January 4, 2018 § Leave a comment
‘Spectacle & Scaffolding: Contemporary Photography Muses Hierarchy features the works of contemporary photographic artists who explore the underlying power structures that we live with and participate in daily, but which often seem invisible’
The exhibition at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, Appalachian State University, North Carolina, USA includes projects by Greta Pratt, Trevor Paglen, Mark Curran and elin o’Hara and is curated by Ann Pegelow Kaplan. Excerpts from THE MARKET include photographs, transcripts, film and Powerpoint presentation.
The exhibition runs from October 7th, 2017 until January 6th, 2018.
Turchin Center for the Visual Arts
Appalachian State University
(Installation photographs courtesy of TCVA)
May 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
I don’t understand people and historians who view history as something finished, something past. For me, history only has a function when it is defined from the vantage point of the present so to speak, as an essential component of the present and the future.
(Michael Schmidt 2010)
Last Saturday, May 24th, in Berlin, the exceptional Michael Schmidt passed away. Too soon. Schmidt was one of the most important German-born, post-war artists. His projects, EIN-HEIT and Waffenruhe, both as books and installations, changed everything about how I thought about and indeed used photography.
January 30, 2013 § 2 Comments
There was a time when to be from Consett was to be almost a celebrity. Catapulted into the media spotlight – photographed and interviewed by every kind of journalist, analysed by economists and sociologists, the subject of television documentaries and academic studies. Now the vast steelworks site, grassed over and landscaped, awaits council inspiration. Of the proposed schemes, which have included a Category A prison, the most bizarre has been a tourist park for the elderly entitled “The Coming Of Age”.
The above description originates from the book, Steel Works: Consett, From Steel to Tortilla Chips, published in 1989 to accompany the exhibition of the same title. Funded and presented by the Side Gallery in Newcastle, the project, by the English-born photographer Julian Germain, was a study of Consett in the North of England – ‘a town invented by four well-to-do gentlemen of Tyneside because of accessible mineral resources’27, becoming home to the largest opencast mine and steelworks in Britain. With its closure in the 1980s and the subsequent transformation of the site, the steelworks were completely dismantled involving the largest demolition project ever witnessed in Europe.
Germain employed diverse strategies of representation of the town and its community in order to re-present and re-assert, a sense and semblance of this once vibrant community. A page from Steel Works (above) is open to reveal a two-page, collage-like spread: a holiday photo-booth with a couple bedecked in sunglasses, the family and the family dog in the parent’s backgarden, groups of workers standing and sitting for the photographer, a smoke break, a tea break, and small samples of texts, ‘the factory lassies from Lancaster’ including ‘P. O’Leary’. The images appear haphazardly in display and somehow ‘speak’ to, of and about each other. A sense of a living community is portrayed. However, all are black and white and the clothes look ‘different’. It is not now.
Germain presents individual testimony, anecdotes and interviews alongside his use of visual materials (above). We are invited to partake in familial memory by recourse to personal archives and family albums. Displayed alongside, are images by Don McCullin, made for the UK newspaper, The Sunday Times in the 1960s (below).
Germain also incorporates the work of another photojournalist, Tommy Harris, a local whom in addition to holding a full-time job at the steelworks, was responsible for photographing the surrounding community for local newpapers in the 1950s and 60s. Harris’s use of a square format camera would mean including details that would later be cropped. Yet, ‘it is these chance elements in Tommy’s uncropped photographs that make his work so revealing’ (quoted from exhibition text).
In the image above , a solitary hand in the upper left hand corner grasps the union workers banner echoing the central motif of solidarity.
The two women cling to the bedspread (above), stretched as a backdrop for a picture in the local paper, a daughter or a niece standing gracefully in the backyard. A sense of pride is evoked as both of the older women watch on, accompanied by a sense of purpose in their role, as this younger woman gazes out, towards somewhere. The project also included Germains’ own work in the region from the late 1980s. Through the ‘x’- marked glass of the image below, a labouring man with a carpenter belt shades his eyes and peers outwards and in doing so consciously or unconsciously implicates himself – this glass, t/his reflection, now part of a past or a possible future? As the final paragraph of the press release to accompany the opening of the exhibition, asked:
How do you define a community? The community of Consett has been defined and re-defined throughout its history…changing beyond recognition. The steelworks have been completely dismantled…what identity are people forming for themselves in the new Consett and how do they regard the past?
This work, collated by Germain, surveyed a period from 1910 until 1989 and has since been described as a ‘postmodern visual history practice’*. In a location where all physical traces of an industrial past had been removed, Germain constructed a social document of this local working community, through the reconstructive discourse emanating from the diverse representations presented, addressing an identity from the remnants and fragments of its visual and oral histories. More recently, George Baker’s description of the potential of photographs in the projects of the American artist Sharon Lockhart seems relevant and appropriate to the aforementioned projects and practices:
A genetic connection and return is contemplated, and the photographs emerge not so much as statements of appropriation and citation – proper to the debates carried on around photography at earlier moments of postmodernism – but as documents of historical remnants, continuities between past and present, the survival of what seems most precarious and impossible to contemplate in the current historical moment. (2008: 7)
In 2009, twenty years following its publication, the curator and educator, Bas Vroege, included Steel Works in the exhibition, Multivocal Histories, at the Noorderlicht Festival in the city of Groningen in the Netherlands. Germain’s project was identified by Vroege as the central focal points for the conceptual framing of the exhibition in his selection of the projects included. Drawing on the history of montage, in the ethnographic sense, multivocality, is a critical representational strategy which acknowledges the many voices and multi-linearity of everyday experience in the construction of research. Vroege seeking more hybrid, transdisciplinary and ‘slow’ ways of working, writes in the accompanying catalogue:
Without the intention of doing so, Germain thus gave birth to a photographic practice that could be labelled ‘postmodern visual history writing’. Its essence resides in the fact that no one voice can be authoritative: history is by its nature the product of multiple voices and of recombining records from different moments in time. Or, as Frits Gierstberg recognized in Perspektief No. 41 in 1991: “By juxtaposing different types of photography Germain brings up for discussion their separate claims to authenticity and historical reality within the presentation itself”.
