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About the Blog

Another expert every month: We invite well-known bloggers and specialists from the international photography scene... Read more »

Der Junge in der Ambulanz

Der Krieg in Syrien hat seit gestern ein weiteres ikonisches Foto dazu bekommen. Seit Donnerstagmorgen kursiert das Bild eines syrischen Jungen durch die sozialen Netzwerke, der staubig und blutverschmiert in einem Rettungswagen sitzt. Inzwischen wissen wir, dass der Junge fünf Jahre alt ist und Omran Daqneesh heißt. Er wurde kurz zuvor aus den Trümmern seines Elternhauses in Aleppo geborgen, nachdem dieses von einem Luftangriff getroffen wurde. Kriegsroutine sollte man zynisch behaupten können.
Heute morgen, im Kiosk bei mir um die Ecke, schaut mich der blutverschmierte Junge von ziemlich jeder Zeitungstitelseite aus an. Er ist über Nacht zum Symbol für den nun fünf Jahre tobenden Krieg geworden.

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Nach und nach tauchen immer mehr Informationen auf. Anscheinend hat der Rest seiner Familie das Bombardement ebenfalls überlebt. Beide Eltern und alle drei Geschwister seien allerdings ebenfalls verletzt. Auch ihr Haus sei zerstört worden. Mindestens drei Menschen starben bei dem Angriff.
Auch eine längere Version des Videos ist nun auf der Website des Guardian zu finden. Hier sieht man wie der traumatisierte Junge auf dem Arm eines Mannes aus dem zerstörten Haus getragen und in der Ambulanz auf einen Stuhl gesetzt wird. Daraufhin verschwindet der Mann wieder und die Szene in der Omran sich verstört an den Kopf fasst wird gefilmt.
Das Material wurde vom „Aleppo Media Center“ (AMC) verbreitet, eine oppositionelle Gruppierung, die das Elend im Osten Aleppo’s dokumentiert.
Mr. Ahmad, einer der lokalen Journalisten, der die Szene filmte, zeigte sich verwundert über die grosse Aufmerksamkeit die sein Video bekommt: “Als Journalist in Aleppo sehe ich tausende solcher Situationen. Omrans Fall ist nur einer von vielen…“

Ich finde Bilder wie diese werfen immer viele Fragen auf: Sollte oder muss man sie sogar zeigen? Bezwecken oder verändern sie etwas? Werden wir von ihnen manipuliert?

Schaut man sich auf Twitter um, wird klar wie das Bild instrumentalisiert wird:

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Wie kommt es, dass mache Bilder so viel Aufmerksamkeit bekommen, tausendfach geteilt und veröffentlicht werden und uns an das Grauen von Krieg, Verfolgung oder Flucht erinnern?
Ich habe gerade bei Googles Bildersuche “Injured child Syria“ eingegeben und bekam zahllose grauenhafte Bilder zu sehen. Viele deutlich schlimmer als das Foto von Omran. Einige wenige kannte ich bereits (wahrscheinlich auch nur, weil ich selber Fotojournalist bin), doch den Großteil hatte ich noch nie vorher gesehen.
Anne Barnard, Korrespondentin der New York Times für Syrien und den mittleren Osten, fragte sich das in ihrem gestrigen Artikel auch und hat folgenden Erklärungsversuch:

“Maybe it was his haircut, long and floppy up top; or his rumpled T-shirt showing the Nickelodeon cartoon character CatDog; or his tentative, confused movements in the video. Or the instant and inescapable question of whether either of his parents was left alive.“

Ich denke Schreckensbilder wie dieses, die erst in einen viralen Hype landen und daraufhin von den grossen Zeitungen und Nachrichtensendern übernommen werden, müssen bestimmte Voraussetzungen erfüllen.
Sie müssen uns emotional hart treffen, ebenso müssen sie schocken. Dennoch dürfen sie nicht zu grausam sein. Sie brauchen etwas Unschuldiges. Denkt an das Bild des ertrunkenen Jungen an einem türkischen Strand – Aylan Kurdi war sein Name. Vor etwa einem Jahr tauchte das Bild plötzlich in sozialen Medien auf und war für einige Zeit nicht mehr aus den Nachrichten wegzudenken. Es wurde zum Symbol für die Flüchtlingskrise.
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Inhaltlich hatte das Foto einige Parallelen zu dem Bild von Omran. Beides sind Bilder von Kindern, die Opfer eines Krieges geworden sind. Beides unschuldige Jungen und beide Bilder zeigen keine abgerissenen Gliedmassen, sondern kommunizieren auf eine andere, eine subtilere Art das Schrecken des Krieges. Der “Durchschnittsbürger“ muss sie sich angucken können und doch muss sich das Bild in unser kollektives Gedächtnis einbrennen.

Zugegeben, das Foto von Omran ist blutig, aber er hat überlebt! Scheinbar wäre ein totes Kind zu hart gewesen. Auch das Video von der Szene ist genau genommen ein sehr ruhiges. Ein Junge sitzt blutverschmiert auf einem Stuhl, er schreit oder weint aber nicht, wir hören auch keine Kriegsgeräuche, keine Schüsse oder Einschläge und doch wissen wir alle welchen Horror dieser junge Mensch gerade durchmacht.

Ich bin mir sicher, dass uns dieses Bild noch einige Tage verfolgen wird. Vielleicht bekommt Oman Daqneesh sogar einen Wikipedia Eintrag. Doch dann werden werden wir ihn wahrscheinlich langsam wieder vergessen…. und der Krieg in Syrien geht weiter.

Drohnen, überall Drohnen!

Passend zum Neustart in Hamburg habe ich mit zwei Freunden in eine professionelle Drohne investiert. Ich bin eigentlich nicht besonders an Technik interessiert, doch dieses Stück Hightech ist sehr beeindruckend. Es ist eine DJI Inspire 1 Raw (falls das jemandem was sagt…), kostet mit Zubehör rund 7000€ und ist vollgestopft mit schlauen Sensoren und blinkenden Lämpchen.
Wir haben uns aus verschiedenen Gründen entschlossen eine Drohne anzuschaffen. Wie gesagt, die Technik ist nicht der Hauptfokus, vielmehr ist es die neue Perspektive als Zusatz zu dem was wir als Fotojournalisten eh machen – Nämlich Geschichten erzählen. Natürlich müssen wir zu diesem Zweck Herr dieses komplexen Gerätes werden und die vielen Knöpfe betätigen können. Dies kostet Zeit Nerven und Übung. Nach einer ersten Bruchlandung in einer Tanne ist das Gerät allerdings gerade im “Krankenhaus“.

