’ve been blessed with the vision of a man who understood tone and mood, natural and human, who recorded the matter of life wherever he found himself.
I highly recommend Frank Browne: A Life through the Lens, by Donald and Edwin Davison, for its approach to the subject from a photographer’s perspective.
Frank Browne: A Life through the Lens accompanies an exhibition at the Andrews Gallery, Titanic Building, Belfast, 14 January-31 March 2015.
Nothing like a competition to focus the mind. Urban Picnic Street Photography organises an annual competition, with entrants allowed to submit three of their finest. I don’t fancy my chances, as I’m relatively new to this game. But if it generates any constructive criticism, then the £10 entry fee will have paid for itself.
Here is my submission. Photo descriptions are additional (not part of the UPSP entry).
A lucky shot, taken while in a small bus transporting us delegates back to our accommodation. Numerous street vendors selling all sorts of goods, including animals.
The brightly coloured vehicle is not so unusual in Kaduna, nor an observing passenger, nor a decal message. But put together, and particularly on these streets that has witnessed inter-ethnic violence, compelled me.
On our return from a rural neighbourhood that has been attacked by communal rivals. The relative poverty was acute. Like sectarian graffiti I’m used to seeing in the streets of Belfast, I was not surprised to see scrawls of “Death 2 America” in this Muslim-populated area.
Part of a series, Kaduna Street, taken November 2013 during international conference of peace makers in Kaduna, Nigeria, a place of inter-ethnic conflict. Delegates were provided with 24-hour security from police and military services. Images taken during transport from local site visits. Worth noting that as we visitors came from other places of contested spaces (Forum for Cities in Transition), no one was fazed by the communal tensions or geopolitics; the abnormal becomes normal.
Thanks to an article published in British Airways’ in-flight magazine, High Life, I learned of a photo exhibition of the work of Jacques Lowe, who was a personal and professional photographer for John F. Kennedy.
On display at the Proud Gallery, King James’s Street (Sloan Square), are a series of prints of JFK and other Kennedy clan members.
These several dozen prints, all silver gelatin, are for sale, from £3,000-£7,500.
Why so costly? Because they are the very last remaining prints by the deceased photographer.
This is because Lowe’s archive of negatives was completely destroyed in the collapse of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. They were kept in a safe in the custody of JP Morgan. While the safe was recovered, its contents perished.
As the gallery assistant explained to me, the prints labelled “vintage” are one-offs — a single, original print made at the time of its taking. A print that is numbered as part of a series is the last one. For example, 12/75 means that eleven previous prints were made — the one numbered 12 is it; there are no 13-75.
What of the prints themselves?
Many are familiar, not surprising as Jacques Lowe was the President’s official photographer. For example: a family photo of John and Jackie, with baby Caroline grabbing her mother’s pearl necklace; JFK standing in a boat, looking reflectively into the water; another of his anguish, hand on face, phone in other hand, upon hearing the news of the assassination of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo; and the solemn march of Robert, Jackie and Ted Kennedy, at JFK’s funeral.
My favourite on display was one of Robert Kennedy. He is looking dead straight into the camera lens: a close-up profile image:
It reminded me of a personal photograph. We lived in California, and my father went to one of RFK’s outdoor political rallies. He got close to the platform, and took a wonderful image of Robert at the podium, with his left foot resting on it toes.
Seeing this image as a young man must have made an impression upon me, not only because of the familial but also for the value of documenting history. I’ve had the opportunities to record public speaking by Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama.
This exhibition at the Proud Gallery is accompanied by a beautiful, large hardcover book, My Kennedy Years: A Memoir, posthumously published. It is just as well, because while these final prints will exist in other people’s private possession, with the disappearance of the original negatives, there’s not likely to be another Lowe exhibition anytime soon. This exhibition runs until 24th November. I recommend the book as an eternal keepsake.
To mark its 30th anniversary, Belfast Exposed has organised an extensive exhibition of photographic work, displayed both at its premises on Donegall Street as well as at The MAC. The exhibition — Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography — “focuses on the growth of new, fine art documentary practices, more often produced for the gallery space and the photo book rather than for a press or media context”.
