Scotland’s been in the news a fair bit prior to, during and subsequent to the recent General Election. For many people Scotland conjures up images of mountains, rain, and more rain. I read a comment made by one ‘southern’ voter, obviously terrified of any Frankensteinian conjoining of SNP and Labour, who remarked that “the SNP should stay in Scotland and sort out their own wet and miserable country”. And they’re right. We get a lot of rain. My home town of Fort William is one of the wettest places in the UK, and gets on average 2000mm per annum and some spots to the north-west of the town can see at least 4500mm in an average year.
That’s wet. Very very very wet.
And miserable? Oh yes, misery too, lots and lots of misery. A great deal of misery in fact.
One year I recall it started raining at the end of July and there wasn’t a single period of 24 hours that it didn’t rain for 104 days. I was able to tell when the summer ended and winter began though, because the rain got a lot colder. You learn these tricks whilst still a small child, going to primary school in shorts, welly-boots and duffle coat. These ‘climate-control’ garments kept some of the worst of the weather from soaking you, but created a red ring around the wearer’s thigh from the dripping wet lower edge of the duffle coat, and lower down at shin height, a matching red ring created by the chafing from the top edge of the welly boot. In really bad weather, endless days of wet, these rings became scar-tissue, flaky and scabby.
So yes, rain, lots of it, and seasonally varying from warm, to cold. After that it gets into sleet, hail and snow. All of which are, in varying degrees, miserable. And cold. Painful even, especially with the hail. Hail is my favourite. It’s like being sandblasted, but with cold, hard sand. It can hurt your eyeballs. That’s if you actually open your eyes, which many people try to avoid at all costs, which has its downsides of course. But I like hail because it bounces off. Rain doesn’t do that. Little tricks you learn when small, that stand you in good stead later in life.
So I thought I’d try to show you just how awful it can be in Scotland when it’s wet. And cold. And sleety. And miserable. To get the full effect of these images you might want to pour cold water into your underpants and leave the window open whilst you peruse them, so you really feel the wind-chill. (Just make sure an adult is present though).
So here we go: a selection of gloomy, claggy, misty and utterly miserably murky weather. Or as we say up here with great fondness, ‘dreich’ (definition)
I hope this gives you a sense of the utter misery we must endure. And I suppose you’ll have to ask yourself “who the hell would want to live in this desperate place?”.
So there you go, a glimpse of the utter hellishness that is the Scottish Highlands in the rain. Gloomy, wet, horrible murky and pretty hard to cope with. I know I know, I can hear your thoughts….“who the hell would want to live in a place like that?”.
Well someone’s got to. So spare a thought for us as you bask in all that sunshine, think of these endless grey skies and all the cascading rain that pours forth from them, that we must endure. And the cold. And of course, the misery.
Some fine, thought-provoking pieces of writing gave me respite from the election hoo-ha last week. That doesn’t mean however that what I’m writing here will make much sense. It sort-of makes sense to me, and hopefully you’ll get my drift. It’s fueled somewhat by a growing sense of unease and disquiet.
“Just because a photo looks like photojournalism, doesn’t mean it’s Photojournalism.
Photojournalism the ethic, the genre, the act of reportage through story and images, has been hijacked under the guise of “photojournalism” the style — where the style denotes “truth,” objectivity, righteousness, infallibility, etc. At what point did the act of making images subvert the idea of what Photojournalism is and should be?
This is not an argument for pushing aesthetics and technique out the window. Technique is integral to image-making (obviously), but it should service the story first and foremost; the type of image being produced should never dictate the story.”
Weber argues for more than a simple ‘journalistic’ exploration of a situation, for an approach that takes authors towards a more in-depth understanding of WHY an event has occurred, not simply recording the superficial aspects of that event. It is possible Weber argues, to record an event with clinical precision and technique yet fail to accurately portray the ‘story’, the ‘feeling’ and the ‘emotion’ of being witness to it. Instead, by situating the work in some wider ‘artistic’ and thus ‘interpretive’ context a more emotive response can be elicited from the viewer, giving perhaps a greater understanding of the situation. This approach needing a more creative, but seemingly reductive aesthetic, yet demanding above all else, integrity in authorship.
