"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

29 April, 2008

War Art: Official & Non-Official

Apologies for starting with a classic critical truism: the history of photojournalism is inextricably linked to the narrative of war - from Robert Capa and George Rodger to Philip Jones Griffiths, Nick Ut and beyond. (The juxtaposition of the latter's 1972 Vietnam napalm kids and his snatched sobbing Paris Hilton shot, precisely 35 years later, tells a story all of its own...).

The concept of the official war artist first became enshrined during the Great War but the depiction of warfare has concerned both artists and patrons for centuries. This weblog plans to consider war photographers and artists - both official and unofficial - on a regular basis.

The experience of warfare leaves no one unaffected and many official war artists have produced work markedly at odds with what the authorities who appointed them might have anticipated. John Keane (b.1954) hit the headlines in 1991 when he was appointed official British war artist during the Gulf War. His work is concerned with conflict - military, political and social - in Britain and around the world. The image above is from his 2006 series Guantanamerica.
Queen & Country (see the panel right) is the title of a similarly powerful and thought-provoking work by Turner Prize Winner and official war artist Steve McQueen (b.1969). Working closely with 137 families of servicemen and women who lost their lives in Iraq, McQueen has created a cabinet containing a series of facsimile postage sheets, each dedicated to a deceased soldier. The project is currently on show at London's Festival Hall (until 1st June) where visitors are being asked to sign The Art Fund's online petition, asking the Royal Mail to issue the stamps as a fitting tribute to the fallen and to fulfill the artist's original vision.

22 April, 2008

Examining the Image: Nixon in China

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the U.S.A., died 14 years ago today in 1994, at the age of 81. This image shows Nixon and his wife, Pat, sharing a joke with Chinese Premier Zhou EnLai, during the historic 1972 visit which initiated a gradual thaw in Sino-American relations. This is not the place to go into details about what came to be known as "Ping Pong Diplomacy" but to make a point of just how time and history can blunt the shock of the original appearance of any image. For most Americans, steeped in the paranoia of the Cold War, the news that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had secretly visited China in 1971 was scandalous enough. To see the President of the United States sharing jokes with the "enemy", shaking Mao by the hand and toasting the Peking regime at banquets, shook many Americans to the core. The ground-breaking trip passed into legend, not least because it became the subject of a minimalist, critically well-regarded opera by American composer John Adams, with libretto by Alice Goodman. Nixon's record was overshadowed by the Watergate scandal and the threat of impeachment in 1972-1973. It all ended ignominiously with his resignation - the first by a president in office - in 1974. Nixon was pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford but the spectre of Watergate still obscures many of his diplomatic achievements, not least his role in negotiating a ceasefire with North Vietnam, his moves towards detente with the Soviet Union and key role in the limitation of strategic arms and, of course, his historic visit to China.

20 April, 2008

Martin Parr - Jester or Genius?

British photographer Martin Parr (b.1952) has always polarised the critical establishment. Personally, I am a fan (and not just because this image - from the 1995-1999 Common Sense series looks just like my best friend Cara). Eventually, after much toing and froing and significant and vociferous protest, Parr was admitted to the pantheon of full Magnum membership in 1994. His sly, wry documentary - spying on his countrymen at play, dissecting the phenomenon that is mass market tourism - is feted on the Continent and in the US, yet slightly sniffed at back home. Robert Sandall captures the paradox well in the following piece which appeared in the Sunday Times on 20th April 2008.

18 April, 2008

Eldorado #2: Chaos at YFZ Hearings - A Few Statistics

San Angelo Barbara Walther district judge was forced to suspend proceedings amid scenes of chaos at the custody hearings of the children seized from the Yearning for Zion polygamist ranch.
Lawyers acting for the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are arguing that the case violates their religious freedoms.

The FLDS, a breakaway branch of the Mormon faith, led by self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, currently in jail on charges of complicity to rape, claims 10,000 members
The fate of 416 children is being considered in San Angelo.
At least one minor is reported to be pregnant and four girls under 16 already have children.

More than 350 lawyers are involved.

The relatively restrained BBC story follows below -
For rather more detail and analysis, I have found the Salt Lake Tribune, the market-leading publication in the mainstream Mormon capital of Utah, to be invaluable.


14 April, 2008

Teenagers in Victorian Fancy Dress? Or Fortunate Escapees from Abuse in Eldorado?

Religious news of most types usually comes relatively down-page on this side of the Pond. Consequently, it was only last weekend that peopled images of the extraordinary developments at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas found their way to our front pages, notably in the foreign coverage of the broadsheet Sundays. More than 500 women and children have now been removed from the ranch, set up by polygamist Mormon sect leader, 52-year-old Warren Jeffs.
What really struck me about these particular images was the nature of the demure clothes, or rather costumes, worn by the women and, in particular, their extremely elaborate and doubtless, time-consuming hair styles. There seems to be every possible variant of the Victorian chignon, French pleat, braid and bun on show, suggesting that personal appearance and grooming remained extremely important for these females - presumably in the stiff competition to attract the attention of the relatively few men in their midst?
I found the initial image above extremely disturbing and distressing. These young, practically pre-pubescent, women look as if they have wandered out of a Victorian novel, or an early Laura Ashley catalogue. There is more than a hint of Grant Wood's seminal 1930 painting 'American Gothic' while the girls themselves seem to have slipped somehow out of a Thomas Eakins portrait. Presumably, these demurely clad and elaborately coiffed Henry James' heroines are now among the 400 children who have been taken into state custody for their own safety?

