Thursday, 26 July 2012

An Evening by the Water

Getting ready to sail, River Itchen, 2012 © Graham Dew
Getting ready to sail, River Itchen, 2012

I must admit that I love to go out taking pictures by the water’s edge. The light always feels more luminous and there is plenty to photograph. Unusual objects, reflections, colours, textures, patinas; they are all there to be discovered.

Sail reflections, River Itchen, 2012 © Graham Dew
Sail reflections, River Itchen, 2012

Last night we went down to the River Itchen in Southampton to take my son dinghy sailing. It was a beautiful, bright warm evening. While he was out doing some gentle racing in the light breeze we had time to go for a stroll, enjoy a beer, and take a few pictures.

Jetty detail, Ocean Village, Southampton, 2012 © Graham Dew
Jetty detail, Ocean Village, Southampton, 2012

Unusually these days, my camera last night was my old Lumix LX3, which gets little use since I got the G3. While I love the flexibility of the wideangle zoom lens and the non-cropping multiple aspect ratios of this camera, I really missed the multi-angle viewfinder, speed of operation and the wide aperture lenses of the G3. If only I could find a suitable pouch for the G3 and a spare lens, rather than having to sling a camera bag over my shoulder. Does anyone have a recommendation?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Twyford Allotments

Twyford Allotments – Grass & Wheelbarrow, 2012 © Graham Dew
Twyford Allotments – Grass & Wheelbarrow

Twyford is not the prettiest village in Hampshire. With a fairly busy A road running through its heart and the rumble of the M3 motorway within earshot, it’s never as peaceful as one might hope. Despite this, it is a good hub for many in our family. My son plays cricket for the village team, my daughter has friends in the village and my wife often start or finishes cross-country runs from the rather nice Bean Below café. It was for this reason that I was there yesterday morning, with camera bag in hand, so that after the drop off I could pop over to the village’s allotments. 

Twyford Allotments – Leaky Tap, 2012 © Graham Dew
Twyford Allotments – Leaky Tap, 2012

Sitting on the edge of the cricket pitch, I had often thought that I should return one morning to photograph this small plot of horticulture. I had planned yesterday that I would photograph the elements for a large joiner of the allotments, but when there I realised that I would not be able to adequately capture the depth of the area, so instead concentrated on small details. I still feel that there is an opportunity to create a joiner here, but I have yet to come up with a approach that does not require me to balance precariously on a step ladder.

Twyford Allotments – Twigs, 2012 © Graham Dew
Twyford Allotments – Twigs

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Fruit picking

Albane picking raspberries © Graham Dew 2012
Albane picking raspberries

Sunday gave us a respite from the rain and wind. So despite lowering clouds, we set off to pick raspberries and tayberries from our local PYO, Ganger Farm.

I had a lot of fun experimenting with my relatively new Olympus 45/f1.8 lens. As my daughter said, ‘this takes really brilliant portraits, Dad!’ Indeed it does; it is a shame I have to hold the camera and press the button.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Deutsche Börse Prize 2012 - the exhibition

You would think a visit to the exhibition of the finalists the biggest photo prize in biggest dedicated photo gallery in the capital would be impressive? Sadly not. Thought provoking? In the wrong way I’m afraid.

As I wrote on Friday, I was looking forward to seeing Rinko Kawauchi’s work in the flesh. The prints presented did look better than in her book Illuminance, but as with the book, it was a strange selection of prints, hung with no obvious narrative or sequence. The prints were shown in a wide variety of sizes, again seeming to lack any real logic about the choice of size. For example, one section of wall contained three huge square prints, about three to four feet wide. One was a picture of a tiny frog resting on a hand. Why so big? The image was over-blown, and looked soft at normal viewing distances. It is an intimate image, and works much better in the intimacy of a book. 

On the other walls of the fifth floor gallery were the pictures of Agbogbloshie, an electrical dump in Ghana, recorded by Pieter Hugo. Set against the hellish, smoking wasteland, Hugo’s pictures painted a formal portrait of the inhabitants, human and animal. Some of the pictures were huge, and presented to an exemplary standard. To my eye, the pictures suffered from this formal distancing. They had a disaster chic that one might expect from a fashion magazine. But this stand-offishness, aloofness, is what big money competitions and galleries seem to expect these days. I wonder what Eugene Smith would have made of this location and story?  