Karen Downey was late from finishing a curator’s tour of the exhibition, as well as from being interviewed for BBC Radio Ulster’s Arts Extra programme (above). She described the background of the anniversary project and introduced the guest speakers.
Colin Graham was previously a Reader in English at Queen’s University Belfast, and he described how his specialism in literature influences his critiques of photography. For example, he made the point that “the shape of something [presented] is as important as its context”. Also, that the act of photography is a self-conscious decision, literally snapshots of a journey made by the photographer.
In reviewing 30 years of photography in Northern Ireland, he listed a broad spectrum that included press photography, archive photographers, landscape photo books, Flickr photostreams and the more recent proliferation of Instagram and general increase in non-professional photography. In compiling the book, he didn’t attempt to survey them all, but to select and explain “why I liked what I liked”.
Donovan Wylie explained how he returned to photography after he “lost faith in the single image”: making films was far more difficult.
Describing the invitation to undertake the Maze project work, he said that he repeatedly said no: “It represented everything I didn’t like about Northern Ireland.” But taking encouragement from others, he ultimately agreed. Yet he struggled to find a satisfactory strategy until, as he put it, he surrendered his resistance to the place, and worked with the logic of its design. Interestingly, here he described feeling less a photographer and more like an operator — a mixture of artist and documentarian.
John Duncan, co-editor of Source magazine, introduced himself as someone who has been dwelling on Belfast for the past 25 years.
He showed a projected image of the first known photograph of Belfast, the clearing of buildings to make way for the construction of Custom House. This was part of his motivation for his Boom Town II project, photographs of billboard signs advertising “developers’ visions of what they think their patch of Belfast should look like”.
Mary McIntyre was educated in fine art and sculpture, and identified herself as “an artist who uses photography”. Indeed, she said that her influences are more cinematic than photographic.
She “photographs atmospheres”, describing her work as a dialogue, where sometimes the subject matter speaks to her. “I take the image and it’s instinctive. I don’t know why I’ve taken it until later, sometimes much later, when it communicates with me.”
Sylvia Grace Borda is a Canadian-born artist who spent five years in Northern Ireland, lecturing at Queen’s University Belfast between 2007-2009. She described how while she was able to guide her students towards successful projects, she found it more difficult to identify one that would satisfy herself. Her interest in documentary topography, by the likes of Charles Marville and Eugene Atget, combined with a fascination in Modernist architecture, led her to produce Churches.
In her travels back and forth to Canada, people there would ask her questions about Northern Ireland. As part of trying to satisfy their curiosity, she realised that Northern Ireland’s Modernist churches offered a visual symbol of its religious divide: “However, since the buildings are Modernist and were originally designed to be undecipherable in terms of faith association — the viewer is left confounded.”
She presented this symbol in the form of photographic images on dinner plates — a set of 16 (“not 12: too religious”). Why plates? Because they are tactile not monumental, and because they are fragile objects, “much like the political arrangements at Stormont”.
The subsequent Q&A session started with a big question, what will the next 30 years of photography in Northern Ireland look like? Colin Graham answered with suggestions of internationalisation (mutual influences from home and abroad), portraiture without identity labelling (e.g. the work of Gareth McConnell), and landscape photography as an existential project.
In a question regarding the interests of the next generation of photographers in Northern Ireland, Donovan Wylie said that his course students at the University of Ulster are talking more about global issues than parochial ones. But a reply from the audience said that this was perhaps because such young people are consciously electing not to deal with the intricacies of communal politics in Northern Ireland. This provoked a quick review of Hannah Starkey’s work: she is from Northern Ireland but is it obvious in her work?
Here, Colin Graham suggested the work of Malcolm Craig Gilbert, Post Traumatic Exorcism, which Gilbert describes as images of the dreams inside his head. As a former RUC officer, the Northern Ireland influences are there to be seen. Yet the chosen theme of trauma can be interpreted and understood by a wider audience.
With a sense of wryness, Colin Graham mooted whether “Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography” condemned those exhibited to history. He looks forward to the next 30 years of photography in Northern Ireland, but wants new photographers to react to what has been done so far, not imitate it.
Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography exhibition is held at Belfast Exposed (21 Donegall Street) and The MAC (Saint Anne’s Square), from 10th May to 7th July. The accompanying book is available to purchase (£30) at both venues.
At the start of 2012, I resolved to take a photo a day, a 365-day project (actually, 366 days with the leap year).
I did it.
Most of the time the daily image presented itself subconsciously, whether walking to or from my office. In fact, when an opportunity presented itself whilst driving, I’d pull the car over and get the shot.
There were days, though, when the requisite shot hadn’t yet been taken by the daily midnight deadline, I’d search around the house for something of interest — not duplicating subject matter was one of my rules, so repeated self-portraits were out of the question.
So it was with a sense of relief when I took a photo of my gift bottle of port on New Year’s Eve (my favoured tipple).
I’m not repeating the exercise for 2013.
I don’t regret the discipline of visually recording my year. Indeed, I now have some beloved images that would have otherwise been stored in the recesses of my mind only.
It’s just that there are new creative endeavours that will demand time and attention this year (more on that later).
I’ve gained respect for those photographers who persist in image making, and been inspired by the work of others.
Although I posted the images daily on this blog, I’ve decided to consolidate them all into a slideshow for this posting (for anyone who would be interested in viewing them). I’m reverting to using Mr Ulster for the written word — thanks for stopping by!
Recently I took a one-day course on street photography, held at Belfast Exposed. My motivation was that while I learned how to use a camera 30 years ago (printing from black and white film shot in a Canon AE1 Program), I have been wanting to go beyond taking competent publicity shots and colourful tourist scenes.
I was intrigued by street photography, particularly about approaching strangers.
One of the first things we learnt was that you don’t have to ask for their permission! Okay, but then how do you go about this?
Chris Barr was our tutor and was very friendly and approachable. In a concise yet comprehensive overview of street photography, he gave good practice examples of others’ work. At one end there are the carefully prepared scenes where the photographer has a planned vision to convey. At the other end are the totally candid situations where often the image is grabbed immediately.
We focused on the this latter approach.
Bruce Gilden is a well know street photographer, and he does not hesistate when he’s at work:
Meanwhile, the following video we watched examined the legal dimension of public street photography. In the United Kingdom, essentially if you are on public property, you are entitled to take photos of pretty much anything you want. I would generally cooperate with a police officer’s advice, but I’ve always known that they can’t compel you to delete any image or hand over any equipment (unless they are actually arresting you). It’s the private security sector that isn’t as well informed:
So, armed with all this knowledge and excitement, Chris led us out on a particularly wet day to several venues: St George’s Market, Belfast City Hall, Castlecourt Mall, Smithfield Market, the Tavern Bar (Union Street), and finally a tour through the University of Ulster Belfast campus, where we reviewed some current students’ work.
I very much enjoyed the experience. I was so anxious at the start. Chris gave encouragement, and I was able to keep calm and soon found my stride. This was definitely not something I would have ventured on, on my own. I highly recommend this course and Chris’ tutelage!
I look forward to meeting up with some new street photographers, those from the course and others in Belfast and further afield.
Here are a few of my images from my journey. All taken with an iPhone 4S. The phone’s discreetness provides a noticeable advantage. Shortcoming is autofocus lag.
My first street photography shot of the day. I noticed this man stopping a young female shopper. Right after this shot she opened her purse and gave him some money. Victoria Square Mall, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
This image a little more daring for me. I noticed this woman with her umbrella on the other side of the street while waiting for the light to change. I didn’t want her to notice me, but she did. The clever aspect of taking these shots at pedestrian crossings is that people are less likely to challenge you on the spot. Victoria and Chichester Streets, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The Three Dames. I am happy with the composition and timing of this shot. St George’s Market, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Course classmate Thomas in the background!