*Germain’s practice was described as such in the brochure accompanying a conference titled ‘Work’. This was the inaugural event organised by the International Photography Research Network (IPRN), an initiative of the University of Sunderland, England (9-11 September 2005). Germain was present as a guest speaker
*Quote from text that accompanied the exhibition, ‘Steel Works: Julian Germain’ (Side Gallery, Newcastle, England, 1989)
*Quote from text that accompanied the exhibition, ‘Tommy Harris: Photographs of the County Durham steel town from 1949-1979’ (Side Gallery, Newcastle, England, 2003)
*Baker, G. (2008) ‘Photography and Abstraction’, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, article as part of year long project, WordsWithoutPictures, now available as a publication here
A version of this text was included as part of my practice-led doctorate thesis, the abstract of which can be viewed here
October 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
‘The insertion of photography into the discursive field of management and the capitalist process of production, as a mechanism of objectification and as an instrument of subjection, is within the broader parameters of the desire of power of capital to know, realise, and control labour in its own image’
(Suren Lalvani (1996) Photography, Vision and the Production of Modern Bodies, Albany: State University of New York Press, p.139). Suren Lalvani was associate professor of humanities and communications at Pennsylvania State University until his early death in 1997, at the age of 43. Here is a short description addressing Lalvani’s work by Liz Wells from her edited publication, Photography: A Critical Introduction.
January 9, 2012 § 8 Comments
In the continuing evolutionary aftermath of the global economic collapse and absence of sustained practice-led research engagement with the central locus of this event, the ethnographically informed, multi-sited, transnational project, THE MARKET (2010-), builds upon the cycle of long-term research projects, beginning in 1998, by practice-led researcher and educator, Mark Curran.
Beginning with SOUTHERN CROSS (Gallery of Photography/Cornerhouse 2002) which surveyed the spaces of development and finance of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ Irish Republic between 1999 and 2001, followed by The Breathing Factory (Edition Braus/Belfast Exposed/Gallery of Photography 2006) and subject of his practice-led PhD, sited in a multinational complex in Leixlip in the East of Ireland, the project addressed the role and representation of labour, global labour practices and fragile nature of globalised industrial space. Ausschnitte aus EDEN/Extracts from EDEN (Arts Council of Ireland, 2011) focused upon a declining industrial and coalmining region in the former East Germany, an area which prophetically evidenced the massive impact regarding the unevenness of development inherent through the functioning of neoliberal globalisation. All projects are intended to demonstrate a continuing and sustained engagement addressing the predatory impact of global capital.
Critically, the ongoing project, THE MARKET, which began in 2010, seeks to access those sites, which all of the other project work to date has also been decisively defined, spaces where literally and metaphorically, futures are speculated upon – the global markets – and to explore, survey and excavate focusing upon their operating functioning and how this is reflected in for example, language, architectural understandings and centrally, the individuals who inhabit, dwell and labour within these global financial spheres. Conceptually pivotal and mindful of technological evolution with specific reference to the role and functioning of algorithms, has been a desire to both make visible an understanding of such sites and to explore the interconnectedness of such markets. Therefore, multi-sited access has been sought to survey various global locations, including sites in Dublin, London, Frankfurt, Addis Ababa and Mumbai. Extended stays and re-visits have been undertaken in each location to facilitate further research regarding the site, address access, establish contacts and develop relationships with individuals as key collaborators and informants of the project.
As demonstrated in Curran’s previous projects, the cross-disciplinary interventions have included an ethnographic understanding in the collaborative and multi-vocal application of media in the form of photography, audio-digital video, soundscape and the collation of verbal testimony. The intention for THE MARKET has been to afford process-led undertakings over the course of its construction, extending to site-specific interventions, web presence and forums around the project installations incorporating interested parties thereby facilitating the opening up of discursive spaces around the central thematic.
In the financial markets, there is a natural predatory instinct that is hard to control (former trader and author, Micheal Lewis, BBC World Service, 9 May 2010)
The video shows a taped up plastic curtain inside the factory, one that seems to be installed for blocking the artist from viewing production equipment and process. Although we cannot see, there seems to be a working (breathing) machine inside the curtain as it, almost unnoticeably, inflates and deflates repetitiously. In fact, the video seems to summate what the audience experiences in the exhibition. The camera made its way inside the factory, but it cannot tell us what the employees actually do or what they produce. We are only allowed to hear the breathe of the factory. This is analogous to today’s globalised economy and financial markets. For many of us, it is almost unfathomable to understand how they operate. We are left outside of a curtain, inside of which a giant machine breathes intermittently. (from Spectators of the Same Story: Economy, Technology, Photography, Jung Joon Lee, Review of The Breathing Factory: A Project by Mark Curran, DePaul Art Museum (DPAM), Chicago January-March 2010, CAMERAta, Seoul, Korea, May 2010)
Keywords Global Capital, Ethnography, Photography, Speculation, Transnational, Vulnerable, Fieldwork, Precarity, Testimony, Cross-disciplinary, Labour, Witness, Reflexive, Installation, Montage, Multivocality, Access, Technology, Algorithms, Visual Art, Futures