Übung macht den Meister. Illegaler Drohnenflug im Garten. © Julius Schrank

Übung macht den Meister. Illegaler Drohnenflug im Garten. © Julius Schrank

Wenn man sich in der Welt der Luft und Drohnenfotografie mal umschaut, fällt mir auf, dass die Leute eher technikversierte Amateure als professionelle Fotografen sind. Deshalb gibt es zahlreiche Anbieter für Drohnenaufnahmen. Meist findet man auf deren Websites Aufnahmen von Firmengeländen, Hochzeiten oder Blumenfeldern. No offence, doch ich denke eine Drohne bietet auch im Bereich der journalistischen Fotografie viele Möglichkeiten und ist weit unterschätzt. Bei meiner Recherche fiel mir auf, dass es noch nicht viele Beispiele gibt, bei denen die Vogelperspektive als erzählerisches Mittel für journalistische Geschichten genutzt wird.
Ein paar Arbeiten habe ich jedoch gefunden und möchte diese gerne vorstellen:

Thomas van Houtryve’s Arbeit „Blue Sky Days“ ist so eine. Van Houtryve hat in den USA Luftbilder von Situationen gemacht, die an den US Drohnenkrieg in Pakistan oder dem Jemen erinnern, der bisher tausende Zivilisten das Leben kostet hat. Er nimmt uns mit in die Welt eines Drohnenpiloten der U.S.Army der aus einem Kontrollzentrum in Nevada oder New Mexico über Leben und Tod am anderen Ende der Welt entscheidet. Dazu überflog Van Houtryve Orte und Situationen des alltäglichen Lebens in den USA. Von oben betrachtet hätten diese Bilder ebenso im afghanisch-pakistanischem Grenzgebiet gemacht sein können. Schaut man genauer hin, entpuppt sich zum Beispiel die Ansammlung betender Muslime als eine Yogasession im Park von San Francisco.

Suspect behavior - People exercise in a public park in San Francisco. Aus der Serie "Blue Sky Days". © Tomas van Houtryve

Suspect behavior – Menschen beim Workout in einem öffentlichen Park in San Francisco. Aus der Serie “Blue Sky Days”. © Tomas van Houtryve

Ein weiteres Beispiel ist die Arbeit des italienischen Fotografen Rocco Rorandelli. Er fotografierte die Flüchtlingsroute quer durch Europa aus der Vogelperspektive. Seine Aufnahmen zeigen Menschen auf der Flucht, irgendwo zwischen Griechenland und Deutschland. Auf dem ersten Blick wirken die Bilder anonym, aus großer Distanz aufgenommen, fast wie Ausschnitte aus einer Landkarte. Doch schaut man genauer, offenbaren sie zahlreiche Details – der Müll entlang des Weges, Schlangen bei einer Essensausgabe, Menschen die sich gegenseitig aus dem Matsch ziehen.
Mich erinnern einige der Aufnahmen an Ameisenstraßen, die sich durch die Natur ziehen. Irgendwie planlos und doch scheinen alle ein Ziel zu verfolgen.

Aus Rocco Rorandelli's Serie: "Trans Europe Migration".

Aus Rocco Rorandelli’s Serie: “Trans Europe Migration”.

Fakt ist: Drohnen sind angesagt und ein neuer Verkaufshit. Vor kurzem war ich im Mediamarkt und sah dort ein Angebot von ca. 20 Drohnen in verschiedensten Ausführungen und Preiskategorien. Es gibt auch bereits ein Drohnen-Pendant zu Instagram; Es heißt (wie auch sonst)  “Dronestagram“. Letzten Monat wurde zum dritten mal der “International Drone Photography Award“ von Dronestagram und National Geographic verliehen. Es wurden über 6000 Bilder eingesendet….

Allerdings werden Drohnen mittlerweile weitaus breiter eingesetzt als zum Fotos machen und Krieg führen. So wurde Ende 2014 in Londons größtem Kultur und Konferenzzentrum, dem “Barbican“ eine life musik-performance mit verkleideten Drohnen aufgeführt: Das Loop>>60Hz. Dabei wurde die Stimme des Sängers von den Drohnen, an denen Lautsprecher befestigt waren, durch den Theatersaal getragen. Auch der Cirque du Soleil entwickelte eine beeindruckende Performance bei der Mensch und 10 Quadrocopter synchron miteinander Tanzten.

Wie sich die Drohenfotografie in Bereich der erzählerischen Fotografie weiterentwickeln wird bleibt abzuwarten. Ich denke, wir werden in Zukunft noch einige innovative Projekte zu sehen bekommen.

Neue Stadt, neues Leben…… und jetzt?

Dies ist also mein erster Blogeintrag. Unbekanntes Terrain. In der Regel beschränkten sich meine schreiberischen Fähigkeiten auf Exposés und das Beantworten von E-mails.

Wie oben angekündigt bin ich Fotojournalist und habe die letzten 6 Jahre in den Niederlanden gelebt und hauptsächlich auch dort gearbeitet. In erster Linie war ich als News- und Porträtfotograf für eine große Tageszeitung tätig. Als fester Freier – immer auf Abruf, immer on-the-road. Seit wenigen Wochen habe ich die Vorzüge eines mehr-oder-weniger festen Einkommens aufgegeben und bin mit Freundin und junger Tochter nach Hamburg gezogen.

Ich möchte diesen Blog unter anderem nutzen, um über Erfahrungen, Herausforderungen und Chancen zu schreiben, die ein solcher Standortwechsel für einen (doch noch relativ) jungen Fotografen mit sich bringt. Ebenso will ich etwas von meinen aktuellen Arbeiten und Projekten zeigen. Ich freu mich drauf….

