Paris Project now has a title, "Searching for your Shadow", a quote from a translation of a Modiano book, 'Ring Roads'.
The idea for a project based in Paris, my mum’s home city, emerged over the past year. An element of synchronicity played a part – discovering the writings of Patrick Modiano was pivotal (see previous blog post 3.13.2018).
Also, what fed into it was my decision to take some time out from just generating more images. This enabled me to reflect on why I was doing what I do and gain an important perspective on it.
The Paris Project grew out of this.
(I also gained more clarity on what I wanted to do with my subsequent Creuse book. Top marks to Gigi in La Celle Dunoise for suggesting a 2023 publication date!
But that’s another story . . .)
Anyway, last April, I spent 3 days photographing the 15th arrondissement (district) my mum’s last address before she came to the UK, and the base for my week’s exploring Paris when I was 15 (1967, to save you working it out!)
A couple of colleagues had recently suggested I write more about my photography. I had never been really into this, but I set about trying to create an image log, discussing each image.
This really did help clarify my thoughts about what I was doing + why. For example, the image above didn’t make the first edit but emerged after being written about. Having time is a luxury!
I also wrote an introduction – the first draft was a disaster – a messy amalgam of notes! Then I realised I had to explain the purpose of the work. Hopefully it is clearer now.
I’ve included this below. It runs to several pages but if you have the time + inclination I’d be really interested in your thoughts + feedback:
Had a great summer in France + a short trip to northern Spain with my bouldering daughter.
The Rencontre was great. It was lovely to spend time with French photographers and we had a great days shooting. (Also, the obligatory 2 hours (+) long lunch! Lovely.
We visited several different locations near La Celle Dunoise. We had to select 5 images from the day to be shown the following day at a 'vin d'honneur' event. Here are mine:
I'm delighted to have been approached to contribute to the Rencontre Photographique by Le Collectif Cinq Regards in collaboration with Zoomart, Paris (https://www.zoomart.fr) this summer (2019) in La Celle Dunoise, Creuse.
Looking forward to the project enormously.
I’ve only been shooting square format photos since around 2011, despite having been a photographer for over 30 years.
In the olden days, with my film cameras it was always the rectangle - 35mm, 6x4.5 and 6x7cm. I always found 35mm too long and often cropped to fit 8x10 – a more pleasing rectangle. Not sure why I never got a 6x6cm camera, but the rectangle ruled back then!
Then moving to the Panasonic Lumix Four Thirds system several years ago I found I could experiment with aspect ratio at will and increasingly used the square format option. Almost without realising it became my favoured shape for my photos. It felt concise, no wasted space and strangely calm – none of that frenetic eye movement charging around the image!
Here’s one of my early successes with the Lumix from the spring of 2011:
The landscape format rectangle roughly corresponds to the binocular vision of humans. The square format that of monocular vision – go on, try it open both eyes + look at something, then close one eye.
Ironically, we usually close one eye when we take a photograph!
Binocular vision also adds depth to an image whereas the square relies on shape / form.
I’ve aimed for a sort of stillness in my images and the square format is ideal. It feels like a calmer more meditative way of looking and I’m sold on it.
Having said that in my book ’23: La Creuse’ (self-published in 2016 – still a few copies available in the store on the website!) I used a mix of square and 16:9 ratio (panoramic tv screen style). It felt like the intermittent use of panoramic images added to the rhythm of the book but the majority of images were shot square – only one older one cropped down from a rectangle. (Answers on a postcard!)
(And ‘23 : La Creuse’ can be previewed at:
So, it’s horses for courses really. Most DSLRs still emphasise the standard 3:2 image ratio and most images are made in this format, but I am convinced that the square format suits my work really well.
And it just goes to show you can teach an old dog new tricks!
Check out Square Magazine - the online magazine for square format photography:
And here’s a recent one from a recent foray into my ongoing BS3 project:
Bit of a gap between postings but here we go . . .
The image is actually from my Easter break in France. In the summer I resolved to do little actual photography. I felt I was amassing images with no clear direction so felt I’d kick back, read, think and explore the possibilities of where my images could go.
I knew I wanted to make another ‘more serious’ photobook of my French images but had no real direction of what I wanted to say. Lots of ideas but it seemed that the book was being image led and I didn’t want a ‘best of’ type of photobook.
Lots of things floating around in the mix – exploring my own adoption among them. My reading, especially Patrick Modiano [see previous post] exploring the vagaries of memory became central to my thinking.
Also, in the mix was Brexit and my relationship with Europe as an avowed European. (Polish father, French mother). This led me to explore my memories of my relationship with France.
A seminal period in my development was a period of a week in the summer of 1967. I was 15 and left to walk Paris for a week (waiting for a month in the Dordogne with a French family we met at a family wedding in Paris).
While my auntie and uncle were at work I had the days to myself with nothing to do. From the window of my auntie’s flat I learnt to inhale Disque Bleu cigarettes and I walked. No camera, just looking and absorbing the atmosphere (along with the Disque Bleus!) Effectively, I was a teenage ‘flâneur’.
I’ve visited Paris many times over the years and have always felt at home there, never a stranger.
Last autumn I showed a range of the French work at our local (Windmill Hill & Victoria Park) art trail and made the link between the work and my experience as a child of migrants and, by having a home in France, being a migrant in Europe myself.
When I got back after this summer’s break I entered the Brighton Biennal (this year with a theme of migration) and writing my ‘artist statement’ really helped to formalise my thinking. (Editing your thoughts to a 250 word statement really focusses the mind!)
Brighton sent me the ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter (to add to my collection!) Never mind, it really helped to clarify my thoughts and I feel I’ve moved forward.
I’m European, always have been.
I’m the illegitimate child an Irish immigrant, given up for adoption.
My adopted father was a Polish refugee, my adopted mother was French.
Regular visits to France led to a week wandering in Paris 1967 aged 15 followed by a month in country. These were a defining few weeks for me and my relationship with France.
My personal journey has led me to a small second home (still known locally as ‘Chez Fernande’) in Creuse region of central France. We have visited 3 – 4 times a year for the past 11 years.
The history of the Creuse shows that migration is heavily embedded in the collective memory. Creuse stonemasons are remembered with great pride for their role in the rebuilding of 19th Century Paris.
They walked there in spring and returned in winter, leaving their spouses and offspring to run the farms.
Due to ongoing economic hardship, there Is a contemporary migration of youth from the rural areas of the region to the larger towns and cities.
Photographic explorations over the 11 years have been used to explore my range of responses to the Creuse. This over time developed to explore (often opaque) memories of family + migration (abandonment / belonging), coupled with image making interpreting the imbued memories in the structures and the landscapes of the region.
The minimal square format images, are still and calm, intending a contemplative reading.
Memory has become a crucial component in the project.
Onward + upward!
It's not all about photography
I just wanted to share an incredible book I read recently and resonated with me powerfully, “The Search Warrant” by Patrick Modiano.
I felt I bought this book almost solely by instinct – a late night reading trawl led me to this on Abebook.
In Modiano's own words (on Fredo Lampe’s ‘Am Rande der Nacht’), “ . . . even before opening the book, I had divined its tone and atmosphere, as thought I had already read him in another life.”
French writer, Modiano comes across a missing person (rebellious teenager Dora Bruder) notice in a 1941 edition of ‘Paris Soir’ and devotes the next few decades unravelling a fragmented, lateral narrative of memory, abandonment and loss (of people, stories, history) and alludes obliquely to the complicity + guilt of the occupation.
Modiano won the Noble Prize for Literature in 2014 – and that is more likely to put me off!
I’d read a Modiano book previously and was underwhelmed. (Maybe I didn’t get it?)
But the sound of this one, the mystery, the sense of loss, rebellious youth, making sense of a fug of history really drew me to it. A fragmentary biography, part autobiography and a thriller (even though we already know the outcome).
An incredible book, bleak (the cumulative horror of small details) yet incredibly humane – a labour of love / obsession – amazingly constructed, relentlessly moving to the already known, horrific conclusion.
On describing another writer’s (Lampe’s again) book he describes his own:
“. . . short scenes unfolding as in a film, interlocking people’s lives. The whole thing light and fluid, linked together very loosely, pictorial, lyric, full of atmosphere.”
It resonated with me a lot and reminded me of my week walking Paris streets in the early summer of 1967, aged 15. Just looking, taking it in. I now realise what a formative influence that week was.
The book is so good I read it twice – a rare occurrence indeed!
I was really looking forward to this which usually sets off an alarm (“you’ll be disappointed!”) Far from it – a really inspiring show, a delightfully inclusive overview of Gursky’s career. It was great to see some of his early work from the 80s and to see his latest work from last year, as well as ‘the greatest hits’ (which, mostly, really were great!)
Personal favourites: ‘Montparnasse’ 1993 was incredible to see at this scale, the detail and untold, existential narratives within it were really powerful. ‘Toyota / Toys ‘r’ Us’ was super minimal, bleak + hilarious at the same time,. Wonderful!
It was great to see Solferino from 1990.
The ‘breakthrough image where he first got his ‘mojo’.
I was just telling students this week that sometimes you just take one photo which can utterly change your direction as a photographer. This was one of those (and a superb photo – as Gursky describes it the foreground and background of equal importance – in his word “democratic”)
Some images I wasn’t so taken with (as you’d expect.) Not so keen on the recent Pyongyang images and also a shot of a cattle ranch felt a bit too similar to the epic photography of Ed Burtynsky, which I’m not that keen on – I’m with Geoff Dyer* on that one, Burtynsky’s a bit too stadium rock, lacking in subtlety / intimacy. Sorry, don’t have an image for this one.
* essay, 'Edward Burtynsky' from 'Working the Room: Essays' by Geoff Dyer (2010)
But seeing ‘Rhein II’ 1999 ‘live’ was an incredible experience. I felt surprisingly moved by it – possibly a weird response to something so minimal! The scale of it in the space was really impressive. There was a quote (in the exhibition) from artist Barnett Newman that encounters with artworks were no different from meeting another person and that both parties could be changed by the experience.
It was great to see it large scale and also to be able to have a close-up view of the finer details – usually missing from books, google images, my own lectures etc. A lovely orange plastic bottle, litter in the grass and a set of mysterious steps leading to the sky!
I felt a strong affinity and connection with this image – probably a mutual love of minimalism, but also the complexity within that.
Despite that, the photo I had the strongest response to was “Les Mées” from 2016. I actually had a visceral, physical response to this work – it literally took my breath away. Like a 21st century version of the 19th century ‘sublime’ – a view of awe mixed with terror! The pixel like edges of the solar farm were incredibly eloquent. Very powerful!
I always encourage students to explore the experiential in viewing work in the real (i.e. not mediated by book or screen) and this exhibition really was an object lesson in this. Our students were generally really impressed too, which was great to witness.
And time for some jokes too – I spotted my colleague Becky Goddard laughing at (or rather with) an early photo of a grey carpet, which I too found really mischievous and serious at the same time.
My moment of hilarity was a small-scale image (‘Mobile Nr.3’ 2017) taken by mobile phone at the top of a dark stairway. It looked out of focus but I thought that it was my eyes and as I got closer it would come into focus. Nope! It was out of focus. Hilarious! A wonderful photographic joke.
Like the above image his recent work shows no sign of him losing his touch, as in Tokyo, 2017 below.
Highly recommended exhibition. I’ll be back for another visit for sure!
Warden Rd, Bedminster. A photo that came on me last year - it felt like it offered itself to me. And I'm still really excited by it!
Alongside discussions recently about our old college, St Matthias at Bristol Poly (now UWE) with @Cath Doyle and @Pam Gordon, I've been thinking about my old Art History lecturer @Roger Cranshaw. He was so pivotal in shifting me from an undisciplined / unschooled amateur photographer to someone who tried to get to grips with image making.
Roger died sadly young many years ago now but I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Funny how these things come around! Cheers, Roger Cranshaw!
Just entered the LensCulture Exposure Awards
You can enter one image free (in the Single Image category). After that you have to pay. Having spent over £100 this last year (2017) entering photography awards, I’m now determined to pay as little as possible!
See Lewis Bush’s post on his still-out-there-but-now-sadly-defunct Disphotic blog on free to enter photography competitions, awards & grants:
Posted this back in December originally but have also since entered the Zeiss awards for a series of 10 images but due to the rather arcane rules not sure if I can show them here!
Read the small print - yes.
Understand the small print - er, probably (-ish!) Would publishing them here render them 'published' under the rules (+ render them in elligible). Sounds like it. Odd.
Anyway, it's always an interesting + enjoyable process to re-edit your work for a particular award (even if when you've finally decided on the sequence you notice one is out of the time-frame for the award + needs replacing + re-editing!)
When the inevitable Dear John letter arrives I'll publish the series!
Anyway heres to the free to enter awards! May there be many more of them.