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Monthly Archives: November 2012

William Klein, Bikini, Moscow, 1959. Image courtesy of Tate

Have you spoken to a single person who doesn’t like black and white photography? Those who look disdainfully at monochrome images, convinced of their lesser artistic capacity? If so, they are surely in the minority. It seems to be ingrained in our modern aesthetic values that when it comes to colour and photography, less is more.

A rather generalistic statement I admit, and one which doesn’t come without a good few exceptions. But, from my own experience certainly, black and white appears to be favourite, particularly when capturing gritty city scenes, or images with an element of sinister undertone. Perhaps it is because it is unusual to our visual senses; we see in colour. To observe a scene which we know intellectually is in colour, but is in our visual field desaturated, may be intriguingly unusual to us. Perhaps it is less fundamental; more closely linked to social conditioning, culture, environment. To a large proportion of society, (and particularly my generation, brought up on a bloated diet of Hollywood blockbusters) the American film industry’s perception and subsequent projection of morals, life plans, love and everything else, was indoctrinated in us from an early age. We lapped it up; the escapist dream delivered to our doors in brightly coloured tardis-esque 80’s Video Vans. Even back then we understood that black and white films were adult, and thus, boring. Of course, that’s because they actually were adult. TV and film in black and white was reserved for the memory of our grandparents’ childhood, or intellectual art-house films frequented by beardy oxford types with glasses, smoking cigarillos (I want to be that cliche).

In the days when all films were in black and white and the Hollywood industry had yet to discover emotional subtlety in filmmaking, it was just the way it was. Viewers were astounded when the first technicolor film was released; ironic really, as colour is actually more natural to us than black and white. In short, society has been increasingly prompted to associate monochrome with maturity, sophistication and glamour; ‘classic’ black and white. The anti-colours. Dark, brooding, the shade of midnight and the stage-set to most of our irrational fears. The psychological associations of black and white in our culture and consciousness go far deeper than visual art, but suffice it to say that we do afford it a certain artistic significance when it comes to this, particularly in photography.

Daido Moriyama – Provoke no. 2 1969 (printed 2012). Image courtesy of Tate

The William Klein and Daido Moriyama exhibition at Tate Modern showcases in parallel the work of these two key figures in photography over the past 60 years. The exhibition is set out almost as two mini-exhibitions which follow one another, the links between the two artists being suggested by their successive placing but not creating a direct comparison in the line of sight. By utilising this curating method the Tate allows the viewer to draw their own comparisons through memory of just-seen images. The immediate similarity is of course the choice to shoot almost exclusively in monochrome. William Klein, whose dramatic photography adorns the walls of the first 6 or so galleries, captures subjects in their immediate moment. His documentary style is perfected by his ability to portray the scene as if he were not there, as if you, the viewer, are there in that moment. Many of those whom look at the camera give the impression of glancing over your face on their way to something more interesting, others seem completely at ease. It is a singular skill perhaps borne from the knowledge of how to make yourself nonthreatening or inconspicuous to those around you, and likely an element of luck and dogged persistence. Either way, it instills the photographs with unpretentious, genuine drama and voyeurism. For Klein’s images, like Moriyama’s, succeed in conveying both the gritty, tumultuous drama of charged events, as well as the staid reality of everyday in downtown ’60s New York or Tokyo.

William Klein – Armistice Day 1968. Image from Tumblr: dandismodextrarradio

William Klein – Gun 2 New York 1955. Image from Photoforager

William Klein – Elsa Maxwell’s Tory ball, Waldorf Hotel, New York 1955. Image from 1000 Words Photography

Like Klein, Moriyama also began experimenting with manipulative photographic techniques and sometimes other media altogether. But it is clear that both always believed photography to be their fundamental means of expression. Klein’s forays into paint, architecture and sketching always took photography as their basis and attempted to build on it; similarly, Moriyama’s film experiments looked to push the photograph beyond its static boundaries.

William Klein – Dakar, school’s out, 1985. Painted contact 1998. Image courtesy of Tate

They freely recognised the pure motives behind their work. It was refreshing to read Moriyama speak of  photography as “not a means by which to create beautiful art, but a unique way of encountering genuine reality“. A simple, honest and entirely worthwhile explanation for his craft. The beauty of life. Those who love art create it, buy it, view it, read about it, but those who do not consider themselves to be interested in art are mistaken. Their lives are art, each moment a missed Moriyama. The sea-swell of anger through a crowd, a glittering night out in the big city, the frustration or loneliness of a forgotten soul; all unique moments passing by, crying out to be frozen for dramatic effect, but missed. If you take one thing from this exhibition let it be the desire to seek out those seconds; commit them to suspension and allow them to enlighten you. We are art, our lives are art and everything we create. You are an artist.

William Klein – Kiev Railway Station, Moscow 1959. Image from ukhudshanskiy

William Klein – Piazza di Spagna, Rome 1960. Image courtesy of Tate

Daido Moriyama – Memory of Dog 2, 1982. Image courtesy of Tate

William Klein – Gun1 New York City, 1954. Image from Kroutchev Planet Photo

Daido Moriyama – DOCUMENTARY ’78 (’86.4 Setagaya-Ku, Tokyo), 1986. Image courtesy of Tate

William Klein – Candy Store, New York, 1955. Image courtesy of Tate

 

Not often does a council estate in Kent seem a veritable paradise, but when a lucky combination of refracted early morning light, piercing blue sky and air so cold, crisp and sharp that it seems born of diamond dust, come together in a brief, exulting celebration of the British Autumn it is surely a moment of opportunity; to smile, to walk, to soak it up and to photograph.

Escape(ism) – HM Prison Send

Art therapy. What comes to mind? Mentally ill patients scribbling dark images a la horror films, or prisoners passing the time locked away from the world. You’re not entirely wrong, but aside from the cliches, you’re missing a major element of art therapy. It’s benefit reaches far beyond the niche sections of society. Just as each and every person could profit emotionally from a session with a psychotherapist (everybody’s childhood fucked them up), so could we all gain insight into our subconscious selves through the medium of art creation. Not purely a method of analysis, it also provides an escape, a focus on positivity. A means to feel achievement. ‘Free’, this year’s exhibition at the Southbank Centre by the Koestler Trust, demonstrates just how powerfully art can change people, their lives and often the lives of those surrounding them.

The Koestler Trust celebrates its 50th year in 2012, and has been curated this time by Sarah Lucas. With its first show in 1962 at Foyles bookshop the charity became a pioneer of what is still often ironically classed as ‘outsider art’. Some prisoners have access to art classes and facilities, usually as a result of collected privileges. Some acquire materials and produce works In their cells, with prison officers often the ones to spot the pieces and suggest they submit. Over 8000 pieces are received by the trust each year to be exhibited in the Koestler exhibition and entered for the awards which tie in with it. Of these, 190 were chosen this year. 190 pieces of work which hold so much soul and story that you leave the exhibition emotionally exhausted, opinionally reformatted and valuably educated.

The Pain I Cause – Anon, HM Prison Full Sutton

For many, especially those who have no experience of ‘outsider art’, the show will hold surprises. Talent they thought wouldn’t be present, or insight they didn’t believe existed. This did not surprise me. Since exploring art therapy, art by the mentally ill and prisoner art in my university dissertation I was already privy to the infinite talent in these spheres (as well as being fully aware that artistic soul transcends all social stigma or circumstance). What did surprise me, as it does every time I come into contact with these works, is the way in which whole sections of our society are lost. Dismissed. If you fit into a category, particularly a negative one, you are defined by it. Each and every one of us perpetuates this judgmental fallacy in some way, bred by aeons of societal divide. Government and the media goad us to fear each other, to be angry at one another. Focusing on benefit scammers, squatters; all a deliberate (and seemingly successful) attempt to divide us into manageable groups. United we are powerful, divided we are childish fists pounding on an iron fortress. It all stems, as do many ills, from a lack of understanding. Speaking about ‘prisoners’ will conjure images of aggressive murderers, violent rapists, paedophiles etc. But take one person. Give them their individuality back. Hear their story, their thoughts and feelings. Really listen, without defensively turning away and I believe those generalised judgements would fall away. Sadly most people don’t get to have contact with people classed as ‘outsiders’ and therefore can’t develop a framework for discovering how and why people make the mistakes they do.

