Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Kaminski Fall Photography Sale

This Beautiful 1/4 plate Dagerreotype of an Old Mill, possibly located in Herkimer, NY was just part of a huge sale of 200 seperate images of historic photography auctioned recently from a single 30 year collection from Rochester, New York at an Auction house in Beverly, Mass on Oct 3rd and 4th. Among other items were a  (self?) portrait of a Daguerreotypist with his kit  - unfortunatey not shown - as well as images of a beardless Abe Lincoln according to this article - though I thought there were only a handful of known Lincoln images to exist, surely these should be in a museum somewhere?

"A very rare outdoor view of President Abraham Lincoln, before the State House, at the Flag Raising, dated February 22, 1861, identified as 1029 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia by T. S. Hacker sold for $6250 while a second image, a rare period copy ¼ plate daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln “beardless” sold for $1755"

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Ghosts of the Civil Dead

Heartbreaking. This Ambrotype of a young girl was supposedly found between a dead Union and dead Confederate soldier after the battle of Fort Republic, Virginia during the American Civil War. The Museum of the Confederacy is seeking help in identifying the people in 8 photographs similarly found on battlefields. Sounds like the beginning of a great novel a la Cold Mountain. The girls in the Daguerreotype below could almost pass for Sally Mann's children. More details here.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Narrative of a Life...

“Most lives vanish. A person dies, and little by little all traces of that life disappear. An inventor survives in his inventions, an architect survives in his buildings, but most people do not leave behind monuments or lasting achievements: a shelf of photograph albums, a fifth-grade report card, a bowling trophy, an ashtray filched from a Florida hotel Room on the final morning of some dimly remembered vacation. A few objects, a few documents, and a smattering of impressions made on other people. Those people invariably tell stories about the dead person, but more often than not dates are scrambled, facts are left out, and the truth becomes increasingly distorted, and when those people die in their turn, most of the stories vanish with them."

- Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies. p. 301

Photo-albums serve as a visual chapter of the life of the person who has most often compiled it. The Bearer, if you like. Like any good story, most have some kind of beginning and end but the best ones are the ones that frustrate the viewer/reader by being too open-ended. Too ambiguous in interpretation. More questions are left unanswered. They generally record happy times. Memories of a pleasant and/or meaningful period in a persons life - after all, nobody compiles a photo book to record the pain and suffering life brings - such as Holidays, Vacations, Birthdays, Bar Mitzvah’s and weddings. But as with life itself there are usually questions left unanswered and it is usually for these unanswerables that we are drawn to them as objects. We appreciate photo-albums for their time-capsule ability to pull us into a past once more. Albums from other countries as well as other times particularly have this draw to them. A strivation for normalcy must continue above all else.

Friday, 13 July 2012

I will be giving a talk on my Bamboo Club research at the Victoria & Albert Museum on  Saturday the 14th July as part of a day long seminar entitled 'Hanging Out - Youth Culture Then and Now'.


Ticket holders will receive a free copy of the Hanging Out Publication.

Where Did You Hang Out?

Saturday 14 July 2012, 12:30 – 17:00

Explore the London scene and popular culture during the 50s and 60s with Golden
Globe and BAFTA Award winning actress Rita Tushingham (‘A Taste of Honey, ‘The
Leather Boys’), Ace Cafe's Managing Director Mark Wilsmore and Cue Club performer
Fred Peters (formally of Freddie Notes and the Rudies), as they share their accounts of
growing up and hanging out during this era with Royal College of Art Cultural
Historian Barry Curtis.

Avril Horsford former Head of Academic Diversity at the London College of Fashion will
take you on a whistle stop tour of all things popular during the 50s and 60s.

Gavin Maitland Curator, Archivist and Photo-historian offers a regional perspective and
a rare account of The Bamboo Club, Bristol’s first West-Indian social club that was
active in the St Paul’s area between 1966 – 1977.