Where are the pictures? Christopher Williams' empty display

Down one floor to the next gallery. Our first reaction was ‘Where are the pictures?’ In the interests of fairness, I presume, the Photographers Gallery had given each artist the same amount of wall space. Christopher Williams chose to display only three pictures and left acres of unused space. Two of these were large format images of photographic electrical equipment, shot in the manner of competent but dull trade advertisements. The other was a dull monochrome picture of a hay bale; Boring boring boring. I don’t really care if there was a concept behind these pictures; you could not get any sense of emotion or intellect from this ridiculous display.

Intellect and mischievousness were on display on the other walls of the fourth floor. John Stezaker is not a photographer, but takes existing photographs and modifies them in some way. His best work involves the overlay of usually only two images to create startling new composites. In his masks series he places old scenic postcards the faces of press release portraits, skilfully matching line and texture from both images. In his marriage series he boldly cuts two filmstar portraits creating new faces that are at the same time believable and unbelievable. This work is so clever, fresh and unique that I wanted to see more. All we got were a measly selection of four of these pictures. The vast majority of his display was a series, 3rd Person Archive, of small crops of old monochrome images. Smaller than postage stamps, they are, in effect, miniature telephoto pictures that have no engagement from the subject or the original photographer, and are at best, only mildly interesting. Stezaker was nominated for Deutsche Börse on the basis of last year’s exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, the catalogue of which I bought a copy of at the gallery bookshop. It is wonderful, and the DB exhibition is not representative of the work shown there.

I felt quite dejected when I left the Photographers Gallery. The best pictures, those of Stezakers, were not adequately represented. Kawauchi, my favourite photographer there, had not displayed her best work. Hugo’s pictures were steady but somewhat derivative and Williams’ stuff was quite frankly taking the Mickey. The gallery had not put on a good show. If this represents the best in contemporary photography then these are bad times for our art and craft.

The exhibition of the finalists in the 2012 Deutsche Börse Prize runs from 13th July to 9th September at the Photographers Gallery. At least it won’t cost you anything to visit.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Worth A Look: Rinko Kawauchi

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize is perhaps the most prestigious art photography award in the UK. Today the newly refurbished Photographers Gallery hosts an exhibition of the four finalists; Pieter Hugo, Rinko Kawauchi, John Stezaker and Christopher Williams. I must admit that I've rather lost interest in most of these big-ticket photo prizes over the years. Curators and judging panels seem to value the conceptual over the visual in most of these events and most of the victors' work is usually pretty dull & dour. I'm sure that they talk a good story...

This year's prize is a bit more interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing the exhibition this weekend; I'll post my thoughts about the exhibition next week. I think I'm going to like John Stezakers juxtaposed torn postcards and found filmstar pictures (not actually his photography), and I'm very keen to see the work of Rinko Kawauchi, whose work I have been interested in for the past couple of years.

I first came across Rinko Kawauchi's work from a blog article by Martin Parr on photographic genres. She was cited by Parr as example of the poetic approach to photography and fits this description well. Her work examines the incidental, the everyday, the intimate and personal details. Throughout her work there are references to birth & death, and fragility and impermanence. 

The work that was considered for this year’s Deutsche Börse is Illuminance published by Aperture, and is her first book to be widely available in the west. I bought a copy prior to her nomination for the DB, after researching her work on the web. The two best places to see her work online is at FOIL and at her own recently launched website. Her work falls into a particular genre or ethic of Japanese photography, of personal, intimate and often of near-field pictures, square and in colour. This style has a natural resonance for me. Whereas I am comfortable working digitally, Kawauchi and her peers often work with old medium format film cameras, the favoured instruments being TLR Rolleiflexes.

I really liked most of her images that I found on the web, and a good deal of what I found in Illuminance. Many of the pictures do indeed show Illuminance; bright contre-jour images, light and airy pictures with a lot of sky, bright lights, myriad rainbows scintillate out of water droplets. There are pictures that are very high key, almost on the point of being over-lit or over exposed. As a counterpoint there are some very dark, dense images such as this shoreline at dusk that provide a more sombre balance. 