I got chatting with this seller. Loved the blue denim hat. Didn’t convert to black and white because the colourful yarns and jumper are part of the story. St George’s Market, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
I saw this woman in outrageously large fur hat and was thankful the iPhone autofocus worked on this quickly grabbed shot; I did not want her to notice me. This is one of my favourites of the day. St George’s Market, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
I was planning an unposed shot but then they noticed me and invited me to take one. I failed to ask them the significance of their sign. But I subsequently learned that they went through an ordeal from security authorities in Turkey during a holiday there. Belfast City Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
“Have you just taken a photo of me?” said this bus inspector. We then had a discussion, when he asked me several times to delete the image. I replied that I may or may not. I was grateful for the tutorial and legal briefing I had just received a few hours earlier. People may not like their photo being taken in public, but the fact is that it already happens all the time. This was my first street photography confrontation, I survived intact and am now a little more confident. But yes, a little scary. Belfast City Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
This is the elderly mother of the owner of a bric-a-brac shop. She sits in front of this electric heater and small tv most of the day. Another one of my favourite images of the day. Smithfield Market, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
As coincidence would have it, I was in Derry-Londonderry for a set of meetings and decided to stay on for an early evening launch event of the 2012 Foto Foyle programme of photo exhibitions. Inside The Playhouse was a display of a new body of work by Christof Pluemacher, “one of Germany’s foremost photographic artists”. His exhibition, “Europe”, is a set of images that purposefully portray national stereotypes, e.g. “…So Spanish”, “…So British”, “…So Dutch”, “…So French”, and “…So German”:
Foyle Foto Director, Michael Weir, described the different exhibitions on display, including an Open Submission at the Tower Museum, and Tribes (by Lucia Herrero) at the Big Screen, Waterloo Place. He was followed by welcoming remarks by the Mayor, Councillor Maurice Devenney:
As I am at the opposite end of being a fine art photographer such as Pluemacher, I demonstrated the capacities of my iPhone 4S, with magnetic snap on lenses by Photojojo. There was particular fascination with the fish eye and macro lenses.
I went over for the immediately following launch of the Open Submission group exhibition at the Tower Museum. I was expecting more images — there were about a dozen, based around four themes. I guess I’m saying that I would like to see more photography exhibitions featuring local artists!
The Foto Foyle programme runs until 11th February, and there’s a talk on Thursday, 2nd February: “Image and Reality: Photography and the Construction of an Ideal of Irish ‘Irishness'”, 1pm at the Tower Museum. I hope I have more work meetings in Derry that day.
Belfast Exposed has on display an exhibition by Taryn Simon. Entitled Contraband, to view is a sampling of 1,075 photographs of items detained or seized from passengers (and express mail) entering the United States.
The Belfast Exposed exhibition is in the main gallery, with a weekly lunchtime talk every Wednesday. I caught the last talk; the exhibition runs until 30th December.
Today’s talk (see above) was given by Belfast Exposed staff member, Alissa Kleist, who explained that the main theme of the exhibition is desire. Every kind of object shown represents some element of what is valued and desired by the recipient society.
Some of these illicit items are universal: alcohol, drug paraphernalia, fake gold, pirated movies, sexual stimulants.
Others are specific to the cultural identities of the population, e.g. duck tongue, fried guinea pigs, vegetables (used for voodoo).
And there are some items that are forbidden only because of the state’s politics: witness the confiscation of Cuban cigars.
I suggested to Alissa that it would be interesting to see a similar project done in another country, especially one less conspicuously consumerist.
For example, Madame Oui and my experience travelling into the Maldives was that they are very strict about prohibiting any importing of alcohol of any description, including miniatures. (Not that we were attempting any smuggling!)
How about a cataloguing of what would be confiscated in a less open society? What would customs official in Iran seize? Are foreign newspapers actually detained in China (or anywhere else)?
Meanwhile, on the theme of airports and customs, Alissa advised me of the work of Christien Meindertsma, whose project, Checked Baggage, reveals over 3,000 items confiscated in the course of a week at Schipol Airport baggage control. The outcome is more specific to our new world of airline travel post 9/11, with the display of expected items — scissors, corkscrews, razor blades, pen knives, etc.
But what I particularly like is how she attached one of these items to each of the books published in the same name, thus disabling it from being transported in person over the air. Touché!