I’m working out how best to photograph Extinction Rebellion. A friend of mine tells me she does not support XR because their disruptions alienate people who need to be brought on side. So perhaps it’s best to back away from XRs photogenic performances to include the bystanders and their reactions. Much of the time this includes the police, many of whom look uncomfortable and thoughtful as they carry away or stand guard over people who look like their teachers, parents and doctors. Keeping the images rectilinear and the camera position quite static certainly distracts from the immediate appeal of the images, but I’m hoping these tableaux will be more interesting in the long run.
Susi Arnott and I have been working with a portable daylight studio on the Thames foreshore, to produce an almost indiscriminate catalogue of objects, many collected during Thames 21’s clean-up and research events.
Objects of disgust will be returned to the river or bagged-up for recycling into something acceptable. Historical or ‘artistic’ items may be collected and raised to a higher plane. Other items may be taken as evidence, or present a baffling amalgam of the living and dead, human and natural, toxic and benign.
The studio is designed to photograph the objects on the foreshore while they’re still trailing water and slime. They hover, privileged, above the tidal ground on which they have been found, poised between the museum and the mud.
Immersion in the tidal water causes objects to come adrift from their origins. Things we wish to go away, from religious offerings to wet-wipes, return with a sea change. Our habitual associations and connotations are often switched about. The ugly becomes beautiful, the deeply personal becomes public.
Bobby and Stillman, our collaboration with mathematicians from UCL’s Big Data Institute is getting a long run at the UCL Science Library.
UCL Science Library, Malet Place, London WC1E 6BT 020 7679 7795
Monday to Friday 09:30 – 20:45, Saturdays 11:00 – 17:45
July 27th. – September 22nd. 2017
Susi and/or Crispin will be in the gallery on July 28th August 1st&2nd, 9th&10th, 19th, 23rd, 30th September 4th, 22nd.
Digital recordings are data, as well as pictures & sounds… UCL Science Library is screening immersive art; the tides in central London as subject matter for a series of films playing with time, space, sampling and perception. A collaboration between a film-maker, a photographer, and mathematicians from UCL’s Big Data Institute, using Eulerian & Lagrangian approaches to fluid dynamics – and touching on the uncertainty principle.
Thames Tides is screening alongside the beam engines at the ethereal Crossness Engine House. The huge building combines ponderous machinery and delicate filigree work to astonishing effect. Its function was to pump London’s sewage up above the level of the Thames and release it on an outgoing tide. What better place to screen Thames Tides?
Crossness Pumping Station
The Old Works, Thames Water S.T.W. Bazalgette Way, Abbey Wood, London SE2 9AQ
Sunday 23rd Oct. is an Open day from 10.30- 5pm (last admission 4pm). There is no need to book, visitors can just turn up. Ticket prices are £6 for adults and £2 for children under 16.
Friday 28th Oct. Public guided tour from 10am-1pm. Booking is required for this – through Eventbrite on the Crossness website. Cost is £12 and includes tea and biscuits.
Parking available outside site on Bazalgette Way. Walkers/cyclists gain access via the pedestrian access pathway – at end of Bazalgette Way on left BEFORE thames water security gate.
With thanks to all the photographers of the Displaces project
On previous ‘participatory photography’ projects, we’d give people good compact cameras, and some practical and conceptual training. Then they’d return to their families, communities or neighbourhoods, and take pictures.
The results could be revelatory; expressive as well as documentary, giving insights into lives and identities which might not be apparent to a professional photojournalist.
But working in the Calais ‘Jungle’ challenged this process.
I’ve been working in the camp with Dr Marie Godin, from the University of Oxford’s International Migration Institute, on the ‘Displaces’ photo project. We wanted to take a critical look at the use of participatory photography there.
We met people living in temporary conditions, in a place which they do NOT own – culturally, legally, socially or visually. The camp represents everything they want to escape from. Handing cameras to refugees and demanding they document their lives there, risked producing images reinforcing their sense of abjection.
This is compounded by not being able to show most people’s faces.
Those who want to come to the UK need to stay invisible.
They must not make any trace of their existence in Calais and risk compromising their asylum claim, if and when they get here.
So they often choose to anonymise themselves.