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Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation

I am an avid maker and viewer of photo books, but gradually I have come to think that this two word term can be as much of a shackle on interesting work as it is a useful genre distinction. The best photo books are not really photo books at all. They are just books, which might predominantly contain photography and which might employ and manipulate it in ways which have the nuance and subtlety you would expect from the photography world, but which avoid letting this nuance define them. They are books which, rather than becoming bogged down in design fads and trends, or in self-referential and irrelevant ponderings about the specificities of photography, have something that they urgently need to say about the world, and which they need to say to as wide an audience of possible.

In all the many books I view each year, I encounter relatively few which really seem to do this, and particularly at the Rencontres d’Arles Festival where there was a staggering number of books on display I discovered only a handful amongst the works shortlisted for the various prizes which spoke to me in this way. One of these few titles was Mathieu Asselin’s Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation, which received the honourable mention in the festival’s LUMA dummy book award. In it Asselin uses photography as an investigative tool to probe and reveal the consequences of the practices and products of the multinational agrochemical corporation Monsanto in Vietnam and it’s home country of the United States. These activities are immensely broad, but those documented in the book share the common trait that they have had severe long term consequences for the communities where Monsanto’s products have been developed or deployed.

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In some respects Asselin is revisiting depressingly familiar territory. He looks for example at the company’s manufacturing of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, considering the well-known consequences for Vietnamese today through a series of gruelling images of Vietnamese people with severe physical and mental defects caused by dioxin poisoning. What makes this book distinct though is the way he connects threads and links issues which other photographers might have treated in isolation. For example alongside these images from Vietnam he considers how United States servicemen exposed to the chemicals have also subsequently had children with birth defects likely to have been caused by the chemical, as in two striking images of Helen Bowser, the daughter of a former serviceman. In one striking image Bowser’s hand holds a photograph of her father in military uniform, only after a moment do you notice the misshapen fingers which clutch the print.

In another sequence of the book Asselin examines Monsanto’s contemporary diversification and development of genetically engineered crops, designed to resist herbicidal chemicals like the corporation’s Roundup weed killer. Asselin highlights the way the company treats these engineered crops as a patented product, forcing farmers to purchase seeds each year rather than resowing from the seeds of a previous crop, and litigating against those who don’t, a policy which has led to a spate of cases and bankruptcies. As Asselin pointed out when I met him in Arles, this idea of seed crops as corporate property is an entirely new and frightening development, which takes ownership away from the farmers for the first time in history.

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Another important component of the book is the reproduction of material from some of Monsanto’s own advertising campaigns, which arrayed alongside Asselin’s documentation of the fallout of their activities creates a jarring contrast between the corporation’s own projected self-image and the realities of its activities for the communities it operates within. Perhaps the most potent example of this is the Monsanto House of the Future, a Disneyland attraction sponsored by the corporation and which opened in 1957. ‘Tomorrow is always built on today’ a video advertising the house prophetically announces, but in this book this house of the future becomes a sort of dark metaphor for a future which corporations focused on short term profits actually care very little about.

Asselin’s photographs become a sort of testament to what happens when the well-being of the future is traded for profit in the present, and specifically the consequences for those people who have to occupy that future, who are inevitably often the poor and the marginalised, the last people in other words who might own stocks in a company like Monsanto. So many images in this book stand for this idea, but one in particular lingers on my mind. Taken in West Anniston, Alabama, formerly the site of a major Monsanto plant, the photograph shows 65 year old David Baker at the grave of his brother, who died at the age of 16 from cancers caused by PCB exposure. Baker was a leading figure in the campaign which ultimately led to Monsanto being fined $700 million for polluting the town. It is a powerful, shocking image of past, present, and a future denied.

 

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As I’ve said, many photographers would have documented just one of these issues in isolation, particularly the devastating long term consequences of dioxin poisoning in Vietnam, famously recorded Phillip Jones Griffiths in his book Agent Orange: Collateral Damage in Vietnam. What is rare though is to see a photographer making the connection between these different activities and using them to develop a sustained and highly persuasive argument against a company’s activities, and by connection against this sort of aggressive corporate activity in general. This type of interlinking seems to be me to be an ever more essential strategy for documentary photographers in a world which is so interlinked, globalised and networked, yet relatively few yet employ it perhaps because such an approach runs so counter to the way we tend to think about photographs. In that sense, and in terms also of the sense of indignation which seems to boil below the surface of the book, Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation calls to mind Griffith’s seminal anti-war book Vietnam Inc. as a work which transcends simply being a photo book to become a powerful investigative polemic on a topic which affects us all.

On Abortion

Historically documentary photography has tended to push repeatedly into the same subject territories, while leaving other topics noticeably unattended. The reasons for this are certainly complex, and range from practical questions, for example issues around what topics are accessible, to concerns about aesthetics, through to what are essentially value judgements about the worth or non-worth of certain topics, experiences and places. That latter reason is intimately connected with the fact that documentary photography has, with some notable exceptions, historically been practiced by a relatively homogeneous group of white, western men. This is troublesome, not because being a white western man is in itself a problem, but because documentary photography can only realise it’s ambitions when it’s practitioners reflect the heterogeneity of backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences that they seek to document. Things are changing, the field is gradually becoming more representative, and that was evidenced in some of the exhibitions at this year’s iteration of the Rencontres d’Arles Festival and the topics they opted to explore.

Laia Abril has made a name for herself focusing on subjects which have been examined by relatively few photographers, this despite the fact that they are issues we might all have had some contact with in our daily lives. Her past works have explored complex questions related to sexuality, identity and gender, and have done so in ways which are often sensitive, appropriate to the subject, and often also quite innovative. Probably her best known body of work is The Epilogue, a book published in 2014 which reconstructs the events leading up to a young woman’s death as a result of the eating disorder Bulimia nervosa, and which movingly documents the grieving and familial fallout which results from her death. At the festival this year Abril was showing an exhibition of her latest project, one which is in some respects very different to an intense, close focusing work like The Epilogue, but which at the same time continues her interest in gender and health.