He cites the work of Sergiy Lebedynskyy and Vladyslav Krasnoshchok and their book EuroMaidan:
“Most of the images that came from the EuroMaidan protest, however, were not real. Not much of what I read or saw in the media was an honest reaction to the realities of central Kiev.
The work that rose above was work that had intent and authorship. Sergiy Lebedynskyy and Vladyslav Krasnoshchok with their book EuroMaidan made an intensely personal and genuine document of the revolt, which didn’t capture the event so much as the feeling, the tactile response to revolution — an authentic look inside what a protest really is. Protest is for cameras, but “protest” is real.”
Art imitating life? Why not?
In what at first glance may not seem in any way related, Sam Gregory WITNESS Program Director explores the use of execution videos and photographs by the likes of ISIS and our complicity in perpetuating that terror and humiliation of these acts by sharing them on social media. In ‘Images of Horror: Whose Roles and What Responsibilities?’ Gregory asks, what do we do with these barbaric visual statements? Preserve as evidence is one thing, consign to digital “evidence lockers” for future use:
“Footage that shows human rights violations is often graphic and uncomfortable, sometimes re-victimizing and is frequently subject to being arbitrarily or correctly removed either by administrators or concerted take-down attacks by outside actors (a relatively common problem on many social media spaces). When we analyzed the playlists of citizen video that have been shared on the Human Rights Channel (which is hosted on YouTube), we found that of the almost 6,000 videos showing rights violations that we have shared, almost 5% are now missing. This could mean they were deleted, removed or made private.
One idea that has been circulating is that of a digital “evidence locker.” The “evidence locker” would make sure that powerful but offensive citizen media related to human rights is downloaded and saved. This would be done in a way that preserves metadata and other important video information, so that it can potentially be used in future prosecutions and investigations by NGOs and human rights actors even if it is rapidly deleted on a social platform.”
But the crucial question raised by Gregory is this:
“There are few images circulating online from the violence in Central African Republic or rural Democratic Republic of Congo — should this make the crises in these countries any less newsworthy or actionable than the ceaselessly documented violence of Syria? And, on human rights issues that are systemic, for example, the pervasive discrimination in terms of access to education for Roma in Europe, it’s hard to find a visual summation or sight-bite. On an ongoing issue like domestic violence against women it’s rare we have such a clarion image to crystallize an issue in the public consciousness as emerged in September 2014 in the US, with video showing a prominent American football player knocking out his fiancé in an elevator and dragging her out.
So as much as we celebrate the possibilities of accountability in a “cameras everywhere” world, we also must recognize the dangers of what this drives us to watch, share, prioritize and also what is excluded.”
I was struck by Gregory’s reference to “what is excluded”. The images that DON’T exist. Posing the valid question – how do we get anywhere near representing that which is not visible? Weber provides a good clue, with his compelling ‘art as journalism’ argument.
But can ‘art’ be ‘journalism’? Can we trust it to accurately portray, inform and comment?
I’d say, why not. If we trust the authors, surely we can trust the work they produce?
Certainly we trust the work of writers, as ‘correspondents’. Sometimes they use sound recorders to obtain spoken narrative, ‘word cameras’ that gather what can often be irrefutable ‘evidence’, but often they simply interpret events through the lens of other’s experiences and express that in their own words for their audience: good journalists striving to provide an ‘objective’ distillation of complex situations and events. Integrity is the key. It’s really all about trust, we trust them to tell us the ‘story’, and through that we are able to obtain greater understanding.
Could we ‘trust’ an ‘artist’ to create work that explores, albeit of necessity indirectly, situations such as Gregory refers to, ones that are off the popular radar for lack of compelling visual ‘evidence’? War artists do just that.
War artists distill events for us, an art tradition with a long history, trying through artistic interpretation to convey the boredom, excitement, mundaneness and horror of conflict. No one complains that, for example, the work of Peter Howson, who was the official War Artist in Bosnia, is ‘inaccurate’ or ‘faked’. For me Howson’s Bosnia work is visceral and haunting, and the ‘backstory’ of the way the experience of being there affected Howson himself on a deeply personal level is testament to the integrity with which he interpreted for us what he witnessed:
On his appointment as the official artist of the Bosnian war, The Times newspaper wrote that Peter Howson’s ‘often violent images’ paired with his ability to ‘invest ordinary men and women with heroic dignity’, made him an obvious choice to chronicle the catastrophe in Bosnia.
Peter’s magnificent response to this challenge marked an important development in his art – in particular – his more vibrant pallet. The resulting images are astounding historical documents: representing the deep and ingrained impact that the scenes in Bosnia had on Peter – deeply affecting the nature of his art and his personal life. Peter has described his time as an artist in Bosnia as being wrought with difficulty.
His mind was often driven blank with fear and he struggled to gain any sense of the imagination necessary to make the harrowing images relatable to an audience back home. Moreover, Peter’s priority in his art was to search for humanity in the hellish scenes of his trip – something he has admitted to have been searching for in his work ever since.
The resulting body of works display a deep sense of Peter’s reactions to the garish and undignified depravity of the war. The images display an often frantic and surreal interpretation of scenes in which the harsh brutality of suffering, poverty and violence have robbed the landscape of its inherent calm. In this series of works, Peter has conveyed not only the climate of fear felt in Bosnia at this time but also a demonstration of his own personally harrowing experience of the Bosnian war; which resonates from each image individually.
Bosnia, 1994, @Peter Howson/Imperial War Museum
Now consider this: the cellphone video of the alleged assault which Gregory refers to, is of such low quality as to be….well…. almost ‘painterly’ yet it is hailed as a “clarion image”. It would appear that it’s not so much about the ultimate image quality, as the ‘story’ and insight provided by that image. The myriad uses of photography as ‘currency’ is evolving, faster it seems than the critics and academics’ understanding can keep pace with, to a point where iPhone images, often lacking absolute quality, may often capture in their (relatively) low-resolution frame a compelling (and some may judge more honest) and immediately virally-accessible portrayal of events. But the challenge, of course, is to verify the integrity of the author.
‘Photojournalism’, as Weber points out, leans heavily on technical proficiency and may also demand from practitioners (unreasonable) objectivity, to be, as far as possible, untainted by personal involvement.
“Why do we adhere to notions of objectivity in photography? Especially when it crushes creative storytelling from those that hold the camera? Photographers choose where their frame goes. They selectively choose what the audience will see, will believe. Right off the bat, any individual image is deceptive, because there is no peripheral vision. Peripheries provide the greater context. Storytellers may be interested in the periphery, but technical image makers (and the news feeds they keep buzzing) are not.”
But art in contrast benefits from the emotional involvement of the artist, and by challenging them, through the prism of that anguish challenging we viewers too.
“I hadn’t realized that scholarship and reportage of black migration was so scant, because the story was always so present in my own life—we lived in Milwaukee and spoke in Southern accents. Yet when viewing the exhibit now, something becomes viscerally clear to me that I hadn’t considered when I first saw these paintings together 20 years ago at MoMA. History, reportage, and craft merge in Lawrence’s work, making it dynamic and urgently present. We see, through the eyes of a 23-year-old man who is wise beyond his years, the political order and cultural chaos of the 20th-century black experience, which itself reshaped America and its politics indelibly.”
But crucial to this work, is the artist, and the nourishment and education of the artistic vision:
In telling this history, “One-Way Ticket” underscores the importance of teaching artists. The professional class of writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance made itself accessible to the ravaged neighborhood’s poor and working-class youth. Savage and her contemporaries were as much activists as they were working artists, in that they recognized the importance of creating a kind of cultural infrastructure to support black artists, and by extension a rich black consciousness.
Yet it’s Tyehimba Jess’s poem, “Another man done…”, in response to panel 22, that bridges past and present. The panel’s caption reads, “Another of the social causes of the migrants’ leaving was that at times they did not feel safe, or it was not the best thing to be found on the streets late at night. They were arrested on the slightest provocation.” Jess appropriates the caption, repeating it in continuous loop, spilling and bleeding each declaration of the year from when the series debuted till today. More than 40 years after black migration ended, as we witness an unconscionable number of black men and women die at the hands of law enforcement, as protests, “riots,” and uprisings overtake the Northern American cities to which our families fled, the warmth of Northern suns still proves harsh.
I don’t subscribe one bit to the ‘photography is dead’ argument I’ve heard bandied about online in recent years. It’s far from dead. It’s alive, vibrant and evolving, and positively wriggling with excitement to be freed from our stultifying adherence to the past and our memory of what it used to be and what it used to do. What I personally feel it’s doing is simply placing more pressing demands upon us to better utilize its power, be freer and more creative with its potential, and more artistically inclined in the ways we interpret the passing events of history we witness, and the truth is that many struggle with that onerous burden.
For the last three years I’ve been External Examiner for a natural history photography degree course in a flagship UK University, and I have seen breathtaking work. Truly astonishing, highly original and insightful photographic storytelling. I have been intellectually and visually challenged in the best possible way. And the majority of this work is coming from young people, and that heartens me. They have embraced the tools: digital & analog, bits & bytes and words & paper, to explore issues in such innovative ways that I doubt many of the mainstream media’s editorial gatekeepers would even consider looking at it, never mind publishing it. But it’s not work that is all style and no substance, a considerable amount of it tackles pressing environmental issues, issues that will directly impact society, and indirectly affect our economy in significant ways. What these young people have gained is education, from tutors confident in their ability to support and nourish their potential, and enable risk-taking and the rewards that follow. More than at any time we need to ensure access to education for young people in the photographic arts.
Weber is right, we have fantastic tools at our disposal now – to create and share with, and we need to celebrate artistic innovation and integrity, pursue and champion work that challenges us intellectually, takes us out of our ‘photojournalistic’ comfort zone in the ways it more obliquely presents stories to us.
To finish, consider this. The work we agonize over now, the ISIS video frame-grabs of James Foley, the blurry images of Saudi beheadings, the stark execution images from many parts of Africa and many more conflict areas I could mention, is work that is perhaps destined, by the passage of time and relegation to the footnotes of ‘history’, to be merely illustrations. Such as these on www.executedtoday.com:
Is this an abhorrent use of such images, or a fitting way to commemorate those whose lives have been so cruelly taken? Are these simply crude analog “evidence lockers” that Gregory talks of, and preferable to these events simply being forgotten? Or can we do better? You decide.
Coincidentally, in the wake of the General Election, and wrestling with the same feelings of disquiet and unease as me, Lewis Bush published this this morning: ‘Five More Years to Fight’,
” Loathe as I am to admit it, my sense of what art is and how it should be used has been in great part a product of spending almost all my formative years under a succession of governments I profoundly disagreed with, from the neo-Thatcherism of Blair to the austerity of Cameron. Once again I think we need to call for an ‘art of austerity’ to counter this ‘age of austerity’.
Whatever else happens over the next five years I hope other photographers and artists will recognise and embrace the power they possess, however slight it might be, to draw attention to injustices and challenge official narratives. Drop all this artistic self-referentialism, this pathetic pandering to ingrowing cliques of curators and critics. This stuff is beyond irrelevant. Speak to the people who have a power to shape more than just your career. Art is a voice, sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, but it should always be raging.”
That, fellow photographers is the hand you’ve been dealt. Play it. Wisely, creatively, but above all with integrity.
