I went back to the photo-portrait exhibition at the Tate Modern, puzzled about how two videos running for more than 25 minutes could be defined as a photograph, located the puny screen representing the public’s involvement, bought the catalogue and thought thoughts about the extraordinary twaddle (badly translated from German) therein. But actually why bother with any of that when there is this:


Just look at that light. Fan-bloody-tastic. Setting sun running west-east along the Thames. These two fishermen were absolutely delightful, as was their dog, a collie called Charlie, who was as rotund as they but had seemingly limitless energy when it came to chasing a small plastic bottle which he demanded be thrown for him at 40 second intervals. When I first sat down on the bench next to them they were having a long conversation with a Russian man who was bemoaning the near extinction of the sturgeon.

Me and you (annoyingly subtitled Permission and Power)

To the annoyingly subtitled exhibition An Urban History of Photography (surely the photography is urban not the history thereof) Street and Studio at the Tate Modern with Hg (and the already holidaying FirstSpawn).

The blurb is similarly annoying:

Street & Studio brings out the contrast between the photos taken in the carefully orchestrated studio, and images captured in the changing and uncontrollable street, whilst highlighting the crossovers between the genres and their influence on each other…

Focusing on photos taken in buzzing cities, with their cosmopolitan cast of hipsters, businessmen, beauties and criminals, Street & Studio builds an engrossing urban history of photography, ranging from early black-and-white pictures from the late 1800s, to elegant fashion photography from the mid twentieth century, to cutting-edge portraiture by contemporary artists.

How many adjectives can one be expected to take in such a concentrated space?

However the exhibition itself is fascinating but its hugeness means repeated viewings will be necessary in order to absorb all the photoyumminess.

What most interested me on this, the first pass, was the concept of permission in terms of images of people. In other words the perennial question of whether it’s “ok” to take pictures of people in public without asking them. Although Room 2, Passers-by is where the issue is most clearly demonstrated but discussion avoided, as far as I could see. However I find the tone of the accompanying text interesting:

DiCorcia takes striking close-ups but goes to extreme lengths to ensure his subjects are not aware of being photographed. Using a long lens and flashlight, he sets up a complex apparatus above the street and is able to illuminate and isolate passers-by. Ed van der Elsken’s tactics were more aggressively voyeuristic. He followed an anonymous woman around the streets of Hong Kong, creating a sequence of pictures that is reminiscent of a tracking shot from a movie. ‘I followed this babe around for a while. She knew I was doing it, and didn’t like it one bit’, he confessed.

“…more aggressively voyeuristic”… “he confessed”… hmm… a tadette, a mere whiff of the pejorative, perhaps?

knitting, spawn, bee, beer

(Gratuitous portrait interlude to break up the blocks of text and pejorative only to beer-seeking bees inhabiting the buzzing city)

Perhaps this issue just isn’t controversial any more, it’s merely my continuing considerable unease with the practice in a tide of acceptance which makes me feel it’s so. It certainly has been in the past though. There are a couple of pictures in that room by Philip-Lorca diCorcia from his series Heads which prompted a lawsuit from one of the unwitting subjects and much debate on blogs. The photograph in question is not in the exhibition which could be entirely unconnected with the subsequent litigation but I did wonder whether there might be worries about further action under a different legal system.

Meanwhile, and relatedly, over in Room 9, Liberation: 1960s – 1980s there’s a piece by Laurie Anderson called Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity) which is described as a “photo-narrative installation”. Back in 1973 Anderson got sick of being harassed by men as she went about minding her own business so she decided to retaliate by taking a picture of the harassers.

The piece consists of an introductory text statement explaining the background followed by a number of photographs of men with their identities obscured in time-honoured newspaper journalistic fashion (a bar over the eyes) and beneath each picture is a short account of the event around the photograph. In the introductory text she compares taking someone’s photograph to mugging them.

This project was apparently the inspiration for a number of web-based “fight-backs” against street harassment – Holla Back New York City (not annoyingly sub-titled If You Can’t Slap ‘Em, Snap ‘Em) and Blank Noise in India for example.

The piece explicitly and the effect it has had demonstrates clearly the fact that one person taking a photograph of another person is an act which involves a significant power relationship and it is this which I think lies at the heart of my unease with some, possibly a lot, of street photography.

This twinning of permission and power is delightfully exemplified in a showcase in Room 5 (Ordinary People and Celebrities). One half is occupied by a hundred or so photographs of women taken in photobooths in 1928. The women, alone, entirely in control of what is happening, pose in exactly the way that appears on such pictures today. One even holds a telephone receiver to her ear which presumably she had brought with her for the purpose of appearing to converse animatedly.

The other side of showcase has a series of police mug shots – individuals without any control or power at all.