The title of the show, A History of Misogyny, chapter one: On Abortion requires no elaboration, this exhibition is the first part of an extended body of work which examines misogyny in a broad sense of the word, from both historical and contemporary perspectives. The exhibition opens with a historical overview, most strikingly a series of photographs of historic contraceptives and medical equipment, ranging from condoms made from animal innards to equipment designed or adapted for abortions. These are arrayed in angular grids, and photographed in a soft pink light which might well be the muted lighting of a museum display case but in the context of the exhibition recalls a dingy lab. Other items in this section include early medical diagrams and an overview of historic attitudes to abortion. As it soon becomes clear, many of these attitudes remain entrenched in the present.

 

On Abortion Tourism, Marta (Krakow, 29). On January 2nd, 2015, she was forced to travel to Slovakia to have an abortion, which is illegal in Poland unless a woman’s health is at risk, the foetus is malformed or the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act. Because she learned about her pregnancy during Christmas time, she had to a wait few weeks before making the trip. The anxiety of waiting made her try desperate (and cheaper) alternatives: ‘I took a bath in boiling water and swallowed many aspirins, I did not succeed. I was too afraid to hurt myself. I just wanted to end it, I wanted to feel stronger than the law.’ On her 7th week of pregnancy, 445 euros in hand (all the money she had at that time), she jumped into a van at a gas station in Krakow, together with two more gravid girls, and travelled to an abortion clinic in Sliac specialised in welcoming polish women unable to have the procedure in their country. Although the almost 15-hour experience passed without any altercation, Marta had to face her—at that time, coercive boyfriend. ‘He begged me to not do it […] when I called him during the trip complaining about the van's bad smell, he answered: “that seems fair, murderers should be treated as cattle”. ’ Krakow, Poland, 2016. Courtesy of the artist / INSTITUTE.

On Abortion Tourism, Marta (Krakow, 29). On January 2nd, 2015, she was forced to travel to Slovakia to have an abortion, which is illegal in Poland unless a woman’s health is at risk, the foetus is malformed or the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act. Because she learned about her pregnancy during Christmas time, she had to a wait few weeks before making the trip. The anxiety of waiting made her try desperate (and cheaper) alternatives: ‘I took a bath in boiling water and swallowed many aspirins, I did not succeed. I was too afraid to hurt myself. I just wanted to end it, I wanted to feel stronger than the law.’ On her 7th week of pregnancy, 445 euros in hand (all the money she had at that time), she jumped into a van at a gas station in Krakow, together with two more gravid girls, and travelled to an abortion clinic in Sliac specialised in welcoming polish women unable to have the procedure in their country. Although the almost 15-hour experience passed without any altercation, Marta had to face her—at that time, coercive boyfriend. ‘He begged me to not do it […] when I called him during the trip complaining about the van’s bad smell, he answered: “that seems fair, murderers should be treated as cattle”. ’ Krakow, Poland, 2016. Courtesy of the artist / INSTITUTE.

 

Moving on through the exhibition it is the contemporary accounts from women who have sought abortions in countries where they remain restricted which are the most powerful and also the most effective in illustrating just how complex the issue is in different parts of the world. Closely connected to these are grids of images which create narratives recounting the stories of women seeking abortions. The photographs are intentionally prosaic, showing waiting rooms, the exteriors of buildings, but combined with text the narrative effect of them is forensic and remarkably powerful. They also offer a strange and presumably unintentional echo of the lewd, indeed sometimes misogynist photo narratives included in a nearby exhibition in of material from the French satirical magazine Hara Kiri.

Each of these accounts acts as an individual testimony of one woman’s experience of seeking abortion, but they also individually illustrate different issues and attitudes towards abortion in different states and parts of the world, in effect priming and educating a viewer who might know little beyond the context of their own country. For example these narratives introduces the idea of medical staff who conscientiously object to performing the procedure, even where it is legal and mandated, and the danger in other countries of doctors denouncing patients who they believe have sought an illegal abortion to the police. But the exhibition also demonstrates the way the procedure is not just as something which is variously either available or denied to women, but also as procedure which is sometimes used against them, as in the horrifying account  of a woman forced to undergo an abortion for contravening China’s one child policy.

 

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Abortion instruments, including soap and an enema syringe, widely used for termination by insertion into the uterus. The instruments were used to cause a miscarriage, but would often result in the woman’s death. Such thick-walled cylinders with plungers were in use from as early as the 15th century to cleanse the intestines. However, the short attachment tube could be replaced with a longer one, making the cylinders suitable for rinsing other body openings. At the same time, it met the most important requirement for every tool used to perform abortions: it raised no suspicions. Since abortions were illegal, a variety of items were repurposed — anything too obvious would be noticed during a police search. This allowed abortionists to protect themselves, but the hygienic and medical inadequacies resulting from legal prohibition cost many women their health or even their life. Museum of contraception and Abortion, Vienna, Austria, August 2015. Courtesy of the artist / INSTITUTE.

 

At the far end of the topic (and the gallery space) from those first muted images of medical instruments, Abril considers the ways that the issue of abortion is met by very contemporary technologies. One image examines how Apple’s Siri personal assistant displayed a bias towards users seek abortion clinics, directing them instead adoption clinics, posing the question of how prejudices can be built into supposedly neutral technologies by design or accident. Another image reflects the use of consumer drones to transport abortion drugs across borders in Europe into countries like Poland where the procedure remains highly restricted. In the great span of time covered by this work Abril draws well observed connections between past and present, for example in the euphemistic adverts offering to treat ‘menstrual delays’ and other conditions, which have remained a historical constant and are just one illustration of how in some respects very little has changed.

As with previous works the visual strategies that Abril employs are also enormously diverse, from comparatively straight documentation of objects, people and places to more contemporary strategies including displaying archival material, appropriation of material from campaign groups and in a few cases the reconstruction of events, as in an image of hand cuffs on a hospital bed. Does this subvert the documentary legitimacy of the work? Not for a moment, indeed it fits with the atmosphere of forensic reconstruction which pervades the entire exhibition.

Abril manages to deal with an incredibly challenging subject in a way which meets the clear need for the show like this to be visceral and challenging. At the same time she also succeeds in balancing that against the danger of the exhibition being written off by some viewers as a mere chamber of horrors, and their consequently not engaging with it on the level it demands. The exhibition is underpinned by detailed research and explanation throughout and never becomes gratuitous or feels designed to shock for the sake of it, indeed at times Abril goes to the extent protecting viewers from some of the more shocking material, in one case pixelating an image of an aborted foetus used by pro-life campaigners. In all this is an exhibition which manages to be informative, moving, bleak but without being nihilistic. Above all it is one which avoids providing viewers with simple preformed answers and instead demands that as well as looking at these images they decide for themselves what they think and feel.