Take a self-guided tour of the Hanging Out display, watch the Hanging Out
documentary and enjoy live monologues with young actors, based on the oral histories
of elders today, who were the teenagers of yesterday.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Like seeing Elvis in Sainsbury's

The New York Times has an interesting article up here in which they are seeking help from members of the public to identify unknown members of the crowd at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in pictures taken by Garry Winogrand and supposedly never before seen. The images have little cut-out versions next to them where all previously unknown figures have been sillhouted and numbered for easy identification. At the bottom of the article people can attribute numbers to face such as one readers insane notion that a young woman in the image is actress Sean Young (Young was in her early twenties when she made Bladerunner in 1980?!). A couple of interesting finds that relate this article to photographic history however are from a couple of people claiming that two press photographers in image are none other than Cornell Capa and Lee Friedlander. I'm no expert on either of these giants of photography but since both were jobbing photographers at the time and Capa set up the International Center of Photography and was a member of MAGNUM (of which brother Robert was a founding member with Cartier-Bresson), I'd say there is a pretty good chance its them.

Take a look for yourself over at the original article and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Lively Morgue:

A great tumblr blog that started fairly recently is The Lively Morgue an online repository for the archives of the New York Times. As you might expect from the greatest newspaper from the greatest city in the world everything is pretty NY-centric featuring images of cops, skyscrapers and baseball most prominently. What is most interesting to me though is that that next to every image they also have a small thumbnail which allows you to 'flip' the image and see its back as if you really were standing in the 'photo-morgue' of the New York Times. For someone who writes regularly about the materiality and ephemerality and social and industrial use of photography this simple site really gets me interested and after a recent, similar exhibition of the backs of press photos (made by jobbing photographers who went on to bigger things, such as Bill Brandt) here in the UK it is good to see the trend being extended towards websites. I, for one, always take photos of the back as well as the front of a photo in an archive where possible.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Visit to the Black Cultural Archives

So, starting a new and exciting series of mini-reviews (in a broad fashion) of various physical archives I went along to the Black Cultural Archives today. Before I went I looked at their online catalogue and was confounded when none of my search criteria came back. I ended up typing in the word ‘photograph’ which meant of course that every photographic image, including photos of objects such as paintings and sculptures and various dull things came back which I had to scroll through, but that was no surprise. It’s a common archival complaint. What really was annoying was that every time I had looked at an items individual page and tried to go back to your last place instead it took you right back to the beginning of the search, meaning you had to scroll through everything again! ARGH. I had already been in touch with Hannah (something I recommend that you do as they are only open one day a week as of this writing and places usually fill up quick) and told her the photos I was interested in looking at so she had them ready for me when I arrived. The BCA is located in Kennington which is very close to the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and is extremely inconspicuous. In fact their sign appeared to have been hijacked by the Portuguese language school in the floor below who had put up a photocopied sign for their business over the BCA's! The building is very dated and falling apart (the automatic door wasn’t working and the toilet was being used as a storeroom) so I am sure they are really looking forward to the move to the new site next year.

When I arrived upstairs I had to sign a few forms including a photography agreement and pay two pounds for the privilege, which I haven’t been asked for in an archive before. I had a good chat to Janet Brown, a colleague of mine form the V&A who is working also at BCA now. Lovely woman. Always a pleasure and she gave me some top tips on some other matters so I felt like my trip had already been worth it.

After that I sat down and Hannah gave mea large grey box, one at a time: Each box opened like a folder and had a binder in its centre into which was placed thick A4 clear pockets holding something in the form of a photograph. There were many envelopes within the clear pockets, which held maybe one or two negative strips each. The strange thing was that they often had completely different catalogue numbers to their counterpart prints, so that where a negative might have an accession number of Photo/28.1 and the print taken from it Photo/28.2 they would instead have completely different numbers and be found vastly apart in the file! Madness. A lot of the items also were merely photocopies out of books. I’m sure the books are very interesting and the images are all very interesting but unfortunately many of them also related specifically to African American history and not BLACK BRITISH HISTORY.

I understand that these are a lot of minor quibbles but they do add up and all in all I have to admit that, in terms of photo-research I was rather disappointed. I was and I wasn’t looking for anything in particular (I didn’t expect them to have anything in relation to what I was looking for so was prepared for a bit of a sojourn) but I felt that these three boxes represent the whole of the BCA’s photograph and image holdings, which is a bit sad really. I applaud them for their efforts as what they are doing at BCA is obviously a huge undertaking – not to mention that the archives are only as good as the items that are donated to them – and the staff were all friendly and busy getting on with their work and having meetings so I feel like I should cut them a bit of slack. I guess I had certain expectations having previously met some of the staff and I guess I still have this semi-romantic idea of archives being these repositories of power (copyright John Tagg) but more and more I find that they are often just one old man sat alone in a tiny room surrounded by boxes of useless stuff.

