Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Zsofi Bohm: Growing up in Uranium City




Next up from Documentary Photography at Cardiff, which is where I teach, is Zsofi Bohm.

In the UK we have an election coming up in which the ruling Conservative Party are guaranteed to cut wages, kill free health care, destroy housing and make education even more unaffordable. 

They will make you poor, they will make your children poor, they will make your parents poor. Unless you're incredibly rich and then you'll get richer on the cries of other people's suffering. Who could possibly vote for them? 

It's a similar question that Zsofi asks about the fantastically named Uranium City, a city where Zsofi grew up. It used to be the centre of Hungary's uranium industry, a model town, a place where the workers were models of the modern socialist state. It was also a town that would kill its inhabitants, a toxic city that (like the Conservative Party) would poison you from within... enough, this is what Zsofi has to say about it.





URANIUM CITY (2017)

Zsofi Bohm

In Hungary, uranium mining began in the 1950s in the Mecsek Hills, and lasted almost fifty years. The aim was to support the supply of the country's first atomic plant and to contribute to the Soviet Union’s ambition of becoming a nuclear superpower.

An entire modern district was built for those who worked in the mine industry, which still today is called Uranium City. The quality of life, regardless of the physically challenging work, was promising in comparison with that of the average citizen of the Eastern Bloc. The tallest building in Uranium City is a 17-storey block of flats. My grandparents live on the 9th floor.






When I was 15 I moved in to the 9th floor to live with my grandparents. I instantly knew there was something strange about the place. The people were so proud and acted like they were real aristocrats. But to the 15-year-old me, it was obvious this wasn’t the case. It was also obvious that this was a people living in denial. The industry was dying, the town was dying, and because of the radioactivity, the people were dying too. 




This death continued after the fall of communism in 1989,  when uranium mining was abruptly discontinued because of the high production costs. This created serious economic problems for the area and a rise in unemployment. In addition to the financial hardships there were also serious health problems for those that worked in the mine, due to radiation contamination; many died young from lung cancer. 




However, there is a common denial of radioactivity amongst the inhabitants, including my own grandparents. The denial extends to medical records. There seems to be an increased cancer risk because of the uranium mining, but because the medical records are not open to scrutiny, nobody knows. So people stay ignorant about the real health risks. They like it that way. 

The people of Uranium City have always been grateful to the former USSR and its system. The nuclear industry not only pulled them out of financial insecurity, but also elevated their social status into a privileged and respected position. Being a uranium miner and living in Uranium City was prestigious and something to be proud of.





See more of Zsofi's work here

And contact her here: zsofibohm@gmail.com


Follow Documentary Photography's 3rd Years at Two Eyes Serve a Movement on Instagram here

And see their work on show opening 16th June at Seen Fifteen Gallery, Peckham. We'd love to see you there so come and say hello!

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Kieran Cudlip and the Spectrum of Collaboration


all pictures by Kieran Cudlip

Last week I had the privilege of hearing Gemma-Rose Turnbull and Pete Brook speak at IC Visual Labs in Bristol. They're both part of the Photography as a Social Practice group. Pete talked about some amazing projects ( see Alyse Emour and the San Quentin Archive for just a couple of truly evocative examples) , while Gemma talked about her own practice and her realisation that collaboration, and a consideration of how images are made and used can make not just for a more thoughtful story - but also for a better story. It was really a beautiful talk filled with passion and humour (she's collaborating now with her four-year-old nephew whose conditions are that the pictures she makes of him end up "in an art gallery).





The picture above shows a rough mapping of the spectrum of the collaborative process by Eliza Gregory, followed by images of some elements to consider in collaboration.  

You can download a broadsheet of some of the ideas behind collaboration here

These ideas of collaboration are at the forefront of the next Documentary Photography student's final year's work. Kieran Cudlip's project focusses on the life of Elliot. But rather than typecasting Eliot within a traditional visual framework that focus on gender and mental health, Kieran creates a visual mapping of the textures of Elliot's everyday life. It's touching and beautiful but also an abrasive view of what life can be like.

This is what Kieran says about the project.  