13 April, 2008

Marathon News (and Just Because I love it...)

Once upon a time, I ran the London Marathon. Not particularly fast - it has to be said. (I blame the loo queues plus my Dad ringing on the mobile every 20 minutes to check my progress...) I'm intrigued to find out how the six Maasai warriors, running today to raise money to install a well in their home village, got on. They were all rather optimistic, given the likely absence of lions from the streets of London and the high comfort factor of their shoes, made out of re-cycled car tyres. Charity Greenforce certainly raised its profile with a series of fabulous photo ops such as this one & some fantastic PR, including news that M&S had donated underpants to the chaps, who usually go commando and that they had swiftly become addicted to the English cuppa with as many sugars as the proverbial plumber. To donate, follow this link:

11 April, 2008

Images of Afghanistan: Seamus Murphy & Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry (b.1950) is an American photographer, perhaps best known for the portrait of a young Afghani refugee girl which appeared on the cover of National Geographic Magazine in June 1985. This 2002 image shows Sharbat Gula, now in full burka, carrying her own image from 17 years earlier, after the photographer finally succeeded in tracking down his original subject.
Seamus Murphy is a younger Irish photographer, who has a rather different approach to McCurry's. His new book 'Darkness Visible' is the extraordinary product of a dozen years of travel to Afghanistan, during which he achieved a remarkable level of intimacy with his subjects, ably conveying something of the patent resilience of its peoples. I wasn't able to find a truly representative single image of Murphy's Afghanistan work but I do urge you to click on the link below and to take - at the very least - a look at the last half dozen images in the series.

09 April, 2008

Olympic Flame Progress...

I note from Facebook this morning that Nikhil, my 17-year old godson in Hong Kong, has joined a group entitled: "Attempt to extinguish Olympic Torch in Hong Kong". Not for the first time, I struggle with my conscience as regards what my younger FB friends are posting in relation to my long and close friendships with their parents... However, it does make one wonder whether like-minded kids around the world may actually manage to stop the Torch in its tracks (& it makes one proud that one's friends have raised such intelligent and aware kids...) The image is of the San Francisco protestors, scaling the Golden Gate Bridge. Could there be a better global billboard to get a message across?

07 April, 2008

Another one to ponder

This classic of the genre was used in today's Telegraph to illustrate the extraordinary poll finding that Margaret Thatcher at her peak would sweep to power in a general election held today. An incidental finding also spells rather bad news for Dave: almost two thirds of Tory voters said they would prefer Lady Thatcher to the current party leader. The image itself shows the "Iron Lady" in the tower of a British Challenger tank in the then West Germany. More than 20 years on from what was clearly a piece of highly orchestrated PR (don't mention the Cold War) the jury is still out as to whether this "Grace Kelly awry" shot actually boosted Mrs Thatcher's re-election chances or whether it ranks with William Hague's baseball cap and Neil Kinnock's beach stroll as one of the worst PR gaffes since the spin doctors first muscled their way into Westminster.

06 April, 2008

Untimely death of Dith Pran

I'm not usually a big fan of Jon Swain but I was very moved by this tribute to his friend and colleague Dith Pran, who died last week of pancreatic cancer, aged only 65. According to Swain, it was Pran who coined the phrase "the Killing Fields" - the eventual title of the well-regarded 1984 Roland Joffe film which brought the Cambodian atrocities to a deservedly wider public. Read Swain's Sunday Times piece below:

05 April, 2008

Or is it just me?

So - what's going on? Zimbabwe on the utter brink; Tibet: more shootings & protests against the stately progress of the Olympic Flame - via 10, Downing Street no less. What else have we got? Putin & Nato; Credit Crunch; Irish Economic Miracle tainted by corruption; Pregnant Man; Canadian seal culls; Darfur; Basra escalates.... Yet what is the image in most of the Brit papers today? Why obviously super-model, Naomi Campbell - as incensed as we all might be at the loss of a designer suitcase - being driven away from Heathrow Terminal 5 by a friendly police officer - presumably not the one at whom she allegedly spat?

01 April, 2008

Inquest News -

So - 89 days and £10 million later - is it far-fetched to hope that the late Diana, Princess of Wales, can now rest in peace? Just a thought - would you perhaps prefer to continue seeing now familiar images of Diana on the front pages? Or are you now happier to feast your eyes on the likes of equally troubled young women who appear to have stumbled into the vacuum left by Diana's untimely death? Viz - Britney, Lindsay, Paris, Posh, Cheryl, Kerry et al? Discuss: