When I finished my 365 Day Project, I found myself curiously adrift. I no longer felt motivated to go out and shoot every single day, but I was also keenly aware that the simple fact of shooting every day had improved my ability to see photographs and also my technique by sheer force of repetition. To compound the problem, most of January was spent searching for a new house, so my photography was somewhat reduced.
I decided that what I needed was another context to put my photography in. Sure, its great to carry a camera around and I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble across some great opportunities while so prepared, but I felt I needed to get excited about something and I knew that wasn’t just going to come out of thin air. I resolved to be patient, knowing I would recognise the opportunity when it came.
A trip to India provided exactly the stimulus I was looking for. I was very struck by the billboards. Everywhere I went in Bangalore, posters of epic machismo glared out of the walls, a whole mythology of the modern Indian male, straight from the imagination of advertisers. I was very conscious that these posters were setting a high bar for the majority of the population, feeding aspiration but also fuelling disappointment and anger. I decided the subject of my Bangalore project would be related to the advertising.
The day after the event I was working on finished, I got up early and drove out to the KR Market. I’d been here before and knew I would find some good juxtapositions of aspirational advertising and stark reality. This time however the market area was mostly deserted so I started to explore the backstreets surrounding the marketplace. Inevitably I quickly became lost and resolved to explore further. Diving deeper into these streets I discovered an area I would describe as impoverished. Here, the gap between poster life and real life became wider and more blindingly obvious. Beyond the business parks, there is an India of grinding poverty and I realised it would be here that I would find my best subjects.
I probably should mention at this point that roaming the back streets of a strange city alone, with a camera that probably represents several months wages to most of the people you meet is perhaps not the wisest thing to do. In a couple of places, I became aware that I was being scrutinised and moved quickly on. It’s a peculiar thing about travel, I’m a confident person and I’ve never felt directly threatened. I’ve walked the streets of New York, Beijing, Delhi, Bangalore, Paris and London in the last twelve months without a single incident. Always a first time, but I make an effort to be friendly when I’m out taking photographs and also maintain an awareness of what’s going on around me.
My final picture is the one that made the whole expedition worthwhile. I’ve always felt uncomfortable photographing poverty. It’s a conscience thing. I’m a middle class, educated male from one of the worlds leading economies.No matter how little cash I feel I have at any one time, there’s a danger of being patronising and worse, prurient in photographing extreme poverty. I’ve walked on past several opportunities to photograph people sleeping rough, because at the time I had no purpose in photographing them. On this occasion though I had a purpose and a point to make. This picture absolutely nailed what I was trying to articulate with my poster shots. It’s a shot that carries the emotional punch I was looking for. Above and beyond the fact of the enormous gulf between the indomitable alpha male of the poster and the broken spirit of the man sleeping, there is also the fact that this person is somebody’s son, has been somebody’s lover and friend. It’s a very sad image I think and one that I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to take.
William Klein, for the benefit of those who don’t know, is an American photographer/writer/film maker based in Paris, whose utilisation of mixed media to provide an almost visceral energy to his work seems as electric today as it did in the 1980’s when it was also pretty revolutionary.
Daido Moriyama is a Japanese photographer whose prolific and edgy photography accelerated the growth of the form in Japan and propelled him to worldwide renown on the back of a staggering body of published work initially recording impressions of Tokyo and latterly New York.
Combining these two in one exhibition is a masterstroke of curation. At a high level, both artists seek to provide an impression of location; in the case of New York to convey the mad energy typified by swirling crowds and endless neon. They do it in very different ways. Klein controls his medium, rephotographing contact sheets, vandalised with paints; Moriyama takes an opposite approach, photographing endlessly, creating a cumulative almost voyeuristic view of the city. At times the two approaches crossover, Klein photographed Tokyo, Moriyama New York and its fascinating to see the extent to which these two different artists ran parallel.
The other striking element of the exhibition is the extent to which both photographers push the envelope of the medium. Moriyama in his “Farewell Photography” pushes the image through extremes of focus, contrast and grain to almost unrecognisable abstraction. Klein’s manipulation of the multiple media he employs, similarly breaks out of the mould, manipulation of focus, framing and depth of field alone is striking enough, to add other media into the mix takes his work to a place where the impression is everything.
The vitality of the work on exhibition here is astonishing and energising. When I say I remember why I went to film school, I’m not being flippant. I lived in London for thirty years and lost the ability to see it. Its one of the reasons I left. These two artists succeed in what I consider to be the test that differentiates art from craft. You leave this exhibition with your perceptions altered, a different person. It is that good.
The exhibition closes in three days time, one last visit then…
Street Photography is a style of photography that celebrates the small wonders of everyday life. In the last couple of years it has become something of a fashion statement and some very wonderful photography has resulted. Indeed it has become so popular that it supports several festivals worldwide, the most notable local example being the London Festival of Photography, running throughout June in Kings Cross, Bloomsbury, Euston & Fitzrovia
This book is a record of the photography of Vivian Maier, an extraordinary woman who left an archive of magnificent black and white observational photography shot between 1950 and 1990 in boxes, unseen by anyone and only discovered after her death when editor John Maloof discovered a box of her negatives in an auction house in Chicago. The story goes that having recognised the value of his find, he hunted down other examples of her work and pieced together this book, a record of her life and her photography.
The quality of the pictures is remarkable considering she worked alone, without peers and showed her work to nobody. As a record of post war western culture it is superb, as a volume of street photography it is practically peerless. Surely a one off, never to be repeated in today’s hyper sharing, socially mediated world of digital delights. A wonderful book, highly recommended, its published by powerHouse Books and can be found on amazon for a very reasonable £31.