If you go down in the woods….

A few days after my return from the Peak District I took advantage of a break in the miserable weather to get out for a walk through the Plantations. Following one of my regular routes I was surprised to see a large photograph printed on waterproof material hanging from a couple of the beech trees. As I continued along the path I spotted several more,

including a photo of someone I often see walking his little dog when I’m out annd about along the Dougie and in the Plantations.

It transpired that the photographs were an exhibition, displayed as part of the Wigan Arts Festival.

Commissioned by Wigan Council and Open Eye Gallery, the photographs by Mario Popham, a photographer of Japanese and English descent, based in Manchester, are of people he encountered in the Woodland Park. In most cases the protraits are paired with trees, palnts and “found objects”, in some cases the images being blended and merged.

I enjoyed viewing the photographs which added some interest to a familiar walk. And it was good to seesome art, too. It’s been a while.

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.

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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.

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.

Huis Marseille

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There are two photography museums in central Amsterdam – Huis Marseille and Foam – both on the Keizersgracht. Huis Mareille is the longest established and is located in a couple of adjacent 17th Century canal houses. During our day in Amsterdam at the end of December we decided we’d visit to see the current exhibition of work by African photographers and also to have a look at the buildings. I’d have liked to have visited Foam as well, but time was limited. I’ll have to save that for another time.

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Amsterdam’s first photography museum was opened in 1999 in the old canal house, Huis Marseille, at Keizersgracht 401. The house, which was
built around 1665, was originally owned by a French merchant called Isaac Focquier, who named the house after the French port he must have known. In September 2013, the exhibition space was was extended by incorporating the house next door, at Keizersgracht 399. Although adapted as modern exhibition spaces, both houses still include original features, such as the ceiling stuccowork in the entrance hall and a painting on the ceiling of the Garden Room.

There’s a garden at the back of the house with an 18th Century “garden house” which has been renovated and also used as an exhibition space.

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The exhibition, Recent Histories, features images by African photographers from the museum’s own collection and also works from the Walther Collection (New York/Neu-Ulm).

The museum website tells us that

Until the last decade of the 20th century African photography was generally seen in the context of travel and ethnological photography, and usually done by Westerners.

but this exhibition reveals different aspects and interpretations of the continent by 15 African photographers, particularly

the influences that social, economic, and political developments are having on landscape, public space, architecture, and daily life, and what these developments mean for their own identity.

I didn’t have time to make any detailed notes or to take too many snaps of the images (always seems odd, photographing photographs!) However, my favourites were probably the photographs of buildings by Mame-Diarra Niang , who, although she was born in Lyon, and lives in Paris, was raised between Ivory Coast, Senegal and France.  The photos were from her series Metropolis, shot in Johannesburg and At the Wall, taken during taxi journeys in Dakar. I really liked the way that some of the photos looked more like abstract paintings than images of real buildings.

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Photography at the Hepworth

Last Saturday we drove over to the Hepworth in Wakefield to take a look at the latest exhibitons. We’d not been for a while – our last visit was our annual “pilgrimage” on New Year’s day. Being named after Barbara Hepworth, the Gallery exhibitions are often devoted to sculpture, but not exclusively and Currently they have three exibitons featuring photography.

The main exhibition Lee Miller and Surrealism is a survey of the work ofthe American photographer, best known for her association with Man Ray and her photographs taken during the Second World War, both on the Home Front in the UK and then, later, in France and Germany. It includes some of her photographs togethor with selected works by Surrealist artists, attempting to explore their influence on her.

The Hepworth website tells us that

Arriving in Paris in 1929, Miller quickly became Man Ray’s apprentice, muse and collaborator, becoming part of the Surrealist network.

During World War II, Miller was employed by  British Vogue  as a freelance war correspondent, capturing thought-provoking images of Hitler’s secret apartments and the harrowing atrocities of wartime living with her particular surrealist eye.

No photography was allowed in this exhibition but a limited number of images can be viewed on the Hepworth website.

The second exhibition was Hot Mirror, a survey of work by the contemporary Dutch artist and photographer Viviane Sassen.

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Most of the images included in the exhibition were from her series ‘Umbra’, ‘Flamboya’ (photographs taken in Kenya), the ‘Pikin Slee’ series, from a remote village in Suriname, ‘Oarasomnia’, a dreamlime exploration of sleep.

There were similarities with the Lee Miler exhibition as the works on display included black and white documentary style photographs and there were clear Surrealist influences in many of the images. Even many of her photographs of “real” subjects had an abstract and often surreal quality. Here are some of my favourites.