Nothing but Blue Skies

It is common to hear it said that we live today in a world of images, where the volumes of photographs that are produced each day do as much to confound our attempts to understand things as they actually serve to enlighten us. There was certainly a strong sense of this torrent of imagery at the Rencontres d’Arles Festival in the South of France this year, which overflowed with exhibitions, many of which were exhaustingly enormous. The sight of so many huge shows had me wondering whether the practice of some curators has unwittingly come to reflect this abundancy of photography in the world, with exhibitions growing ever larger in response. As viewers are we so used to gorging on the masses of imagery avaliable online that we are simply no longer satisfied with small selections of the images, or is it the need for such careful curation in fact more essential than ever?

With these thoughts already playing on my mind one particular exhibition at the festival had a particular impact on me. Nothing but Blue Skies which has been curated by Mélanie Bellue and Arles festival director Sam Stourdzé considers artistic responses to the attacks of September 11th 2001. Without necessarily accepting the often repeated claim that this was ‘the day that changed everything’ these attacks undeniably acted as a form of a watershed, making unavoidably clear some of the changes which had been brewing over the previous decade. One of those changes was a recognition that the prophesied ‘end of history’ anticipated by the collapse of Soviet communism had not occurred, that ideological war continued albeit in a new form, one where conventional media are at risk of becoming the unwitting mouthpieces of the competing armed factions. The other obvious sense in which 9/11 was a key marker was as a moment where it became evident how ubiquitous digital photographic imaging had become, that cameras existed in the pockets of so many of the bystanders who watched these attacks, and that photography was indeed an essential part of their effect, in magnifying the sense of terror that the attacks created to a profound degree.

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Joan Fontcuberta, GOOGLEGRAM: 11-S NY, 2005. GOOGLEGRAM: 11-S NY, 2005. September 11 plane crash snapshots. The photographs have been refashioned using photomosaic freeware, linked to Google’s Image Search function. The final result is a composite of 8,000 images available on the Internet that responded to the words: ‘God’, ‘Yahve’ and ‘Allah’.

As if to reflect this idea of the magnification of terror, Nothing but Blue Skies opens with a room plastered from floor to ceiling with newspaper front pages from the day after the attacks, which have been collected and rephotographed by Hans-Peter Feldmann as the series 9/12 Front Page. Global headlines scream of a ‘World under attack’, an ‘Apocalypse’ and ‘40,000 dead’ accompanied by photographs of the towers at different stages of the attack, from moments after the impact of the first plane into the north tower through to it’s final collapse an hour and a half later. This display is simple but remarkably powerful, both a reminder of the diverse media responses that follow in the wake of any atrocity, but also hinting more darkly at the ways that the media themselves unwittingly became complicit in carrying the shock wave of terror out across the world from its epicenter in Manhattan. In the mass replication of images of the burning towers we see evidence of an attack intended to be an irrepressible spectacle and pyschic trauma as much as a strategic or material blow.

A similar display follows in the next room, but uses audio-visuals as its medium. Guillaume Chamahian’s Breaking News consists of a babel like tower of televisions which visitors can crawl into, within which they are bombarded with global news reports from the day of the attacks. Panicked reporters and newscasters yell over footage of planes hitting the twin towers or sit uncertainly in their television studios, unsure of what they are witnessing or how to respond to it. A sculptural theme continues throughout the show, in the same room is Mounir Fatmi’s piece Save Manhattan 2, a model cityscape made of VHS cassettes roughly laid out like New York’s central island. The black innards of these tapes spill out onto the floor around the sculpture like the cloud of dust that was left behind following the collapse of the twin towers. Like many in the exhibition this work also seems to speak to the rapid onwards evolution of electronic and digital media, which has left the often grainy and pixelated imagery of the attacks looking increasingly date-able as products of the first decade of mass digital imagery.

Mounir Fatmi, Save Manhattan 02, 2005. Courtesy of the artist and of Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg–Le Cap.

Mounir Fatmi, Save Manhattan 02, 2005. Courtesy of the artist and of Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg–Le Cap.

Proceeding deeper into the show the works become more meditative, more about picking through the psychic ruins to ask how these attacks could have happened, what they might mean, and how to move forward. Waalid Raad’s series Cotton Under my Feet is a response to the artist’s inability to remember the colour of the sky on the day of the attacks, a cold blue which has become in many ways as iconic as the image of the towers themselves. His response has been to collect images of the New York skyline before digitally cutting away at them, removing everything in the image but the blue of the sky. In the crude digital cutting there is a strange violence, with jagged pixelated edges hinting at what is no longer there. In some cases what has been removed is clearly identifiable as the outline of a building, in some cases of the twin towers themselves, and in one image towards the end of the series the white outline of an plane recalls the moment before a second airliner hit the south World Trade Center tower, a moment frozen by a thousand waiting lenses.

Continuing this theme of analysis is the final piece in the show, Michal Kosakowski’s video installation Just Like the Movies. In this piece, short clips from Hollywood movies including American Psycho, Wall Street, Die Hard, Independence Day, Marathon Man and many others are montaged together into an approximate narrative of the day of the attacks, set against movie music which ebbs from the inappropriately jaunty to the overly tragic. While the images on screen are fictions which bear no true relation to the destruction of the World Trade Centre, they combine in their new sequence with the prior knowledge of these events held in the viewer’s mind to create a compelling narrative which at moments becomes remarkably difficult to watch. Underlying it is a sophisticated commentary on US culture, and the country’s strange fascination with the fiction of it’s own demise played out in disaster movies, an inclination which Jean Baudrillard described as a need to ‘exorcise through images’. Kosakowski hints at the idea that on some level these attacks fitted with a dark narrative which runs back deep into the country’s history and which would run forwards from September 11th into some of the worst excesses of the War on Terror.

