Monday, 20 April 2015

Showdogs: A Fun Book for All the Family!



I was picking up some books from the warehouse of RRB Photobooks last week when Rudi the owner brought out a copy of Showdogs: A Photographic Breed by Kate Lacey. 

"You should do something on the worst buys ever. This is my worst buy ever. I bought 200 of these thinking I could shift them quickly over Christmas. I priced it at £8, but did I shift any? Not one."

And so he gave me a copy which I took home and started flicking through. And then I flicked some more. It's a book of dogs made by Kate Lacey. It is marketed as a dog lover's book and so doesn't have the kind of god-help-me photobook statement we are familiar with. It's a different kind of god-help-me statement. It's quite straightforward really. Showdogs is  a book of America Kennel Club Breeds shot with pop-up backdrops and little doggy expressions. It's a reference book for dog fans.

I quite like most dogs so I went back and forth with the book, checking out the breeds and then I put it on the table. My wife (Katherine) and daughter (Isabel) came through and picked it up. Now I had Laura El-Tantawy's excellent new book In the Shadow of the Pyramids (get a copy if you can find one) on the table as well. They didn't pick that up. And they don't pick up any of the other 'great' books I put down on the table. They don't find them that interesting which we can put down to either:

a) they are not educated in photobookery (which is rather condescending)

     or

b) they are right and photobooks really are not that interesting (which is rather insulting)

   or

c) both of the above


But the dogs they spent time with. So this was their review.


K: "Most of the dogs are either ugly or look sad."

I: "How can you say that. Ah, look at that one. It's got the wind blowing through its hair. It has so much swag. It's so cute."

K: "There nothing cute in this book, that's for sure."

I: What about the really furry dogs. They're so cute."

K: "Toy dogs! What the hell are those?"

I: "They're little dogs. You have to admit that one's cute."

K: "She thinks it's cute, but I think it's hideous. They look so sad. The problem with these show dogs is they're trained to have the wrong kind of obedience..."


I'll stop it there because it went on like this in a back and forth for about twenty minutes. My daughter thought the baby alien that burst out of John Hurt's stomach was cute, so you'll understand how little discrimination was going on there. Everything was cute. Or the flip side, from my wife's side, everything was hideous.

I know Showdogs is an illustrative coffee table book in miniature, and it doesn't agonise about dogs or place them in some pretentious framework, but it was the most family fun I've had with a photobook since Fauna or Fruits. And it's got those candy coloured backdrops that used to be favoured by a certain breed of new formalist photographers a few years back.

So I wonder if the whole series wasn't reshot with the dogs looking kind of deadpan, and the wind machine turned off, and with the narrative broken up with random bone sculptures and pictures of cans of dog food (actually this is sounding really fucking good. Do it someone!) with a new statement saying how 'these images challenge the bla bla bla of canine bla bla bla-iness' and was published by someone ironic and cool, then wouldn't it just do great and be on our book of the year list.

Well, probably not, but what I'm saying is the shift between the work that we like and the work we denounce as cheesy or commercial (and this is cheesy and commercial) is not as great as we think. What would it take to move this from being a commercial book to being a 'photobook' book.  Not that much I'm guessing. And it wouldn't necessarily make it any better. We could just pretend it's better.

Possibly we can get a bit precious about it all, and not enjoy things just for the sake of enjoying them - while still recognising that there is some work that is just unadulterated crap.

But Showdogs isn't. I don't think. It is what it is; a book of dogs, and I quite like it for that.

Buy the book here.

Or don't buy the book here. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Don't ask for the meaning, ask for the use!



EVA-04 by Sabine Schr√ľnder is a book about identity and how it is constructed. It's quite conceptual in some ways because it's based on a series of polarities (individual and the social, location and studio), but it has a heart and it tells a story that is both sometimes puzzling but also visually engaging. The clues click together, which is part of the point of the book and the way it has been sequenced..