(Second gratuitous portrait interlude to break up the blocks of text, having nothing at all to do with mug shots)

The issue of permission emerges in the “public contribution” section of the exhibition. Street and Studio is following in the footsteps of last year’s How We Are at Tate Britain – which invited the public to contribute to the exhibition via a specially-set-up group on Flickr – and has set up a Street or Studio group. There’s an interesting discussion thread about “permission” centred around the Tate’s rather vague terms and conditions:

For legal reasons, the main subjects of the photograph should have consented to being photographed and not have received any payment in return.

Tate do not require evidence of written consent from the subject of the photograph…

The condition applies where the subject is the main focus of the shot, as in a staged studio portrait.

A snatched street shot would not require this permission as the subjects may be incidental.

The main thing is that the subject of the photograph has not been paid for being featured in the photograph.

Clear? Yeah, as mud.

I was disappointed not to see the Flickr photographs anywhere in the exhibition itself, unlike How We Are Now which included several screens showing pictures from the group pool and later 40 of those submitted were chosen for display in the gallery for the end portion of the show’s run. It seems counter-intuitive to invite public participation in a themed exhibition and then not incorporate those contributions in the gallery itself.

True, the involvement is billed as “Your photos in print” but there’s a para which claims “All submissions will be posted and shared on Tate Online and displayed on a screen in the gallery” so maybe I missed it. I’m a cynic, of course, but this does look more like a marketing opportunity for the project’s publishing partner to cash in on a new variant of vanity publishing rather than exploring the richness and variety of responses to the theme.

I shall look carefully for the screen in the gallery on my next visit, which shall be very soon indeed.

Photo fun

This evening (um, sort of yesterday now) Jean (re)drew my attention to photography community Utata and more specifically the projects it runs. I was utterly entranced by the most recent Iron Photographer (whatever that may mean) project, the parameters of which are as follows:
1 – something rubber
2 – something made with/from wire OR with sequins
3 – shot outside at night

I waited impatiently for night to fall since I happened to have about my person a ready-made wire-and-rubber object to which, for good measure, I attached a few sequins.

night rider

Needless to say more haste results in the proverbial lack of vitesse and I did everything arse over tits since I didn’t read most of the instructions. However I hope I’ve retrieved the situation as far as possible and won’t be ejected as a bungling neophyte.

So excited am I by Utata I’ve placed its bookmark in prime browser real-estate, right next to that of Ravelry which is without a doubt my top favourite social networking site (so far).

I really want…

…to drag everyone I know and love to Brighton beach and take pictures of them.

eye see you

I used not to want to take pictures of people at all, finding it difficult, intrusive and somehow embarrassing. Now I love it. I think that must in a large part be due to Neha’s patience putting up with me practicing.

Dogs, on the other hand, have never presented a problem.


The rest of the set is here.

Wet cement

wet cement

What an unusual piece of graffiti. Wet cement, water still pooled in surface irregularities, the foundation of what will be a wall between the street and a generously-proportioned front garden of a large house in a genteel suburb of north London.

Who, I wonder, and why. Wikipedia tells me the second phase of the offensive began on 5 May 1968 so it’s nearly exactly 40 years ago. As well as being long ago it was also far away. There is no Vietnamese community in the area that I am aware of.

Perhaps there is some modern British signification attached to the phrase of which I am ignorant. Maybe it is a reference to recent political events in the USA.

wet cement too

Or perhaps I should just stop worrying about the words and take it at face value.



I realised today I could quite happily spend the rest of my life taking pictures of cut flowers. Just as long as they weren’t perfect, of course, and were in F’s kitchen where the light, as you can see, is of a luminous (that’ll be because it’s light – ed) beauty that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Although my bedroom comes close-ish on a good day. Something to do with north-facing-ness apparently.

Maybe I need to turn my bedroom into a studio full of huge bunches of flowers and spend my days moving gently among them as the fibres of their beings unwind.

Yin and yang?

yin and yang

Or Jekyll and Hyde? Dopple and Gänger? (yup, I don’t speak German).

It was an accident while attempting to photograph a piece of knitwear in the bathroom mirror. How many other camera models have a “document” setting I wonder. Anyway, this is me, documented and inverted. Back to front if not inside out.

Urban spring

pressed flower

The substrate may not be of the most yielding


but procreation has to happen

important notices (keep)

and the sun is higher, sooner, giving us all notice of spring’s path.

Lesnes Abbey

Another top photo expedition suggested by Neha which took place on a beautiful sunny day. Many pictures were taken. I find this one, of part of an ancient mulberry tree, entirely unintentionally spooky:

mulberry branch

It’s taken me quite some time to sort out the pics, but I’ve had fun messing around with effects in black and white:


I love this one of Neha in typical pose:

no hat

The Abbey itself is an ancient, fascinating and extremely well-kept building. I was most interested, however, in the juxtaposition of the old and the new:


The most important part of the day (apart from eating, of course, which happened in a particularly delicious fashion) was the handing over of Neha’s hat.


I have to say that I’m extremely impressed by her choice of colour. It suits her most excellently.

Have I mentioned how much I love knitting things for people? There’s currently another pair of socks for my father underway and I’m so happy to have a picture of their construction!

Neha’s photoset here, my photoset here.