One visit to the Koestler exhibition, or an art therapy group for the mentally ill and judgements seem irrelevant. The work speaks for itself. Often sad, always a labour of emotion and sometimes stunningly technical, the pieces are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Take Mirror Included; its bold confrontation of the self. Although portraits abound in the exhibition (interesting that for people categorised as being anti-social, many focus on the depiction of others), very few are self-portraits. This is perhaps unsurprising if you consider that prison is designed to degrade and strip away self-confidence. Even if the starkly scrutinising eye required for a self-portrait is understandably hard for a prisoner to embrace, the works as a whole are often extremely self-reflective. In a refreshing contrast to those contrived artworks created by well-known artists for collectors and galleries and waiting to be critiqued by the few who believe they are the authority on ‘good art’, the pieces here are raw material. The irony is that as we cage them like animals, they can produce works which often exude more humanity than I have come across amongst those who consider themselves to be overtly ‘civilised’. Symbols of freedom abound, as do depictions of the outside world; wings, nature, home, as well as poignant representations of life on the inside.

Mirror Included – Anon, HM Prison Ford

A large proportion of the works are created from recycled products. Art materials are scarce in prison and choice is limited. Traditionally, matchsticks and soap would be popular and easy to get hold of, and is still the case. As you might expect, conditions and access are less restricted nowadays and as such inmates no longer have to use spent matches, which in different sizes would have given a very different effect to those we see nowadays. The pieces made from matchsticks in this show use brand new uniform matches, which detracts nothing from their collective beauty. The skill involved and time invested is astounding, and the medium is sometimes so well disguised it is hard to believe. In pieces such as the spectacular Violin Case and Bow, coffee is used to stain the wood to give it an aged effect, or to create patterns and tones. Among the abundance of used materials recycled to produce some of these artworks are: tree bark, newspaper, clothing, soap, string, wood, wire, metal, and books.

Violin Case and Bow – HM Prison Pentonville

Invaluable organisations such as the Koestler Trust provide a means to reconnect us to the sections of society we too often forget. But just as importantly, it allows the inmates themselves to establish a positive link with the both outside world and with the inner parts of themselves they may not have explored before. The fantastic tour guides who took us around the exhibition (I highly recommend taking the tour on a Tuesday/Thursday at 6.30pm) were a Koestler Trust worker and and ex-offender taking part in the mentoring scheme Koestler run for prisoners after release. Aside from their insightful analysis, they also explained some of the stories behind the artists themselves. Some had been able to attend the exhibition opening and those who hadn’t were astounded with the positive feedback sent in on comment cards. Some had even enrolled in art college on their release, using their portfolio built up in prison to outweight their resume. Although often tinged with sadness, the show is overwhelmingly positive and the benefits wide-reaching. The most depressing thing about it is that the genre and organisations involved with it are still not as prominent and recognised by the art world as they thoroughly deserve to be.

Dark Urban ‘Psycho Pot’ – HM Prison Pentonville

Lost in Colour – HM Young Offender Institution Thorn Cross

Stag Head – HM Prison Whatton

Ustrasana – HM Young Offender Institution Stoke Heath

Little Girl – HM Prison Kilmarnock

Telephone – HM Prison Pentonville

Fish – HM Prison Glenochil

Bright Eyes – HM Prison & Young Offender Institution Holloway

The Koestler Trust 2012 exhibition ‘Free’ is on at the Southbank Centre until 25th November 10am – 11pm. Fantastic guided tours led by ex-offender interns are available Tuesdays and Thursdays 6.30pm and Saturdays 3pm. See the website for more information.

All photographs (c) KateW Photography

The old chapel, Conwy – Blinc Digital Arts Festival

I am a lover of food. My scales will confirm this. My love is for GOOD food though, not junk. I would say Olive oil is my major cholesterol weakness and I blame much of that on Jamie Oliver. And so I approached the Conwy Feast food festival on Friday night, tingling in anticipation of not only the endless miles stalls of delicious stalls from which to grab taster after taster, but also the acclaimed  Blinc digital arts show taking place in the evening.