Disclaimer: That’s a metaphor btw, I don’t actually think that anyone at the BCA could be considered an ‘old man’.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

SOURCE archive season

Seems that photo magazine SOURCE are kickstarting an interesting 3 month season of events relating to the photographic archive. Featuring lots of short films about some of this country's most interesting archives, such as the John Blakemore and Jo Spence archives which are private and relate to the works and private papers of those photographers, as well as the generally brilliant Archive of Modern Conflict and The Royal Anthropological Archive as well as lots of interesting articles and interviews relating to all things photographically archival.

More details HERE>>>>>

Monday, 19 March 2012

Come to this if you are in Bristol on Thursday 22nd

I wil be giving a talk about some of my research into archives of black history in Bristol this Thursday the 22nd from around 7.00 at The Arts House in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol. It is part of the monthly photo-talk Instant Coffee's which is run by a lovely Spaniard called Alex and sounds like it would be very interesting if I was in Bristol more often. They seem to take it very seriously and usually invite only practicing photographers working in the documentary strain of photography which makes me feel very special since I am neither a photographer nor one that works in documentary photography.

Here is some blurb, which i'm ashamed to say, I did not have the pleasure of having it written for me.

Gavin Maitland is a curator, archivist and photo-historian. He currently works in archives of Christies and the Victoria and Albert Museum and previously attended Glasgow School of Art, NSCAD in Nova Scotia and most recently DeMontfort University in Leicester. He writes about the social and geographic (mis)representation of maligned cultures through photography’s varying histories.
For Instant Coffees, Maitland will be sharing his research into the history of the Bamboo Club, Bristol’s first West-Indian social club located in St. Paul’s from 1966 - 1977. The fragmentary archive of which serves as a visual legacy to the history of West Indian culture in Bristol at a time of great cultural and political upheaval in the UK. Maitland will highlight the importance of employing different approaches in order to conduct historical research, arguing that considerations such as the ephemeral nature of the photograph may lead to an appreciation of its social, commercial and/or industrial life prior to its internment within the archive. 

Please see the Instant Coffees website here for more details.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Photo Talk at V&A

Short notice, but tomorrow, Simon Fleury - photo-conservator at the Victoria and Albert Museum will give a talk on the negative/positive process as discovered by William Henry Fox Talbot in England around the same time as Niepce and Daguerre's process in France which would eventually be known as the Daguerreotype. I missed  a similar talk by Simon at the PHRC in Leicester but I think that this will be probably be a more general 'History of Photography' type thing.

Meet in the grand entranceway at 1 O'clock.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Heavy Walls

The incredible but perennially darrrrrk, site/blog American Suburb X has some interesting images from Michael Lesy's first book Wisconsin Death Trip up on its site here. Appropriate for me, given recent events (see below, and eventually above). I think that Wisconsin Death Trip was, not only my first introduction to the darker side of American life through photographs ('Through a glass darkly', fer sure) but a real introduction to social history through photography - little did my 18 year old self know it at the time. Lesy originally conducted the research that became the book in the mid-seventies when he discovered over five thousand collodian glass plate negatives attributed to one photographer, a Mr. Charles Van Schaik, literally cracking under their own weight in the attic above the former studio. Active between 1895 and 1935 in and around the small town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Van Schaik set about recording for posterity as well as financial enumeration, the local population consisted mainly of incredibly disaffected Scandinavian's who, having been shown postcards of gigantic vegetables by American agents tricking them into believing how fertile the land in that part of the United States was, soon found themselves sitting penniless atop barren land that even the Heathen Indians wouldn't touch. This generally resulted in a decade long spate of rather inventive acts of homicide, infanticide, filicide and suicide topped off with the occasional bout of Cocaine addiction/window smashing, miserable alcoholic dwarfs as well as a plenitude of reports of ghosts, witches, madness and despair.