But anonymity is also part of their oppression, and is continually imposed. Those who want to keep them out of the UK de-humanise them as a ‘swarm’. Those who want to help get them into the UK also anonymise them, albeit with best intention.
Both are dispiriting and undermining. Rubbing out someone’s face does not feel good. Asking them to do it themselves is even worse. They have to turn themselves into non-people. Collude in their own oppression. A photo project makes it all very literal and obvious.
Pixellated pictures appear to criminalise refugees and the right to seek asylum.
Many participants were even more aware than us, of this problem of identity and representation. They responded in various ways, perhaps the most interesting being aspiration.
In particular, people took pictures of themselves not as refugees but as individual citizens. Participants portrayed themselves as human beings (teachers, engineers, mothers and fathers, cousins) with aspirations to have a better life.
An engineer from Darfur keeps his suit hanging in his shelter.
Some photographed themselves standing outside bourgeois houses. One group posed in front of Rodin’s ‘The Burghers of Calais’ (a sculpture about self-sacrifice in the face of arbitrary power).
These photos were often taken not for the project, but for their families back home, with no attempt to hide themselves. I find these bland touristic photos more interesting and telling than the images taken in the camp.
But how can they be shared more widely?
I’ve anonymised this set of ‘aspirational’ images using a different cultural, visual code; by ‘ghosting’ whole bodies, not just pixillating faces. I hope the results question the way settled citizens ignore or look right through refugees – without criminalising or victimising them.
Elizabeth is currently presenting her work at the Durban Art Gallery as part of the Through Positive Eyes show, coinciding with the International AIDS Conference. The show has been designed by Stan Pressner to enable the participants to tell their stories and interact with projections of their work.
Here is an extract from Elizabeth’s story:
‘Hello, I’m Elizabeth. I was diagnosed HIV+ in 2008.
At birth I was taken away from my mother, she was mentally unstable. I grew up in the Homes. I had fun growing up with my age group, with only one or two housemothers we had lots of freedom to interact and live.
As time went on I was put in a foster home. I was abused badly at this place. It was a difficult time for me, the hardest time in my life. I felt like my childhood was taken away from me.
I spoke up and eventually was removed from this home.
In 2008 I found out I was HIV+. I actually had many friends around me who were positive. I asked them questions and I’ve learned to live with it.
I moved on. I continued to use alcohol and drugs. I had two children. The first I gave up for adoption. The second, I decided to keep. The day the doctor put her in my arms, I fell in love.
New Year’s day last year, I decided to change my way. I’d been going around and around in circles. I want to find myself. I decided I wanted to pull myself together.
I’ve decided to come out about it all, especially living with HIV. Now I want to encourage young girls to love themselves, to trust themselves, to speak up….’
I’m just back from working on the final chapter of this international arts and advocacy project, in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives to combat stigma.
I teach photography, and co-edit the work with the participants, alongside Gideon Mendel and Prof. David Gere’s team from the Art and Global Health Centre at UCLA.
A major exhibition featuring work from all ten cities has just opened in Durban to coincide with the 21st International AIDS Conference, which begins on the 18th July. The HIV+ve photographers will work as guides and speakers at the show.
I’ll post work from the Durban group during the conference, starting with Silungile.
Silungile is a sangoma or traditional healer as well as an educator, HIV activist and grandmother. Here are a selection of her photographs.
Much architectural photography has an arid and ghostly or post apocalyptic feel. The buildings are presented without people, in creepily perfect weather and light, as though they subsist for and of themselves. We are hard-wired to respond to faces; the moment one appears in a photo the building recedes and becomes the setting for a particular human drama. If and when they do appear, most people in architectural photos are faceless figures performing unremarkable and predictable functions serving the building, rather than vice-versa.
In discussion with Niall we decided to try and photograph the flats with the residents in situ. A housing block is nothing without its inhabitants, and this elegantly low-key, unpretentious building is designed around their lives and needs. Unlike boutique designs for wealthy clients, these flats must adapt themselves to a wide range of cultures, tastes, religions and cuisines. They concentrate on getting the fundamentals right: light, space, movement, air, sleep and so on.
I have tried to show the residents using the depth of the space, sometimes looking out of the frame, to make us consider the rooms’ shapes and limits. I want the viewer to see them as individual people, using and enjoying the architecture rather than just being in it.