There's a  Wittgenstein quote at the back of Sabine Schrunder's book, EVA 04. 'The meaning of a word is its use in the language'. That sums up what the book is about; how people function in (Japanese) society, how they are suited and booted by the world around them, by the social constraints, the architecture, the planning, the way of thinking, everything. That's the book explained in verbal form.

The book starts on a grey sand beach with a woman in jeans sticking pieces of straw into the grey sand of the beach, sand that she is patting down with her right hand. She's not looking a happy camper, but does have a slightly wistful air as seen from the back. It seems like she's dreaming of another life, that there's a conflict between what she is and what she is supposed to be. That's the book explained in visual form.

A grey framed window appears next and then we're back on the beach with schoolgirls whose grey socks match the grey sand. Their shoes are brown and they stand pigeon-toed on this rather joyless looking beach.


By the next picture, the schoolgirls are gone and we have two attendants of sorts. Maybe they work in a car park, maybe they work in a hotel. We don't know but what we do know is their shoes are black and they are not pigeon toed. And we can see one of the attendant's face. She's got ill-fitting gloves to go with her ill-fitting jacket but the skirt has stayed the same. And it's grey. The world doesn't fit and the world is dull!


A child watches his mother blowing bubbles. She's wearing a grey skirt too. She's standing under a roof and behind her is a grid of panels. Never mind the bubbles, the child's world is being shaped already to fit into her socially-moulded template.



We see that world taking shape in a rooftop panorama of a city's rooftops. There are squares, there are grids, there are lines that are straight and everything is in grey order.  It's a kit world, one that you put together with steel and screws and concrete.

To emphasise that point there are pictures of a plastic robot kit (the kind that Airfix or Revell make), though these might be pressing the point. The architecture and the grids get the point across. Mixed in with these are black and white studio portraits, Japanese men and women pose deadpan for the camera, but now you can see their faces and (even when there are lines) the lines that society seeks to impose are broken through a particular vulnerability. The organised chaos of uncombed but not unkempt hair, the intimacy (or intrusion) of a hand holding a forearm, and a subtle sense of the androgynous (the skirts have disappeared by the end ) add to the disruption.





By the end of the book we're back where we started, with the sticks in the sand on the grey beach. Only now there's no hand to pat the sand down and without that nod towards scale, the sticks look like driftwood cast onto a wild landscape because that, ultimately, is what we are.


Buy the Book here.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

How Many Bones Does a Dog Bury in its Lifetime

 



The Bristol Artist's Book Event (Babe 2015!) was another fun event. Founded by Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden, this was three floors of artists, publishers and printers. There was letter press, screen printing and and accordion folds. The overall aesthetic was very different to the photobook world. More flowers, more text, more paper variations, more page fabrication, more colour, more gold and more touching.






Everywhere you went people said 'open it, touch it' and sometimes that was the only point of the book, or the book object, to be touched, to be held to be played with. One stall had book slinkies going on which was quite a thing to behold though utterly pointless - except for the pleasure of touching. So it wasn't pointless at all.




But there was overlap as well.  Eileen White from Winchester made books (see above) that mixed landscape and navigation, the stars and cosmology, all on a cyanotype base. She had an artist's edition of 14 that were going for £69 and if I had had the money I would have bought one. Her neighbour, Noriko Suzuki-Busco worked with landscape, biography and belonging. We talked about Paul Gaffney and Robert Macfarlane and I told her how much her books looked like Kikuji Kawada's Last Cosmology or Jon Casanave's Ama Lur, which are fresh-out-of-the-box photobooks. They didn't know them but the themes and the passions were the same; there was a huge overlap in the work and the themes, only she had more decoration going on. Dutch design was not included in this Artist's Book World.




Similarly on the ground floor, Mike Dutton had a modified book on Aircraft recognition to which he had added details of Broken Arrow incidents where atomic bombs had gone astray. It was all about surveillance and secret information and touched on so many photographic chords (from Trevor Paglen to Lisa Barnard, Lewis Bush and beyond) that he was unfamiliar with but then he was working in areas that I was unfamiliar with.



More familiar ground came with the publishers who made this book on Fear. They went to Ireland for a workshop and gathered together the fears of a group of high school children and then made a book. The strangest fear was a Chinese Nazi Priest, which all seems a bit Father Ted so isn't really that strange at all.





Or there was Red Fox Press which publishes a beautiful collection of books based around collage but also works with found images and advertising. They were the slick end of the operation with a mix of machine made and handmade screenprinted works that simply don't figure in the photographic firmanent, though I'm not sure why. They work with photographs much of the time and with artists such as Katrien de Blauwer (see an interview with Joerg Colberg here) but they gravitate towards the creative print environment, probably because that's the world they inhabit most.


The one 'proper' photography publisher who was there was Craig Atkinson of Cafe Royal Books. Craig said he was doing great business, better than at the usual photobook fairs and you could understand why. After overdosing on out-of-context letterpress and depoliticised screenprints it was like getting your feet back on black-and-white terra firma.

The other reason Cafe Royal Books does so well is because of the healthy pricing. A fiver gets you a book. Not that BABE is a pricey event. One of the the reasons why the exhibition does so well at packing the Arnolfini out is it can be cheap. Sure you can crave the limited edition artist's books that cost in the hundreds, but even with very limited funds you could still come out of there with a few books, postcards, beermats, flyers and whatnots. You did have the editions that came in the hundreds but you also had the smaller editions, some of which were very modest in pricing. The market was made up as it went along because the emphasis is on the process and not on the price.

I don't think there was anything that was stand-out, lose-your-breath great, but that's true of of everything.  As Gene Rodenberry said, "They say that ninety percent of TV is junk. But ninety percent of everything is junk."There aren't many photobooks that will stand the test of time or that are stand out fantastic, there aren't many exhibitions or installations. But if we judged everything by excellence then we really wouldn't bother getting out of bed of a morning. It isn't about excellence, it's about enjoyment and engagement and communication.

To that end, it was so nice to see quite a few kids in there who had no budget at all coming out with little giveaways of posters, cards and flyers. They were are allowed to get their grubby fingers on some fancy flick-through publications. There's some storing up the creative custom for the future going on there. It's a good idea for everyone.


Pests of the North-West by Kathryn Poole


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Format Festival: 'Viewing discretion is advised'


picture by Fred Ramos


The sun is shining, spring is in the air and I have been visually refreshed over the easter break by Format festival (curated by Louise Mazmanian) in Derby.

One of the loveliest things about Format was the mad dash around the city in search of venues. From a room above the Victorian market to a disused phone shop, the city museum, the police museum and a semi-derelict building called Pearson's, the tone of the spaces was continually shifting which had a huge effect on how you saw the pictures.



And with that shift came a change in the language used. the Forensic Turn was the academic end of the spectrum - and so there in the old mobile phone shop you  got the academic statements - which didn't necessarily help those in the audience who were not already converted to engage with what was visually strong. But engage they did because it was fascinating stuff, as was the Monica Alcazar Duarte and Lewis Bush curated Media and Myth - where there was some of the most engaging and relevant work in the whole of Format. But it took us a bit of time to figure out the names of the Vietnam war dead in Monica Alcazar Duarte's great visualisation of of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Red Mist, and I would have loved to have seen (and read) more on the anti-war magazines in Amin Musa's display (see images below).





But Format was no photographic bubble and there was a huge overlap between the festival and the city. At the Museum of Derby, the Sarah Pickering  installation themed on a famous forger shared space with a line of Joseph Wright paintings - some authentic, some less so. And there was a very nice man (Derby was noticeably friendly) to engage us into guessing what was real and what wasn't - and point us in the direction of the Joseph Wright display downstairs and another very nice man who was only too happy to share his enclycopaedic knowledge of the Wright andhis work ( including 'A Philosopher giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun', shown below) .




In the next room there was an exhibition by Sputnik where I loved the curtained off photographs with the content unsuitable for children; 'Viewing discretion is advised' read the caption.




Possibly my favourite display was at the Police Museum, a dark place with of cells and dampness where the early mugshots of William Garbutt the Deputy Governor of Derby Gaol (not to be confused with William Garbutt, the Stockport born football coach who was the model for Italian football management and won La Liga with Atletico Bilbao) were accompanied by period captions that revealed a mix of criminals, vagrants and outsiders which fitted perfectly in with the low-ceilinged dankness. There was also an old photo-fit kit, on show and out of reach under a glass case. Out of reach That was a shame because everyone was gagging to start handling it.





At the period splendour of Pickford's House, it was great to see the story behind Indian crime photographs, and put a face to Sri Aurobindo, while Pearson's was splendid in its decrepitude and featured Tom Stayte's #selfie which was a great photo-opportunity in itself.




But by the time we got to Quad, which we'd saved till last, we were kind of exhausted and the familiarity of the location (cafe, exhibition space, cinema, sharp-edged architecture) was not as exciting after the eccentricity of the other sites. But it was great to see such a range of works on show, some familiar and some not, and to see what worked better as a book and what, as in Tiane Doan na Champassak's Looters, looked great blown up big on a wall.







Thursday, 26 March 2015

Time for a Little Break





A few years back my daughter wrote a little song to celebrate. It went 'Jesus is Dead, Jesus is Dead,Jesus is Alive, Jesus is Alive, an Easter Egg, an Easter Egg!'



Which sums it up really. Yes it's holiday time for the blog. I love chocolate, I love Easter. Looking forward to  the next few weeks, after which I will return.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Drawing Your Daughter's Tombstone



picture by Philip Toledano

Philip Toledano has another book out. It's the story of his sister, Claudia. She died when he was 6. It's a heart-breaking book in which snapshots, notes and personal memorabilia are shown alongside a skyscape of floaty clouds. In the years after Claudia's death, Toledano was obsessed with skies and stars and universes. He doesn't remember those years of grief so in the book these serve as a celestial substitute (think of Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death).




They grief is recalled through boxes of keepsakes he found after his parents died. He shows one of the cardboard boxes and then the pages open to reveal pictures of what's inside; a blue checked school dress, a lock of hair, a picture drawn in felt-tip. "To Mummy and Daddy. Love Claudia," it reads. Coiled within this memorabilia is a tight knot of grief. It's a very small leap to guess what went on over these boxes, the tightened stomach and the spasms of tears. It's there on the page. Now, Toledano is a photographer and a father, so there is a double loss, that he feels as a brother and that he feels as a father. And with time there are more complex resonances. He becomes a different kind of son and feels the echoes of his parents' grief, expressed through emotions that he never quite remembers but he is reliving now through the prism of his new fatherhood. We see a picture his father drew of the headstone  that was to be made for Claudia, and then we see the words Toledano wrote.

"My sweet, gentle father.
What must that have been like?

To draw his own daughter's
tombstone."

The paper is black and complicated and sometimes backed in super-gloss olive-drab. It's the kind of colour you used to get in Airfix kits of Spitfires and Messerschmidts, but I'm sure that's nothing to do with anything. I'm not sure what it's to do with but it doesn't matter. The story comes  through a mixing of image, memory, text and relationship and it reaches out to us in a most direct manner.

Toledano productive and puts it out there using all the means available to him, which might be many. He takes a chance and he tries to get an audience, a big audience. I like that and I think it should be something of a lesson to those of us who delight in our niches.

Not everyone likes his work though. Anouk Kruithof did a blog post earlier in the year along the lines of, so then, there are so many lists of top 10 photobooks, how about a list of a book that you hate. So after doing the books she loved (and it's a great list even if it goes a bit Nathan Barley at times), she did the book she hated. She selected Toledano's Reluctant Father.

