Foam Amsterdam

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The second full day of our break in the Netherlands we left our son to spend the day with his sister and then took the train into Amsterdam – a 20 minute journey. I wanted to visit the Foam photographic museum, which is on the “Golden Bend” section of the Keizersgracht . It was a warm day, if overcast, so we decided we’d walk along the canal, which I always enjoy. It was surprisingly quiet – there weren’t as many people and, particularly, bicycles, around as during previous visits as can be seen in the photos I shot.

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Foam is one of two photographic museums in Amsterdam. The other one, Huis Marseille, which we visited the last time we were in the Netherlands at Christmas, is also on the Keizergracht, and we passed it on our way to Foam.

There were four exhibitions showing in the museum. The main one was Silver Lake Drive a retrospective of the work of Alex Prager, an American photographer and film maker from Los Angeles. The exhibition included large scale prints and a number of films, in some cases photographs being stills from the films. Rather like Cindy Sherman, she creates scenarios but, rather than featuring herself, as Sherman does, she uses actors, models and extras. The scenarios are influenced by film noir, thriller, melodrama and crime fiction, but also have a surreal quality. Some of them were clearly influenced by the films of Alfred Hitchcock such as The Birds and North by North West.

The style of the photographs, with bright vibrant colours, was very similar to that of Martin Parr and there were similarities too in the way the photographs capture people in action, although Alex Prager’s scenes are staged whereas Martin Parr’s photographs are of real people, sometimes caught unawares but sometimes posed.

Crowd #1 from the series Long Week-end (2010)

Her compositions were interesting and often taken from unusual angles, like this one, looking upwards from floor level and with the figures positioned at the edges of the photo.

I hadn’t come across her work before so this was a good discovery!

Another of the exhibitions featured the work of a British visual artist Dominic Hawgood. In Casting Out the Self he

visualises the effect of the drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which he personally experienced as a transfer into the digital realm. (Foam website)

The works in this exhibition weren’t photographs as such but 3 dimensional objects and digital projections, a number of them including a statue of the Buddha. I had mixed feelings about this exhibition, but I did like one of the installations which included a circle of smaller reflective silver spheres surrounding a larger one, illuminated by UV light (A statue of the Buddha was also included in the installation)

On the top floor Morpher III (1989) by the French artist, Kévin Bray was an abstract multimedia work centred on a digital film in which he created a surreal, imaginary landscape.

I wasn’t so sure about this one at first, but once I’d worked out what was going on after watching the film a couple of times I found it quite engaging.

So, overall an interesting visit. Some of the works a little challenging and not to my taste but I certainly enjoyed the Alex Prager exhibition.

The Hardmans’ House

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A couple of weeks ago, the last Saturday in May, we drove over to Liverpool. One of the things we wanted to do was to visit a National Trust property in Rodney Street, close to the centre of Liverpool. Rodney Street, a street of mainly Georgian period houses, is often referred to as the “Harley Street of Liverpool” as many of the buildings are occupied by private medical services. Gladstone, the Victorian Liberal Prime MInister was born in the street at No. 62, However, we were visiting the house at No. 59 that used to be the home of  E. Chambré Hardman and his wife Margaret who were both photographers and ran a successful photography studio and business here.

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Hardman was quite eccentric and after his wife died in 1979 from cancer he continued to live and work in the house, living as a virtual recluse until he died in 1988. He hardly left the house and was a hoarder, never throwing anything away, including foodstuffs! When he died he left behind an archive of more than 200,000 images. Realising the importance of the collection of photographs, the property was acquired by the National Trust in 2003. As it’s a small property, the Trust run guided tours of the house which, with the contents accumulated by the Hardmans, is a “timecapsule” of life in mid twentieth century Liverpool.

Chambré Hardman was Irish, and had been a regular soldier in India in the 1920’s where he developed an interest in photography. Returning to Britain, he set up in business with a partner, Kenneth Burrell a fellow officer in India. Although Burrell left the business within five years, but the two remained friends and Hardman continued to include his friend’s name in that of the business

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Chambré Hardman first met Margaret when she cam to work with him as an assistant. Although she was much younger than him there was a mutual attraction and they eventually married. She was also a talented photographer in her own right and was very much the commercial brain which helped the business to be successful. 

We’d visited some years ago but decided we’d like to take another look, so I rang and booked a tour for the Saturday afternoon. The visit started with a short talk and a video providing some background information about the Hardmans and their business followed by the guided tour of the studio, waiting rooms, darkrooms, other work rooms (the business employed a number of staff who worked here) and the Hardmans’ private living quarters. There were also examples of the Hardmans’ photographs on display.

The bread and butter of the business was taking studio portraits and clients would visit the house to have their photographs taken. The business also specialised in taking photographs of children and pets. Chambré Hardman was also employed by the Liverpool Playhouse theatre to take portraits of actors, including some relatively well known faces such as Ivor Novello and Patricia Routledge (a local girl!). The Hardmans’ passion, though, was landscape photography and they spent weekends and holidays travelling and taking photographs for their own interest. Hardman also took many photographs around and about Liverpool. There’s plenty of examples of their work on the National Trust Website

Unlike the last time we visited, photographs were allowed, but, as is usually the case, only without flash. I took some snaps, but they are generally a little dark.