This animated short film by Iain Gardner is beautifully done, thought-provoking and moving. Make some time for this. I watched with my 6 year old, he loved it and was intrigued and said “Daddy, souls they never die, do they?”
I’m not a fan of the term ‘Ruin Porn’. I like my ruins to have their story, preferably the real story of what went on in them, why it all went wrong and what the consequences were for those who lived there; then, and now.
I was in Sardinia a few years ago and visited the ruins of an abandoned mine at Montevecchio, on the south-west coast of the island. This area has been mined since Roman times but in 1842 modern industrial mining commenced, for silver and zinc. The area became rich, with more than 3000 people living in the mining village. Sadly mining came to a halt in the early 1990’s.
Today, many of the mine buildings are crumbling, and the village depopulated. Nearby on the coast a resort, Colonia Marina di Funtanazza, provided a holiday retreat for the children of the miners of the area, but it has met with a similar fate, sitting forlorn and unused. Its swimming pool is dilapidated, the once smart walls now merely husks.
But the local municipalities have utilized European funds and are fighting to preserve their archaeological heritage, many of the buildings have been restored, there is excellent interpretation and a thriving tourism industry which has gained EDEN status (European Destination of Excellence). We stayed in b&b’s that are members of the excellent local agritourismo network, usually working farms, and by doing so ensuring our money went directly into the local economy.
Our built heritage is extremely valuable, working heritage particularly so. It reminds us what the labours of our forebears created, and celebrates their investment in the future. The future we inherited.
Pat is a photographer, and he was asked by the band Garbage to give them some of his work for free. Pat was unhappy with the ‘deal’ on offer, having apparently also had his work used without permission by the band previously, so aired his dismay publicly. You can read his response here: link
This thread is not about whether Pat was right or wrong; Pat made a professional judgment and on the surface it seems a reasonable decision to make.
No, what this thread is about, is ignorance.
Someone called Gabriela claiming to be speaking for Garbage responded to Pat Pope directly, in the responses to his blog post. You can judge for yourself what the tone of her comment displays:
Apart from Gabriela’s very forthright response, what has really surprised me are the uninformed comments this affair has elicited, and specifically the fact that some of them come from apparently well-educated people speaking on behalf of educational establishments: so here’s Hank from Eastern New Mexico University‘s take on the matter on HuffPost: (link to thread)
Yes, Zac is studying finance. How business works, supply and demand, payment, all that fiscal stuff you need to know in order to turn a profit.
So Zac, and anyone else who finds this concept of ‘payment for photography’ hard to follow. It’s called licensing – the ‘owner’ of the work, for a fee ‘licenses’ the user on a per-use basis. Repeat use for another, different, project requires repeat payment. Simple.
Oh, sorry, it’s still too hard to understand?
Ok try this: I buy a Garbage album on vinyl in 1995. They re-release that same album in 2005 on CD, so they give me it for free if I ask them. Right?
No they don’t.
I paid for the right to listen to their music delivered to me on a large piece of plastic using a needle, that’ll be ‘licensed for delivery on vinyl’. Now that I want to listen to it using a beam of light, I need to pay again. That’ll be…yes you’re catching on fast…’licensed for delivery on CD’.
And if I want to see them play the same music live I get in to the gig for free, after all, I’ve paid for the music twice now? No, I need to pay again, that’ll be ‘licensed for live delivery’. It’s how (the music) business works.
Oddly enough it’s just like the way Business School works. The School licenses specifically created teaching material (made by very talented people in the educational publishing business) and employs tutors to deliver it. Students pay a fee to attend, and as part of that deal the material is ‘licensed’ to them, for the purpose of their education.
Not hard to understand really, is it.
Moral of this story: creative people need to be paid for their work, however unpalatable some may find that concept. And if they weren’t paid, musicians like Garbage would not be as successful and wealthy as they are.
Creativity matters, it underpins the intellectual richness of our lives. And proper payment for creative work generates revenue that filters right down through society, and benefits everyone.