Not only was an amazing amount of this captured and preserved above a shop for nearly a hundred years on literally thousands of wet plate collodian glass negatives, but Lesy comfortably accompanies the images with accounts from the local paper The Black River Falls as well as reports of recently inducted 'guests' of the nearby Mendoza State Insane Asylum, the three of which, between them make for some incredibly amazing parrallels of fact such as the recurring and continuing story of the woman who was addicted to the relatively new drug Cocaine and would, on occasion leave her husband, take the train to a nearby town and commence to smashing as many windows as she could before being arrested and sent to the local asylum (I believe thats her above, against the wall). The fact that the photographer, newspaper and asylum made frequent and regular reports of her antics and that Lesy managed to connect the dots between them is to me the stand out story from this whole collection of what is esentially a very strange and dark chapter in American history that historians and filmakers have so far shied away from depicting.

As a part aside, around about ten years ago (and, i have to say, my first introduction to this book) the BBC commissioned a film - I believe what they now call a 'docu-drama' - based on Lesy's original book, featuring such fictionalised recreations of some of the most interesting stories and featuring the voice of none other than Ian 'look out! he's a robot!' Holme as the author of the newspaper reports. As part of the BBC's then revered Storyville format, it is an excellent film/documentary but seriously suffers from the fact that it doesn't quite know exactly what it is: Given its structure and at just over an hour it is too short to be a 'proper film' but too clever to be 'just a documentary' and definately leaves one wanting more from these strange, dark tales. It is beautifully filmed (in or near the original setting) and incredibly, has a rather anachronistic soundtrack featuring many track from DJ Shadow's first album Endtroducing (again, a first intro for me) and which, instead of being utterly jarring like one would expect, works incredibly well, serving to add to the tense, surreal and ultimately cloying atmosphere that the film seeks out and serves, and not to mention over ten years before tarantino made it suddenly cool to do. The DVD release even comes with an accompanying 'making of' documentary but is sadly lacking in any more information as to the formation of the book and to Michael Lesy's own inter-twining personal biography within it, which in itself I find utterly fascinating. If I were you I would be searching out both right now.