The majority of the rooms in the house were devoted to the business and the Hardmans’ hobby. Although it’s clear from the outside that it’s a Georgian building, the Hardmans’ modernised and adapted the house for their business, so few original interior features remain. But the interest is in seeing how they lived and worked

This is the studio where the portraits were taken

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the Hardmans’ personal dark room

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The room where the commercial photographs were finished and packaged and sent to clients. It also acted as an office

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And a few pictures from the Hardmans’ living quarters

Their living room

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The kitchen

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the kitchen store cupboard with items going back to WW2

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Old boxes from his time in India in the cellar

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Chambré Hardman died in 1988, and so was living here when I was at Liverpool University in the late 1970’s. I must have walked past more than a few times so it was particularly interesting to see what it was like inside.

Wolfgang Tillmans – Rebuilding the Future – at the IMMA

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After passing through the Mary Swanzy paintings, which I enjoyed very much, I went to look at the Exhibition of photographs by the German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans which occupied the whole of the East wing of the Gallery.

According to the exhibition guide he’s

 one of the most accomplished and widely celebrated artists working today, recognised for major contributions to the development of contemporary photography in terms of subject matter, production, scale, presentation and methodology.

He doesn’t specialise in one style but his work encompasses landscapes, portraits, street photography and abstract images. They come in different sizes too, ranging from very small to gigantic, as can be seen in this photograph (it’s a little weird photographing photographs!)

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Rebuilding the Future comprises over 100 works and captures Tillmans’ unique way of working. This new exhibition for IMMA mixes works from throughout his career and in numerous formats, installed in IMMA’s galleries in direct relation to the physical spaces and atmosphere of the museum. 

He built in reputation in the 1990’s while he was in Britain with photographs documenting the London club and gay scenes but he’s moved on since then.

One of the first image I saw was this large photograph of the sea looking towards the land. Printed in monochrome and quite grainy, it was almost abstract in nature

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Some of the other works that caught my attention

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One of his portraits – this one of the singer Neneh Cherrie

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A wall of photographs from the London music scene

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A couple of the individual photos

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Martin Parr – Return to Manchester

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After a quiet January due to both of us suffering from a bad cold and chest infection, we had a couple of busy days last weekend. On the Friday we had tickets to see the St Petersberg Philharmonic at the Bridgewater Hall with our son (the tickets were his Christmas present) so we decided to make an afternoon.

First stop was the Manchester City Art Gallery to take a look round the major exhibition of photographs of Manchester and some of the surrounding towns by Martin Parr, the well known documentary photographer, who studied at Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University) between 1970 and 73. (He was almost kicked out, apparently, for failing a photography theory course!)

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The city made an impression on the young lad from the suburbs. He’s quoted on the exhibition website as saying

“I remember so well arriving into Manchester in 1970, having traveled from the safety of suburban Surrey. It was exciting and felt very real. “

As a keen photographic student should, he explored Manchester, taking photographs of the city and it’s inhabitants. And since leaving the city he’s returned on several occasions . This exhibition includes photographs from his student days and subsequent visits to the city. And the City Art Gallery also commissioned him to create a new body of work on Manchester and its inhabitants in 2018.

The earliest photos were largely black and white, “street photography” featuring mainly working class locals in the streets and pubs of the city, and several series of photos one featuring the homes and residents of a street in Salford,

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another one of residents and staff in Prestwich psychiatric hospital, the interior of Yates’ Wine lodges in Manchester and nearby towns and a photographic game involving matching up couples who were photographed in Piccadilly Gardens.

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I particularly liked the 1972 series June Street, a project with his friend and fellow photography student Daniel Meadows.  They had hoped to photograph the real Coronation Street, but it didn’t exist. So instead they selected a typical street of terraced houses in Salford – June Street.

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They got the residents to pose in their living rooms. The resulting photos brought back the memories of my youth as the interiors of the houses and the clothes the residents wore were very typical of the 70’s.

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The people appeared to have dressed up in their best outfits and were quite formally posed – quite different from Parr’s later work which are mainly (but not exclusively) informal “street photos”.

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I was never a drinker in Yates’ Wine Lodges which were but did venture inside very occasionally. But the photos, including one from the town where I grew up, really got across the atmosphere of the bare, “spit and sawdust” establishments.

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These days Parr is best known for his photographs emphasising bright vibrant colours, particularly yellows and reds, with his subjects caught unawares or in informal poses. A major part of the exhibition were photographs taken during recent visits to Manchester


……………… meeting people shopping, in hairdressers, in Mosques, in cafes, at markets, in factories, at parties, playing sport and in the gay village. He has captured scientists doing ground-breaking research at Manchester University, fans of the city’s world famous football teams and the state of the art facilities at the BBC in Media City. (Exhibition website)

and was interesting to see the city from his viewpoint.

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He must have took far too many photos to display full size so there was a large selection of smaller photos covering two sections of the wall.

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Here’s a few of my favourites

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At one time I spent hours doing this!

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And these photos taken in the Working Class Movement Library in Salford bring back memories of when I was more active politically

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The exhibition also included a short film with Martin Parr talking about Manchester and the exhibition and showing the printing of some of the photographs on display in the gallery.