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.