Reeve Schumacher, #1, from the Nothing but Blue Skies series, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Reeve Schumacher, #1, from the Nothing but Blue Skies series, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

In each space the artistic works are accompanied by short texts by Jean Paul Curnier which stand alone on plinths and consider different aspects of the reporting, processing and memorialisation of 9/11. The inclusion of these texts rather seemed to me to hint at the idea that these images of the burning towers remain so powerful that even after their processing by artists and photographers they can not comfortably be left alone to ‘speak for themselves’ and still require further context and exploration to be made safe. Overall, what makes this exhibition so compelling and thought provoking is that rather than confronting a viewer with dozens, or hundreds of images on the same theme, it does what we are rarely asked to do today, that is to essentially consider one image over and over, from multiple angles and from different perspectives. And what better candidate for this consideration than an image surely seared indelibly into the memory of all who have seen it.

An Overview of Rencontres d’Arles 2016

Hello! My name is Lewis Bush and I’m taking over the Hatje Cantz blog for July. I’ve just returned from the 47th Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in the South of France and over the course of the month I’ll be writing in depth about a few of the highlights. To kick things off thought I thought it would be good to offer a broader overview of the best of the festival.

As ever Arles was well provided for with historic photography from both well-known photographers and more obscure names. The first exhibition I visited was Looking Beyond the Edge which features photographs by veteran conflict photographer Don McCullin. The twist is that there is barely a conflict photograph in sight in this display. Instead it encompasses social documentary, landscape and archaeological photographs taken between McCullin’s overseas conflict assignments, and while I knew much of the work already it was still an interesting take on a familiar name’s work.

For something a little more humorous it was great to see Peter Mitchell’s A New Refutation Of The Viking 4 Space Mission. In this work Mitchell combines images taken by the first spacecraft to land on Mars with his own colour social documentary photographs of the North of England, all displayed alongside humorous captions which often read as if they were written by a Martian visiting earth for the first time. While none of this might sound radical today you have to remind yourself that you are viewing a series first exhibited in 1979, before colour photography (let alone such a humorous approach to documentary) had really entered the mainstream.

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Mr. & Mrs. Hudson. Wedsneday 14 August 74. 11 a.m. Seacroft Green, Leeds. I liked the way the ladder is propping up the shop. They have just moved into a new shop on the same spot, with the church getting a face-lift to match. Courtesy of the artist.

Lastly for the historic photography, a really pleasant new discovery for me was the work of mid-century street photographer Sid Grossman and his exhibition From Document to Revelation. Alongside producing some brilliant observational photographs Grossman’s embracing of ‘bad’ photography effects like grain and blur anticipated some of the photographic trends of the New York school of photography typified by William Klein. Grossman was also a politically engaged activist, blacklisted from 1947 for his communist links. It would have been fascinating to see how he might have used his camera to respond to key events like the Civil Rights Movement had he not died so tragically young in 1955.

The trend for raiding archives set in previous years, with exhibitions like the 2015 exhibition Vernacular continue with some great examples this year. Camarguais Western was a favourite of mine, an exhibition telling the rather bizarre story of how the region of France where Arles is located became an alternative set for the American Wild West in early cowboy films. Another successful movie display was Scary Monsters! Effectively a series of typologies of different movie monsters through the ages, this exhibition uses behind publicity photographs and movie memorabillia to show the on screen evolution of movie monsters and to illustrate the ways they have served to embody different public fears, from fears about nature to nuclear war.

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Bretaigne Windust, The Enforcer, 1951. Courtesy of United States Pictures.

Lastly for the archival shows, Severely Queer was a fascinating exhibition of historic photographs of transvestitism, exploring the different contexts where it has occurred and the gradual move from a taboo activity towards something with a broader public acceptance. Like many of the larger shows though this one suffered a little for the sheer quantity of material on display, when half as many photographs would have told the same fascinating story just as well.

Contemporary photography was also well represented, with a broad range roving from documentary through to fine art photography bordering on conceptualism. In terms of documentary, Dominic Nahr’s Fractured State was a small but powerful exhibition on the emergence of South Sudan and the struggles of the state’s early years. Another strong example was Laia Abril’s A History Of Misogyny, Chapter One: On Abortion, a grueling but engaging exhibition on the legal restrictions and moral attitudes towards abortion in different parts of the world and the consequences this has for women seeking the procedure.

On the more arts influenced wings of photography, Stephanie Solinas’s exhibition Methods of Loci was a deep, multi-faceted investigation of a vast warehouse situated in Arles which had originally been constructed as the venue for a French colonial exhibition in 1905. Through archival imagery, sound, interviews, objects and more Solinas creates a fascinating investigation of the building and it’s history. Through a micro-focus on a relatively small space this work asks complex questions about macro processes like capitalism and globalisation.

The annual Discovery Award shortlist also had it’s share of interesting work among the ten photographers who are in the running for the €25,000 prize. On a similar theme to Solinas’s exhibition, Christodoulos Panayiot’s work explores ideas about power, capitalism and globalisation in very different ways, employing his own photography alongside ready-made sculptural fountains composed of copper sheets and off the shelf piping. I think my favourite of the Discovery Award shortlistees though was Sarah Waiswa’s Strange in a Familiar Land, a moving portraiture series about the experience of Africans with Albinism.

Seeking to Belong, Stranger in Familiar Land series, Kibera, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Seeking to Belong, Stranger in Familiar Land series, Kibera, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Saving the best to last, my pick of the festival was Nothing but Clear Blue Skies, a group exhibition of artists who have made work in response to the September 11th attacks. Where many of the exhibitions at this year’s festival suffered from being oversized with far too many photographs this one was perfectly scaled but had a depth which kept me thinking long after I had left the venue. I’ll be writing in much more depth about this and several of my other highlights in my forthcoming posts.

Out of Obscurity

Chris McCaw, Heliograph #28, 2013. Unique Gelatin Silver Paper Negative, © Chris McCaw, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Chris McCaw, Heliograph #28, 2013. Unique Gelatin Silver Paper Negative, © Chris McCaw, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Julie Cockburn, Happenstance 2, 2013, Hand embroidery, graphite on distressed found photograph, 20.4 x 25.3 cm (c) Julie Cockburn, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Julie Cockburn, Happenstance 2, 2013, Hand embroidery, graphite on distressed found photograph (c) Julie Cockburn, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

 

John Maclean, Container Ships, Horizon and Sky, 2016, Chromogenic print, 79 x 105 cm (C) John Maclean, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

John Maclean, Container Ships, Horizon and Sky, 2016, Chromogenic print (C) John Maclean, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Wang Ningde, Colour Filter for a Utopian Sky, 2013, Photo Installation, 200 x 144 cm (c) Wang Ningde, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery3

Wang Ningde, Colour Filter for a Utopian Sky, 2013, Photo Installation (c) Wang Ningde, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Summertime and a two-part group exhibition focusing on abstraction within contemporary photography.

Out of Obscurity presents a speculative journey in response to the series of cloud studies produced in the 1920s by Alfred Stieglitz titled Equivalents. From the disorienting perspectives of aerial photography to physical manipulation of photography’s material properties, the exhibition draws together visions of the sky produced by a range of international artists.

The horizon line, seen here as a subjective or symbolic point of contact between two distinct spaces, forms an initial seam running through the exhibition. On the Clouds by Boomoon, taken from a plane at high altitude, presents the dividing line between sky and cloud as though at eye-level, forming an ‘absolute horizon’, which Boomoon considers to lead to the realm of infinity. Also from an aerial viewpoint, the flattened frontal aspect and dizzying perspective of Edward Burtynsky’s Phosphor Tailings navigates a narrow path between form and content. What appears to be the sky mirrored in a lake below is revealed as the vivid hues of toxic algae blooms generated by phosphorous mining. The image functions, from Burtynsky’s viewpoint, as a reflecting pool of our times, seducing the eye to the surface and immersing the viewer in painterly details of line, shape and colour.

A sensitivity to both surface and material can be seen in many of the exhibiting artists, manifesting in images that are interrupted, deconstructed and re-assembled through both digital and analogue processes. Alliance by Chloe Sells, which captures the atmospheric patterns of birds flocking to the flooded plains of the Okavango Delta in North-Western Botswana, is constructed from two images overlaid on an irregularly shaped photographic print, offsetting the chance effects produced by chemical manipulation in the darkroom with the organic decay and transience of nature. Chris McCaw directly harnesses the power of the sun’s rays to scorch traces onto light sensitive paper negatives. His Heliograph series explores the effects of multiple exposures of the sun’s path, conflating the indelible records of time and place, and forming an indexical relationship between the subject and its representation. Letha Wilson brings the image and the sensory effects of the rugged desert landscape together by subjecting her photographs to sculptural processes. Corrugating, splicing and shuttering the photographic prints, Wilson also pours concrete into their ridges and folds, blurring the lines between photography and sculpture, representation and abstraction. An intersection of horizontal and vertical planes is present in the evocative and minimal work Colour Filter for a Utopian Sky by Wang Ningde. Graduating between the cool sunrise tones of turquoise and pink, the original representation of the sunset is deconstructed and reconfigured in three dimensions as an abstracted and inverted photographic image.

John Maclean applies a reductive process in his series Outhinking the Rectangle. In the work Container Ships, Horizon and Sky, Maclean digitally removes all but the most minimal information to evoke the sensation of a sunset in a sequence of graduated lines. In the work of Julie Cockburn, sculptural or physical manipulation can be seen equally as a process of embellishment and erasure. In Happenstance, a blizzard-like atmosphere is achieved through scratching away the photographic emulsion from found photographs, and is further masked by protruding hand-embroidered spheres.

Seeking abstraction in the man-made urban environment, Randy West photographs the spaces between the New York skyline observed during his daily walks in the city. In New York Sky, buildings are thrown into sharp relief in the long shadows cast by the September evening light, causing the negative space to form an impression of inverse skyscrapers.

Shifting both perspective and magnitude, Michael Benson’s US Cloud Sheet pictures cloud formations over the coastline of New York State, rendered from satellite data sent back to earth from space. Within this alien viewpoint of the landscape, Benson creates a counter image to the view Stieglitz captured almost a century before, extending the scope of the abstracted photograph through advancements in science and technology.

http://www.flowersgallery.com/exhibitions/view/out-of-obscurity

Ryan L. Moule, The Structure of Things, Fibre-based Silver Gelatin Print, 2015, (c) Ryan L. Moule, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Ryan L. Moule, The Structure of Things, Fibre-based Silver Gelatin Print, 2015, (c) Ryan L. Moule, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Alessandro Dandini de Sylva, Untitled (Landscape #68), 2012, Instant Colour Film Print, 10.8 cm x 8.5 cm (c) Alessandro Dandini de Sylva, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Alessandro Dandini de Sylva, Untitled (Landscape #68), 2012, Instant Colour Film Print, 10.8 cm x 8.5 cm (c) Alessandro Dandini de Sylva, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Giulia Marchi, Après Marat, from the series Dit-Mansion, 2015, (c) Giulia Marchi, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Giulia Marchi, Après Marat, from the series Dit-Mansion, 2015, (c) Giulia Marchi, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Sophy Rickett, Observation 123

Sophy Rickett, Observation 123, 1997_2013, Black & White Bromide Print (c) Sophy Rickett, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Murmur, by invited Curator Magali Avezou brings together five international contemporary artists who address questions of form, colour, movement and the surface dynamics of the photographic print, with two unique sound works created to respond to the space of the exhibition. Through the absorbing sensorial dialogue established between sound and sight, the exhibition explores the intuitive and metaphysical aspects of abstraction.

In Paesaggi, Alessandro Dandini De Sylva intervenes in the chemical process of developing his Polaroid images, either by interrupting or overlapping the photographic impression. The resulting images break down into sequences of colours and abstract shapes, evocative of watercolours. The ambiguous nature of the work questions the relationship between photography and reality, deconstructing and rebuilding the essence of the landscape through abstract means.

Lacan’s three orders, the symbolic, the real, and the imaginary, are the starting points of Giulia Marchi’s series Dit-mansion. The mundane scenes found in empty spaces are both mirrored and abstracted by the image, echoing the symbolic-real-imaginary triad. Marchi creates an intriguing visual lexicon through the texture and chromatic specificity of digital images.