However, I have to admit that I still feel some disappointment with Illuminance. For a start, the narrative of the book does not seem to hang together. There are pictures that don't fit with the general concept of the book; pictures of elderly tourists walking around a rock in Japan for instance. There are often pictures of the same subject matter repeated - soap bubbles, road kill, a lame mural, that occur without enhancing or reinforcing the sequence of photos. And there are some pictures that just don't seem very good.

As a physical object, the book production too is something of a curate’s egg. Colour prints are tipped in on both the front and back covers, which are finished in a rather nice muted blue canvas. The title however is embossed in sparkly rainbow metallic, which looks more suitable for a schoolgirl’s annual. 

The book is put together in what is described as a 'Japanese Binding'. What results is something akin to a concertina book, with all the pages bonded to a paper spine, and the whole block bonded to the back cover of the book.

The effect is rather peculiar; pages curl to a tubular 'S' shape when the book is opened.

Even stranger is the choice of paper. Creamy in colour, it has a very matt finish and rough tooth, which has the effect of sucking all the contrast and density out of the images. This sort of surface might work well with gritty monochrome, but seems completely inappropriate for the delicate high contrast colour images. The printing does seems to lack a certain Illuminance... In comparison, Ernst Haas' ColorCorrection, published by Steidl, has images that just jump off the page. Steidl are the gold standard for printing these days, I guess. 

Illuminance can hardly be considered as Kawauchi's magnum opus, and for this reason seems a strange nomination for this year's Deutsche Börse - nominations are for books or previous exhibition. Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing actual photographs in the flesh and I hope that they will have rather more illuminance than the book does.

The newly reopened Photographers' Gallery is exhibiting work from the four finalists in the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2012, 13 July - 9 September 2012. The winner will be announced September 3rd.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Discarded on the Beach

Pall Mall, West Wittering 2011 © Graham Dew
Pall Mall, West Wittering 2011

On hot sultry days in high summer, after school and work, we would often take off to the beach at West Wittering. Not that we have had the opportunity this year.

Worm Cast, West Wittering 2011 © Graham Dew
Worm Cast, West Wittering 2011

These two pictures were taken last year within feet of each other; a small worm cast and an off cast from man. Both to be washed away on the next rising tide.

Both pictures taken on an LX3 campact camera.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Summer Low Revisited

I don’t want to go on about the weather, really. But the weather this summer, well really…

When you live in Britain, you have just got to get used to having weather, changeable and frequent. We don’t have seasons long climate, the weather is not predictable and that generally makes for a green and pleasant land. I would much rather have the variations in the weather rather than long periods of sameness. But this summer is just too much; too much rain, too much grey skies; too much for most people. The summer solstice slipped past unnoticed three weeks ago. Instead of going out enjoying balmy evenings on walks or bike rides, most of us have been hunkered down inside our houses behaving as though it was winter. People in the office look white, many are working overtime because there is not much to do in the evening. Everyone looks in need of a break.

The last summer to be this consistently wet, grey and dismal was that of 2007. During those damp dark months I made a small series of images that I exhibited under the project name of Summer Low. All of the pictures taken at that time were made using a Nikon DSLR, often with a small amount of fill-in flash, to provide a small spark of illumination to an otherwise drab scene.  I need to brush up this technique with my G3, it might be my only chance to take pictures over the next few weeks. I have had precious little opportunity to get out and produce new work this summer, which is another reason to feel frustrated by the weather.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Mottisfont in Monochrome

Pip’s Hair © Graham Dew 2012
Pip’s Hair 

This weekend we took advantage of the fine weather and a full retinue of family members to visit the rather wonderful grounds of Mottisfont Abbey, situated on the river Test. Now owned by the National Trust, the gardens are particularly attractive at this time of year, and the walled rose gardens are full of beautiful blooms, and full too of visitors. A good proportion of these too were sporting serious camera gear.

Geometric Hedge  © Graham Dew 2012
Geometric Hedge

Although I like visiting places like Mottisfont, I find it quite hard to take pictures that excite or interest me. It is just too easy to make another cliché, and the world scarcely needs more ordinary flower pictures. I surprised even myself when I loaded the weekend’s pictures into Lightroom last night. There were a lot of pictures of the family, a few statues found in the garden, but not a single photo of a rose. And despite the abundance of colour in the gardens, the two most satisfying pictures ended up working better in monochrome.