Bloomsbury Photo Fair Pt.2

So i’m looking at this stuff and people are jostling around and kinda i’m getting shoved outta the way so I move on  to the next stall and its loads of books, just books which is what I like more than anything in the whole world books about photographs and the guy there, he says to me ‘look at all this stuff, i got it off the son of some old man, what a pervert’, etc, etc and its a considerable amount of ‘erotic’ and pornographic photo-books which is by far not the weirdest thing in the photo-world at all. Kinda goes with the territory if you ask me and to be honest I think probably some of the first photo-books I ever bought were rather pornographic and I says to the bloke well, it was probably one of his only pleasures in life, if he’s an old man there’s probably not much he’s good for to be honest so give him his due, etc, etc. So anyway I have a look at some of those books but i’m not really in the mood for buying books, y’know i’m here for something special. So next there is a guy with a stall full of photographs and its kind of bric-a-brac-cy but in a good way, and lying on top I spies a Seaside Tintype! Just what i’d been looking for. I ask him if he has any more and he gives me some long schpiel about why doesn't, but I buy the Tintype and i’m pretty pleased with myself - my first actual nineteenth century artifact. A piece of the past that at one point actually sat mere feet away from the very persons it depicted... and at only five pounds too. Thats the thing about Tintypes in this country - they are still regarded as these ugly little things... the unwanted bastard cousin of the Ambrotype (at best). So you can still pick them up for pretty much naught. 
As if to almost directly contradict what I was thinking at this stage i move onto the next table opposite - which is the best looking table by far, nicely organized and laid out and the guy has a nice little selection of really interesting Daguerreotypes lying flat under a little display case. he even has a Post-Mortem Daguerreotype of a woman lying in bed so I ask him how much he want and he says £425 but he could do me a deal since it was near the end of the day but I say that even with a deal there is no way that i could afford it and I ask him if he saw Dr. Stanley Burns earlier and he says ‘yes, I invited him here, he came to buy some stuff off me’ sounding not unlike a different kind of dealer for a moment. Intrigued I press him further and he says that they’d known each other for about twenty years or so and that Dr. Burns had asked to meet him at the hotel the night before - obviously he didn’t want to miss out on getting the best stuff! - I asked him what it was that he was buying but the guy wouldn’t tell me and sort of went all shy-like - Oh! the murky world of photographic wheeling and dealing! 
I move on and there are all sorts of stalls. All kindsa people selling everything photographic. I’m surprised by the amount of youngish people around my age (and some even younger) that there are, but i’m put off at the way a lot of them are trying to make themselves appear super-cool. Like these young guys are trying to be all Blue Chip (Shop) so they dress smart but kinda Hoxton/Shoreditch-ish, but like so much of that crowd its all surface, they have little to show and no-one is buying. I find it interesting how almost every table has a kind of.... a style. Like a general demeanor for the table which is posited by what they are selling but which the seller also tries to exemplify somehow in the way that they dress. I’ve got much more respect for Mr Car-Boot-Sale or the guy who sold to Dr. Burns ‘cos at least they’re not trying to be something they’re not. They’re keeping photo-history real, yo.
So one of these other tables i’m at I see one of my bosses from the Victoria and Albert Museum and she’s rifling through some boxes of random photos and asking me how i’m getting on and I say ‘did you see Dr. Stanley Burns was here earlier’ not knowing if she would have any idea who he is. She says yeah, she didn’t see him but she’s met him a few times and he sent her an email the other day asking if he can come to the V&A ‘cos he’s researching a book on  British Seaside Ambrotypes and could  he come and have a look at our Ambrotypes? and I’m like, NO WAAAY, I’m currently researching British (& Scottish) Seaside Tintypes! That is so weird. She said she hadn’t got back to him yet ‘cos she’s been so busy with her new exhibitions and I walk away thinking ‘what are the chances? One of my biggest photo-history influnces conducting practically the same research me; maybe i'm doing something right after all’.
I see my friends, I introduce a lovely Latvian and a Frenchie. Make small talk then run away again; to look at MORE OF THE LOVELY PHOTOGRAPHS! I go back to the stall of the guy who sold the stuff to Dr. Burns because now I have some information that he doesn’t think anyone knows. So I say to him ‘by any chance were you selling Dr. Burns any seaside Ambrotypes?’ and he looks away real quick-like in that way people do when they’re caught out but want to seem like they’re not. So i think Aha! I rifle through some of his Tintypes and he has a really nice selection but they are all no cheaper than a tenner and the nicer ones are over £25 so I think ‘this guy really knows his market’. But he has  a really beautiful and strange one of a little girl holding a stuffed squirrel. Its strange because of the squirrel but also because her face has almost been wiped out. I can’t tell there and then whether it happened ‘in-camera’ or as a result of age or mis-use. I think i’m getting a sense of what attracts me - photographical-like, and there’s something about this little number that I like but at £25 i’m not so sure.

In the meantime as I wander around trying to justify it in my head I come back to the bloke with loads and loads of Daguerreotypes right at the start and say that I really like that Ambrotype of the little girl (not the one with the squirrel, a different one - keep up) and he offers to take £40 for it, but i’m still like ‘its nice but if I get that then all my money is gone on one piece and I was kinda hoping to leave with a bit more to show for it’. I wander around again and i’m really starting to feel like i did when i was a kid on holiday or someplace and I felt like I HAD to buy something but couldn’t make my mind up. I go past Mr. Car Boot Sale and a guy that loooks like he could be his twin brother is standing there flippping through the young girl/older guy beach album from earlier. MY ALBUM! He is about half packed away and I play it cool and they’re giving it all the salesman shpiel and i’m like, 'yeah yeah. I’ll gve you Twenty for it' and the blokes brother/whatever is like, ‘ah, you should take at least £23’ (???!!!) and I loook at another set of photos that I’d been looking at earlier, real strange-like - sort of semi-nudies, but with something real British about them that I can’t describe. About six shots of the same woman. Interesting. She has this look thats kinda sad. Like she’s seen better days. They have this in-between feel to them, like they kinda look like testers for ‘glamour’ shots or something. Like, these photos aren’t THE photos, y'know?. They're kinda sad and kinda sleazy and real amateurish and they attract me in the same way as the beach album in that they seem like they have a story to tell. Like  there is somewhere you could go with them. I just couldn't see it right there and then.The bloke says he wants £30 for them (for six photos???!!!). So I assert myself and says ‘look, its the end of the day and you wanna make some money, i’ll give you forty for these and the beach album’ and he takes it.... his brother bags them up and he’s a nice guy and I feel a bit bad and we have a chat about it all and he says look me up on the internet and I says yeah, you got some nice stuff here and I turn around and have a final wander around and I leave.