Ryan L. Moule’s enigmatic images are both familiar and uncanny. The chemically unfixed photographs bathed in a red ‘safe light’ are on the verge of disappearing. Moule is interested in the dissolution of the photographic image and the notion of latency, praising oblivion in an age of visual saturation. Through this romantic gesture, his work has a visceral feel that questions the validity of images and our emotional attachment to them.

Tom Lovelace’s Forms in Green are ‘ready-made’ photograms, which exude a sense of evanescence and unsteadiness. The depicted forms have been created through the chance exposure of sunlight onto light-sensitive fabric in the window of a London library. Over time, the light has revealed the shapes of the paper notices fixed to the wall, indexically linked to the movements and actions of those who attached them.

With Objects in the Field, Sophy Rickett reinterprets scientific imagery to create new narratives. The series of photographic prints are made from the original negatives that Dr. Roderick Willstrop produced during the period of time that Cambridge Observatory’s telescope was operational. By printing his original negatives by hand, and altering them, she disrupts the conventions of the techno-scientific and functional discourse that produced them in the first place, opening up metaphysical questions around the notion of the “unknown” today.

Text by Hannah Hughes

http://www.flowersgallery.com/exhibitions/view/murmur-curated-by-magali-avezou

 

Boomoon

Skogar #5084, 2015, Pigment Print, 140x180cm

Boomoon, Skogar #5084, 2015, Pigment Print (c) Boomoon, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

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Boomoon, Skogar – Installation view, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

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Boomoon, Sansu – installation view, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

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Boomoon, Sansu – installation view, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

A solo exhibition by South Korean photographer Boomoon, centred around a new series of photographs produced at Skogar Falls, Iceland. The exhibition presents the powerful elemental force of the waterfall as the subject for Boomoon’s ongoing investigation into the infinite and ungovernable character of the natural world.

The exhibition Skogar brings together a selection of black and white photographs from a series of 300 exposures. Each taken from the same frontal viewpoint, they capture distinct variations of light and form within the arrested momentum of a singular waterfall. Boomoon entered the freezing water of the pool below the falls to attain a position where the ‘horizon’ would be situated precisely at the lower third of the frame, presenting an immersive view, which appears to extend beyond the limits of an individual standpoint or subjective experience.

Within the shape-shifting cascades and veils of spray, each photograph records discrete changes in focus and detail, resulting in a complex and evocative layering of the image. The photographs are composed horizontally, contrary to the essentially upright configuration of the waterfall itself, and are cropped closely to exclude all peripheral detail and sense of scale. Applying a similarly reductive approach to colour, Boomoon attributes the crystalline clarity of his monochromatic images to the stark purity of northerly light.

Poet and Critic Shino Kuraishi has likened the Northern quality of Boomoon’s approach to the pursuit of the sublime in Northern Romanticism, particularly the work of German painter Caspar David Friedrich.1 Extending beyond romantic notions of a confrontation between man and the natural world as distinct forces, and suggesting a more totalised assimilation of the self within nature, Boomoon’s photographs can also be seen to resonate with attitudes towards the sublime within Minimalism.

According to Kuraishi, Boomoon’s focused attention on the particular, dispenses with continuity or a sense of passage between past and future – delivering us instead into the ‘here and now’ of the present moment. He says: “The destination or the end of time is permanently postponed. The waterfall keeps falling self-recursively, aimlessly, and meaninglessly carrying the undetermined present. The waterfall descends defying associations of any other place and any other time. In the minimalist waterfall captured by Boomoon, I as an observer am liberated from the bondages of both the identity of the “artist” and the “work” and the identity of “another self” chained to the system of appreciation. The falling waterfall declares my freedom. “I” facing the waterfall am free.”

Also on view will be selected works from the series Sansu, including the exceptionally large-scale photographic print Untitled #18134, Inje, spanning ten metres in length, which was first displayed in the Salon D’Honneur at Paris Photo 2015. Each of the photographs on show will be displayed for the first time in London. Sansu (meaning ‘mountain-water’ in Korean) is a core concept in the representation of landscape in Far-Eastern aesthetics, centred on a metaphysical union with nature. Boomoon’s contemporary vision of Sansu evokes an attitude or philosophical state of mind. The series comprises of mountain landscapes and forests blanketed by snow, often presented at a large scale, balancing an intense clarity of detail with atmospheric passages of snowfall and mountain mist.

Text by Hannah Hughes

http://www.flowersgallery.com/exhibitions/view/boomoon-skogar-and-sansu

Photo London

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Just over a month ago the newly formed Photo London hosted its second edition at Somerset House – a neo-classical labyrinth overlooking the Thames. Throughout what people are now calling “Photo London week”, a wide range of talks, events, exhibitions and book fairs takes place with the main focus being the international and local galleries exhibiting at the fair. For us this is an opportunity to convey the depth of our photography programme.

On one side of the space we presented the type of large-format abstracted landscapes that we are most renowned for. Examples of new works by Nadav Kander were presented for the first time alongside works by Edward Burtynsky and Boomoon. In contrast, the mirrored space included artists newer to our gallery. From Appropriation and found objects to painted photography and investigative documentary, this group demonstrates a wider scope of photographic production; Edmund Clark, Julie Cockburn, Tom Lovelace and Esther Teichmann.

Photographs from Edmund Clark’s series Negative Publicity were displayed concurrently with his solo exhibition Terror Incognitus at Zephyr Mannheim in Germany. The artist’s new book, produced together with counterterrorism investigator Crofton Black brings together photographs and documents that confront the nature of contemporary warfare and the invisible mechanisms of state control.

Tom Lovelace works at the intersection of photography, performance and sculpture. Inspired by Industrial forms, his practice is grounded in a reinvention or subversion of everyday objects, materials and processes.Tom Lovelace partcipated in the Photo London satellite event Peckham 24, a 24 hour festival of contemporary photography and video art.

Esther Teichmann’s practice uses still and moving image, collage and painting to create alternate worlds, which blur autobiography and fiction. Central to the work lies an exploration of the origins of fantasy and desire and how these are bound to experiences of loss and representation. Both filmic works and photographs of turned away bodies and primordial spaces of enchantment work with the relationships between images, and the narratives these juxtapositions create.

 http://photolondon.org/