My first foray into the festival was up at the True Taste tent by the city wall, where my sister Denise (Moel Faban Secret Supper Club) was demonstrating her exemplary skills at both fruit and vegetable jam making. Flanked by Rhun ap Iorwerth as commentator, she squeezed, stirred, pulped and boiled her way to culinary god-like-genius status, as people drifted rapidly in to the space,  rendered powerless by the sweet aromas wafting through the tents.

Moel Faban Secret Supper Club jam-making demo

Following her successful exhibit and the ensuing mass crush to experience the intriguing tomato jam, we ventured down to the harbour towards the oyster cocktail bar. Having had a not-so-pleasant experience with oysters once before (including significant expulsion of said oyster) I was understandably dubious about setting myself up for a similar situation. But watching my 10 year old nephew happily glug one down I felt the family not-so-peer pressure was imminent and so ensued my second sea-bogey foray. Aside from the look and texture, oysters are not repulsive in taste (if you like salty sea taste, that is, which fortunately I kind of do) They are constantly overrated though, in my humble opinion. As with many ‘delicacies’, just because you can eat something which is primarily a challenge, does not necessarily make it actually worth eating. Snails are my chief example. No matter how orgasmically sumptuous the sauce in which they are cooked, they are essentially just slugs with a shell. Which taste like slugs from a shell. Whoever originally managed to convince people they somehow had any worthy qualities in either flavour or texture was clearly a very impressive practical joker.

The Oyster Bar

Anyhow, I digress. The oyster stayed happily southward bound and we continued to wander around the harbour, in and out of tents and amongst piles of hypnotising goodies intent on sending me home with an extra chin. From cheeses to wines to pickles to cakes to ale to oil and even retro shots tasting like skittles (which really did!) we eventually emerged to the biting winds of the North Walean coast. Heads and bellies spinning, we felt in need of refuge in a pub but of course, this being Conwy Feast weekend, the only table free was in the restaurant thus forcing us to eat yet more food! Well, if fate insists, who am I to disagree? After a brief respite – cue both elderly and youthful power naps – we wound our way to the beer tent to watch the light parade. The culmination of frantic lantern-making workshops taking place the week before the festival, the parade starts at dusk. Headed by groups of wide-grinning children and parents, proudly holding aloft their handiwork, it builds to a drum-assisted crescendo with huge glowing creatures built from timber and translucent paper.

The Light Parade

Standing in the throng which unsurprisingly surrounded the beer tent, I suddenly caught a glimpse of flashes of light in the distance. Turning to look towards the estuary, my attention was caught by a laser display, sweeping in bursts across the bay like morse code and illuminating darkened areas of the water. But this was merely an understated prologue. We were soon standing mesmerised as huge projections swarmed the facade of the castle; poetry (written and spoken), illustration, kaleidoscopic shapes, dance, still life. Each projected back at the audience a link, a connection with the building. Using the walls as canvas, the works brought the castle to life. Somewhat unexpectedly, the spectacle allowed me to see the building more than I had before.  As with an object such as a mirror, for example, combining the artwork with a canvas which can itself change, distort and amend the image, you will undoubtedly end up with a fused piece. The canvas becomes part of the work in a pro-active way. Had the same projection been shown on a screen shortly afterwards, it would have invoked an entirely separate and probably very different, response. The town was alive. As the castle had been the fusion object at first, now the whole town performed the same function, scaled up. Crowds of families, teenagers, couples, friends, marched around the centre of Conwy, stopping at every new installation discovered. Sometimes bordering on trippy, sometimes unsettling and usually just downright beautiful, the projections at the old chapel and Plas Mawr, amongst others, had most of us ooohing and ahhhing as if it were already Guy Fawkes Night.

View from Conwy Castle walls towards the estuary

Blinc digital arts festival

Blinc projection on the old chapel

Pumpkin, tomato and strawberry jams made by Moel Faban Supper Club

Blinc

Stone sculpture by Richard Hackett

Blinc projection on Plas Mawr

Blinc projection on Conwy Castle

Conwy harbour

Light Parade finale

Castle wall detail

Oyster bin