So, on Tuesday I go into work at the V&A and open up my mailbox and I’ve got a message from one of my bosses who i’d seen at the fair forwarding me a message from Dr. Stanley Burns:

"I definitely want to talk to the intern working on those tintypes as I am including a large section on English seaside ambrotypes. Tomorrow or Wednesday is good for me to go to V&A and talk to him if he is there. Its important as I want to hear his opinion and I am sure he wants mine."

WHAT...  THE...  FLIPPIN'...  BALLS?!!

 To be continued...

Monday, 27 February 2012

Bloomsbury Photo Fair Pt.1

So I attended the London Photo Fair in Bloomsbury yesterday. In the Holiday Inn near Russel Square. I turned up completely skint then in my panic to afford the £3 entry charge opened my wallet knowing that it would be empty but instead finding almost a hundred quids worth of foreign money in there - mostly in Danish Kroner and Euros. After a quick jaunt to the Bureau de Change opposite Kings Cross i re-entered the Hotel lobby and paid my entrance fare and the very first person I lay eyes on is none other than Dr. Stanley Burns, the owner of the largest collection of Post-Mortem photography in the world, The Burns Archive and the author of two (soon 3) exceptionally hard-to-find and subsequently very expensive books on the subject named Sleeping Beauty I and II respectively. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I knew It was him as I had put on a film called Death in America at The Cube in Bristol to which he had contributed and to boot, he had very distinctive glasses. Even though it was only 2pm it was clear he was leaving and as he said farewell to a tiny, squirrel-like guy, I established that I was already way out of my depth, being so new and inexperienced at all this Photo-History business. After circling around a few times and catching his gaze too many times to be comfortable I decided that I didn’t know what I would say or how I would introduce myself - the usual ‘you are a big influence on my work’ kind of rubbish? I don’t think so, thanks - so, I go into the fair.

Inside is a good sized room with tables everywhere but its looking sadly quiet, not too many people around. I say hello to a few friends and it dawns on me that I only have two hours to look at everything and i’m really starting to feel that free money burn a hole in my pocket. I start to get nervous, agitated. I had arranged to meet 3 different people there and every time they approach me I make my excuses and run off. There is a guy there with a table of Daguerreotypes, a few Ambrotypes but thats it. He has some beautiful pieces and i’m drawn to an Ambrotype of a little girl. I’m thinking about that money in my pocket and how I should maybe start a collection of my own. I pass a table run by a young French couple who have some nice things but it seems a bit all over the place. As my French friend is speaking to them, trying to work out if a particular photo is a photogravure, the same squirrelly little man who was talking to Dr. Burns walks past and picks up a Tintype I hadn’t even seen. It looks like a whole plate, well-printed portrait of a working man like a woodcutter or something. This guy, acting like he owns the place, pulls out a wad - and I mean, a WAD - of money, complains that its not even what he usually buys but he can’t resist and pays 250 Euros for it. Barely makes a dent on the wad. I can’t help but curse myself. And him. Not that I would have been able to afford it however. That increasingly measly looking 100 smackers was all I had in the world but gosh-dang, the guy was right, there really was something about that Tintype you couldn't pass up. It was probably for the best. Who knows what the hell I would have done if I'd seen it before him. 

So I turn  the corner and realise that the squirrel guy has a stall - makes sense - with, of course, a beautiful young European assistant. Seems his name is Andrew Daneman and he represents the Northern Lights Gallery in Brønhoj, Denmark. He has a book sitting there on Tintypes, I assume it is by him but he’s not selling any Tintypes. Strange. What he’s selling doesn’t interest me. Dull yellow, Albumen scenes of cities taken from ships. late 1890's. Yawnsville. I flick through his book but its too small and the paper and print quality isn’t great (especially for the price) so I move on. maybe I should have bought it. Shame there ain't no Tintypes on the stall though.