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In the centre of the gallery there was a room and walking inside you entered an immersive work Totem, 2014, which

places the visitor inside a surreal landscape.

with a changing series of images projected on the wall and reflected in mirros to produce a type of giant kaleidoscope effect.

The third photographic exhibition, Modern Nature: British Photographs from the Hyman Collection, “does what it from says on the tin” featuring around 60 photographs taken from the end of the Second World War up to the present day. The photographers included some favourites of mine – Shirley Baker, Bill Brandt and Martin Parr. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to catch any decent photos of the photos (!) due to reflections in the glass.

The Hepworth is always worth a visit and that was certainly the case the other Saturday.

Life In Motion: Egon Schiele/ Francesca Woodman at Tate Liverpool

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Last Sunday we decided to visit Tate Liverpool to catch up on their latest exhibitions. The main show at the moment is devoted to the work of two artists who lived at the opposite ends of the 20th Century  – Egon Schiele the American photographer Francesca Woodman. As usual for the paid exhibitions at the Tate, no photographs allowed inside.

Lately, Tate Liverpool has had a tendency to have joint exhibitions, trying to show connections between different artists. In this case, the Tate’s website tells us that

Both artists are known for their intimate and unapologetic portraits, which look beneath the surface to capture their subjects’ emotions. Schiele’s (1890–1918) drawings are strikingly raw and direct. He had a distinctive style using quick marks and sharp lines to portray the energy of his models. Woodman used long exposures to create blurred images that captured extended moments in time. Her photographs can be surreal, humorous and at times painfully honest.

and that

The close encounter between these two exceptional artists offers an intense viewing experience and a new perspective on their personal and powerful works.

Most of the reviews I’d seen before our visit questioned the relevance of this pairing and I have to say that it was difficult to see what the justification was. They both had short careers, dying young (Schiele from Spanish flu in 1918 when he was 28 and Woodman taking her own life when she was only 22) and their works concentrated on portraying the human body. But there were more differences than similarities. It wasn’t so much that the media they worked in  – Schiele created paintings and drawings while Woodman was a photographer – but the nature of the work. Woodman’s photographs almost always take her own body as the subject while although Schiele painted and drew some self portraits, particularly early in his career when he couldn’t afford to hire models, these were a minority of his oeuvre. And the biggest difference for me is that Schiele’s work is intensely  erotic while although Woodman is naked in her photographs they are not in the least sexual.

Still, that didn’t spoil if for me. I guess that mentally I saw it as two separate exhibitions that just happened to be intermingled with alternate sections devoted to each artist. I’d seen an exhibition devoted to Schiele at the Courtauld 3 years ago and so although it was interesting to see another large selection of his work I particularly enjoyed discovering Francesca Goodman’s photographs.

There was a large selection of drawings and paintings by Schiele, covering his entire career. He was

A master draughtsman, he is known for his erotic depictions of women and himself. He depicted his subjects in unconventional poses, with expressive faces – ranging from anguished to climactic – and with an emphasis on the hands, which were often greatly exaggerated. (exhibition guide)

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Even today his drawings and paintings are quite shocking – some of the works included in the exhibition were very explicit. It’s hard to appreciate just how controversial they must have seen when they were first displayed. In my post about the Courthauld exhibition I commented that although his work is technically brilliant, I felt some unease about their subject matter in the explicit way he portrayed his female models. I felt the same at the Tate.

This is one of his milder sketches

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I was interested to see how his work started to change towards the end of his career. He still concentrated mainly on drawing naked women, but his style became more naturalistic, less angular and more rounded, with bodies sketched out with just a few strokes of his pencil.

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I wonder how his style would have progressed if he hadn’t died so young.

Francesca Wood man was a very prolific artist, mainly taking small scale black and white photographs featuring her naked body. But, as I mentioned above, they were not intended to be erotic or sexual. She used long exposure times and soft focus and many of the pictures incorporate blurred figures. She incorporated objects such as furniture, wallpaper and plants, concealing parts of her body,

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and sometimes used materials such as sellotape and clothes pegs to distort her body.

Her compositions were clearly influenced by the Surrealists and some of the photographs in the exhibition reminded me of the work of Man Ray.

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As is too often the case, she wasn’t commercially successful during her tragically short lifetime, her photos being rejected by galleries and she failed in an attempt to get involved in fashion photography. This combined with the failure of her personal relationship, and, no doubt, other issues, led to her committing suicide when she was only 22, on 19 January 1981.