Until the day dawns


This is collaborative work where I, with my experience of mental illness, am working with Elliot who is experiencing similar everyday problems connected both with mental and gender dysphoria. The series shows a world that is both beautiful and terrifying, a place where the hairs of a wig, the cracked screen of an iphone, the marks of stimming show how the daily life marks itself into our psyches, but often remains unseen and unnoticed by the outside world.

"Content Note: image of scars"












Contact Kieran Cudlip here: kieran.cudlip@gmail.com

@kierancudlip on Instagram

https://twitter.com/kierancudlip

Follow Documentary Photography's 3rd Years at Two Eyes Serve a Movement on Instagram here

And see their work on show opening 16th June at Seen Fifteen Gallery, Peckham. We'd love to see you there so come and say hello!

#TESAMPHOTO17


Monday, 22 May 2017

Giuseppe Iannello and The Dying Memories of Gibellina


All images by Giuseppe Ianello

The end of the academic year is coming and so it's time to start showing the work of the final year students on the Documentary Photography course I teach on in Cardiff, formerly at Newport (it moved.)

It's a tricky time for students because this is when you have to transfer your voice to something more attuned to the art/gallery/commercial/funding and publishing worlds, it's the time when you have to accelerate your workflow and adjust who you are working for, who you are talking to,

In previous years, there have been students whose best work was really still in the making, or was yet to come, or had not been expressed in the manner most suited to meet new audience's needs and expectations. But that's all part of the process and in the last year or two, the high-profile recognition our recent students have had is unprecedented (Bar Tur, Jerwood, Firecracker, BJP Breakthrough, Hyeres, Deutsche Bank)- and we get the feeling that the best is yet to come. So our current students have something to live up to.

And they do, starting with Giuseppe Iannello whose work focuses on Gibellina in Sicily, a town that was flattened in an earthquake in 1968. It's a project about what happens when your town is destroyed and your memories gradually wither away.

It's a beautiful project where the archival images that Giuseppe projected onto the brutalist concrete structure (the Cretto di Burri) that was built on the ruins of the destroyed town decay in the crumbling cement of the concrete monument; a poetic and moving portrayal of memory and loss if ever I saw one. This is how Giuseppe describes it

Gibellina 1968 otto minuti dopo le tre

At eight minutes past three on 15th January 1968, the small Sicilian town of Gibellina was destroyed in an earthquake.


In the aftermath of the quake, a new town was built and the population moved 20km. A huge brutalist concrete land installation was built on the old site (designed by Alberto Burri) as a memorial to the death and destruction of 1968.  But in new Gibellina, as the population aged, the memory of old Gibellina was gradually lost.




This project combines images of both Gibellinas. Incorporating projected images of the pre-earthquake town on Burri’s land installation with images of new Gibellina, an economically depressed and isolated town that is being destroyed by its present, it tells a story of lost nostalgia, lost memory and a disappearing way of life. 







Contact Giuseppe at giu.iannello@gmail.com

Follow Documentary Photography's 3rd Years at Two Eyes Serve a Movement on Instagram here

And see their work on show opening 16th June at Seen Fifteen Gallery, Peckham. We'd love to see you there so come and say hello!

#TESAMPHOTO17

Friday, 19 May 2017

Chicken Sculptures, Billy Bear Face and other meat-eating delights!




It's coming to the end of year shows at British universities so it's soon time for me to go into full Documentary Photography mode - that's the course I teach on at the University of South Wales. It's a great course which has had huge success this year.

But before going into showing the work of the third year students, I thought I would show the work of Lowena Poole. Sometimes people ask me what is documentary photography (with the idea it's something to do with black and white and that's it) and I will  claim anything that is good as documentary - as long as it tells a story well using pictures, words, sound, light, dimensions, touch, whatever. I'm very open-minded about it.



So I was thinking about all that the other day, as well as thinking about what we would have for our sunday lunch. Would it be chicken, or beef, or pork? And then Lowena's pictures popped up and spoiled everything for me. In the UK there's something called Billy Bear Face - it's meat made to look like sliced bear face - well there's a picture of it. It was probably one of the best things invented to stop people eating meat. And then Lowena came along. And meat's off the menu! Damn!




The project is called Farm Fresh and it's about the meat industry, and the toxic industrialised complex of the processed products it churns out. The models are made out of these products and photographed against idealised farming backdrops. It's Stubbs for the modern age.

But is it documentary photography? Of course it is.

This is what Billy Bear Face looks like - it doesn't even look like a bear. I don't think it's part of a Mediterranean diet.







Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Dear Photography Advice, I like pictures. What can I do?



Dear Photography Advice

I am really worried about my taste in photography. The worries began when I discovered that I enjoyed looking at pictures. Not all pictures of course. I don't like pictures by people who have basic human failings in life or use photography for criminal intent. But that's life and not photography.

In photography I like pictures if they're good, or if they kick up an impact and have a bit of depth to them. I know that's ok when it's Art in a Gallery or a film in a cinema or a book on a shelf - we all know you're allowed to like that -  but when I started to enjoy ordinary photographs on a wall, or in a book, or on a screen, I began to wonder if there wasn't something wrong with me.

To try and cure my problem, I tried some photography aversion therapy. I read a book that I was told would change my mind about some of my favourite photographers, but at the end of it I found I liked them even more. I felt so dirty knowing that I was liking pictures of people like Diane Arbus. She had raped with her camera yet here I was liking her. Worse than that even, I didn't believe that she had raped with her camera.



The other week I went to a photojournalism exhibition where all the so-called greats of news reporting over the years were gathered with all the dirty tricks they use to grandstand there in plain sight. I fully expected to feel a deep seated disgust at these pictures knowing that they are part of a sea of images which have been ripped from their historic roots to become part of a detached spectacle that devalues and degrades us all. But still I enjoyed it. I loved it despite all those voices telling me I shouldn't. I tried to believe what I was told I should believe but found myself unable to. Of course I can fake it at the right times, but I'm scared I might be found out. And worse still, I really don't care that much about what I'm supposed to think. Is it only me, or are there a bunch of people out there all pretending to be really interested in critical photography theory - when really they're not?

I felt I had something to hide. I tried to repress these feelings of curiosity and pleasure, and repeated what the people who were trying to help me said, but it only got worse. I went to see one of those degraded works (and I'm not going to say who it was by because it's just too disgusting!) where sound and scale and location are used to make a spectacle of the subjects that are photographed. The exhibition room was packed and people were rapt and visibly touched. I was infected by this mass hysteria and I enjoyed it, no matter what people who know better than me said. Yes, I took pleasure in other people's suffering, and to my utter shame it didn't feel like that was what I was doing. I was moved by it, and this touching of my soul remained with me as I left the venue and beyond.

I didn't really care that the artist had photographed from a distance with a frighteningly expensive camera. I didn't care that he hadn't talked with his subjects. Worse still, I didn't think that would have been  remotely as interesting.

In fact I forgot it was a photographic work, I forgot that enjoying looking at things is wrong. I found that Mosse's (yes it was Richard Mosse's Incoming - I didn't want to say his name but there, I let it slip, now you know the worst) giant sensation-filled spectacle told me something about migration that I not heard or seen before. How wrong of me to think that. How wrong of me to enjoy it! How much easier it would be if it were a film like Casablanca, or the Sound of Music, where you are allowed to look and consider and see and enjoy and somehow think more deeply of what really matters.

Worse was to come though. I went to Manchester and saw some giant pictures by Bruce Gilden. I had almost persuaded myself that Bruce Gilden was a bad man who exploits people and never took up that scholarship he'd been offered at the Lausanne Finishing School for Rude Street Photographers, but then I found myself actually going wow, while these people's lives were being destroyed by my looking. I even found the pictures quite heroic in their scale and the directness of the gaze. Worse of all, I found my wife and my daughter were enjoying them too. I had passed on my sick disease.

Please, please, please can you help me. I am really upset not to be pained by these images. I feel I am part of a populist mass who take pleasure in photographs. What can I do!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Time, Distance, Love and Seba Bruno



‘I never talk to them… I don’t ask their permission. I don’t pay them. And eventually I got into
trouble’

That's what Philip Lorca diCorcia said about his Heads project - after he got sued for taking the picture of a guy without his permission.

So is it better to talk to people, to collaborate and communicate with them while making work. If you go to hear Gemma-Rose Turnbull and Pete Brook talk in Bristol on Thursday the answer is almost certainly yes.

But then again, considering half of the greatest pictures ever made (and I do like great pictures) involve limited interaction beyond the point and click, maybe not.

Last week, I went with Paul Reas and a bunch of Documentary Photography students to see some exhibitions at the Diffusion Festival in Cardiff.



The most ambitious and touching was Seba Bruno's Dynamic installation - Bruno works for a free newspaper in Abertillery called The Dynamic. It's run by two lovely but odd guys called Tony and Julian. Bruno's deal is he photographs for the paper in exchange for photographing Tony and Julian.


Julian on the day the offices of the Dynamic were taken away

So in the exhibition you see a room full of pictures of Tony and Julian working on The Dynamic, a projection and then a recreation of the office where the Dynamic is made (see below) - complete with half-filled ashtrays, opened packets of Doritos and a phone that puts you through to a recording of Tony telling you the story of the Dynamic.




Tony and Julian sound like great people the way Seba talks about them. And there in lies the problem. Their story, the story of the newspaper they make, the lives they lead, the people who live in the town of Abertillery make for a great story.



Bruno talked about them with love and affection. He talked about the frustrations of working for the paper, and the delights, the drunken post-production walks home with Tony and Julian through the valleys of Wales, the difficult lives they lived, the glamour of being an Argentinian glamour in a small Welsh town, and he talked about the constant piss-taking that went on between him, Tony and Julian and how it turned a quiet small town into something almost magical.



And then he talked about the photography and telling the story. Before when he photographed, he didn't need to worry about the delicacies of who he was telling the story about. There was no intimacy, he wasn't photographing people he cared about.

But now he was and it was hell. Because he couldn't tell the story he wanted to tell. Or if he could, he didn't know how to do it in the right way. Because being close, being friends was a barrier. Affection was a barrier. It really does matter how the story is told, the tone that is used, and how to preserve the qualities that make it such a great story in the first place.

So the question now is how to overcome that barrier, how to tell the story while preserving the love. And for that time is needed. And distance.


To hear more on the subject, come to ICVL's talk by Pete Brook and Gemma-Rose Turnbull at the Arnolfini, Thursday 16th May! It's sure to be one of the five things that they have already decided to talk about. I hope. 


PS Please forgive me if tomorrow I say something completely opposite. Inconsistency and not knowing what's right is one of my vices.


Monday, 15 May 2017

L'ultima recensione dell'anno/The last review of the year





Oggi, scrivo l'ultima recensione dell'anno. Dopo questo recensione io voglio fare il mio libro!

Allora, Lost Territories: Fruit Garden di Sputnik Photos è un libro sul i giardini. Pero non è un libro sul i giardini! Forse, è un libro sul il popolo Sovietico e come il governo sovietico ha fatto un cattivo esperimento sulla sua gente e sua terra.



Mi dispiace pero il mio italiano non  è buono e il libro  è molti interessante! Mi piace i giardini e la storia sovietico  è troppo triste. La combinazione  è magico.

Per esemplo, vediamo gli esperimenti medici, vediamo la destruzione della terra e vediamo la crudeltà agli animali.

Questo libro  è affascinante e questo recensione  è troppo corto!

Compra il libro qui. 

E con Google Translate per i pigri Inglesi (come me)

And with Google Translate for English lazy (like me)

Today, I write the last review of the year. After this review I want to make my book!

So, Lost Territories: Fruit Garden by Sputnik Photos is a book on the gardens. Pero is not a book on the gardens! Perhaps, it's a book about the Soviet people and how the Soviet government has done a bad experiment on its people and its land.



I'm sorry but my Italian is not good and the book is very interesting! I like the gardens and Soviet history is too sad. The combination is magical.



For example, we see medical experiments, we see the destruction of the earth and we see cruelty to animals.

This book is fascinating and this review is too short!

Buy the book here.

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