Opposite that guy its a whole different ball O’ wax: Mixed-race, working class Londoner, missed the turning for the nearest car boot sale and turned up here instead. I like his style. Boxes and boxes of crap. No appearance of order but I know that he knows where everything is. I think, you could make a nice little shop out of all this. A few vintage chairs, coffee table, bookshelves, serve some coffee and cakes. Bam, its a retro-boutique-vintage shop specializing in old photography. They’d love it in Stoke Newington. I’m drawn instantly to a photograph album left open on the table, Other polaroids strewn in faux-haphazard fashion around it, but its telling an interesting story. or at least hinting at the suggestion of one: Pretty young girl, sixteen, seventeen on a seaside trip with an older man, tattoos, beer in hand, no one smiling. Has she been kidnapped? The hint of ‘illicit affair’ is hangs about these images and the few pages of the album with photos stuck into them stop dead before they hit twenty images, leaving a sense that perhaps this story didn’t end so well for the little girl.

To be continued...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A Dozen Daily Pinpricks:

Lately, I have been working for the Victoria and Albert Museum on a collection of work relating to the history of the Black/West Indian experience in Britian since the 1950s. While they have actually acquired many beautiful prints from Neil Kenlock, who was the 'official' photographer for the British Black Panther Movement in the 60s and 70s, I have noticed that the V&A have ommited to acquire an image that, to me seems to be an important symbol of everything that the Black British community fought so hard for in the 60s and 70s but which has been largly overshadowed in history by the American civil rights struggle.

Olive Morris was a member of the British Black Panther Movement and was a campaigner for Black womens rights during the 1970s and ‘80s. In this image taken by Neil Kenlock she is pictured at a rally for Black civil rights, she is shoeless and holding a cigarette in one hand while also holding a large placard which reads: ‘Black Sufferer Fight Police Pig Brutality’. This image is iconic as it represents an important time in the history of Black British civil rights and depicts Olive Morris, despite her shoelessness, as a self-assured and confident figure so that an interesting juxtaposition is formed in the viewers mind resulting in a sense of respect for a campaigner not just of Black rights but of women’s rights also. She was the founder of the Brixton Black Women’s Group and was well-known at the time for the passion and devotion she commited to her cause at the time but remains today largely forgotten despite a block of flats with an accompanying plague being named after her in Brixton.

Recently a group calling themselves 'Remember Olive Morris' have sought to resurrect the memory of Morris in Brixton, heralding Morris' acheivements by creating a website devoted to her and initiating community projects in her spirit, resulting in an archive being set-up at Lambeth Archives.

I'm not really sure why the V&A failed to pick up on the importance of this image - I suppose that since the historical importance of many of these images has been lost or forgotten it is quite probable that the relevance of this has simply gone unnoticed. I think that since they have acquired quite a few images relating to protests for civil rights the  museum may be reluctant to acquire more but this is one of the only images of its kind that features an identifiable figurehead of the movement in such an iconic manner and I think it would be wise for them to acquire it for the collection.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Cocksucker Blues:

I do not doubt but the majesty & beauty of the world, are latent in any iota of the world...
I do not doubt there is far more in trivialities, insects, vulgar persons, slaves, dwarfs, weeds, rejected refuse, than I have supposed...
Walt Whitman, Assurances, from Leaves of Grass

For his “tramp narrative for the automobile age”, The Americans, Robert Frank spent nine months on the road, existing off a Guggenheim grant, supported in part by his mentor Walker Evans, his young family in the back of the car. Clocking up 10,000 miles, over thirty states and 767 rolls of film, Frank was on a search for the American dream and like Evans and Whitman before him, he knew it existed in the everyday; “... the dream of grandeur, advertising, neon lights, the faces of the leaders and the faces of the followers, gas tanks and post offices and back yards.”

What resulted was a book that, much like Evans’ adoption of Walt Whitman’s modernist poems, actively mimics the canter of beat poetry and the frenetic rhythms of Jazz and the speed and excesses of modern city life. Frank once stated that he wanted his viewers to “feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice” and in The Americans he created the visual equivalent of Kerouac’s On The Road, and he knew it too: At a party in 1957 he begged Kerouac to write the introduction to the book, and he did: “...he roamed America and sucked a poem clean out of it, right on film, and here it is.” wrote Kerouac. Visually, the book is so clearly indebted to Evans that it is no surprise that Frank sought a literary equivalent to his images and, Frank found in Kerouac his Whitman, his Proust and his Don Quixote; forever leaning at windmills.