I kind of understand what she is getting at, but ultimately the reasons she doesn't like the book are the reasons I do like the book. That might be my taste. I like grand narratives and archetypes. I love Bollywood and anime and Calamity Jane. I am easily moved and I like being moved. And The Reluctant Father does move me. It is a really good attempt to express something that is not often talked about but is a very common sentiment, a male equivalent of the post-natal depression and domestic overload and suppressed infanticide that new mothers so often have. Toledano uses his picture and tells a story quite consciously and to as large an audience as possible. He uses sentiment and he uses emotion and takes us on a journey. And he's quite right to do so. That's what story telling is all about.

Kruithof's post was passed over in silence. Averted eyes and online clearings of the throat gave a "er, yes, well, let's move on from here" feeling to things. Nobody wanted to volunteer their own thoughts, even though there are plenty of people who HATE plenty of books. They just didn't want to say it. They weren't as brave as Kruithof. She had an opinion that asked for more critique and she expressed it.

The truth is photography is full of different worlds; your commercial, your editorial, your fashion, your art, your academic, your photobook and so on. We like to stay cosy in our own photographic orbits. It's all very easy to critique somebody outside your immediate firmanent (that's why saying Jimmy Nelson is crap doesn't count for dickshit!) but somebody who is in the same orbit. That's a difficult thing to do because we don't like to piss on people in our backyard.

And of course these photoworlds overlap all the time, in these little tectonic photo-shifts where one culture comes up against another. Toledano comes from a more commercial world and I quite like the energy of this commercial  world, both for its ability to get things done without agonising about it endlessly, but also for its ability to see beyond the immediacy of itself and its self-awareness that what it does for a living is often actually crap. The cliche of the photographer who makes a good living from photography (that's the mythical commercial photographer) is "the personal work keeps me sane." We all make nonsense at times, but perhaps it's only those who make the most transactional nonsense are honest enough to admit it.

It's a rare thing to get anybody making 'personal work', writing for an academic journal, publishing a self-indulgent photobook or receiving an arts council grant to confess in public, for the record, that "actually, this stuff that I photographed for my latest project is a load of unadulterated dreck! That's why I shoot weddings. It keeps me grounded and stops me being a tosspot." It's a rare thing but it shouldn't be so rare because it is often true. But for people who make work commercially you hear it all the time. From Blumenfeld and down, it's a constant refrain and a recognition of the different photographic strata you need to simultaneously inhabit.

The photo ghettos you get within different photographic genres (are they genres? What are they?) are echoed regionally. In the UK, there are little photo-ghettos in Brighton, South Wales, Birmingham, the Black Country, Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Bristol, all divided and split between little generic factionettes. Oh, and there's a whole bunch in London. Some are community based, some academic, some photobook, some a bit punk or self-consciously cool, most a bit of a mix of everything. Most of these communities don't have much money, some do. Some are open-minded and welcoming, some are more closed. There's support and communication for the most part, but also a bit of bitchiness, envy and resentment - everywhere.

And that's leaving out the biggest photographic communities, photo clubs and online groups that deal with travel or wildlife or cars or certain kinds of landscape. They are the photography communities, the ones that I rarely deal with in these blog posts, interesting though they undoubtedly are. And there's a reason for that. Which I shouldn't have to go into. I already do this blog to keep me sane from other stuff.

The photobook world is a strange one. In this article, Francis Hodgson (whose writing I always enjoy. He's got opinions and they're not silly) wonders at the photobook world and why certain things are considered photobooky and others aren't (the example of Donovan Wylie may not be the best. I have the impression that Wylie is much more of an white-wall man rather than a book man). Like Kruithof before him,  Hodgson asks where the quality is and by extension where the non-quality is? And why the photobook world is not mass market?

Again there are different photobook worlds, and I suspect that Hodgson is talking about something beyond what goes in the world I like to think I write about. The photobook world is small, but it is open. Anyone can join it, it's quite welcoming. It's quite democratic. Anyone can write about any book they like; a catalogue, a monograph, a collection, a novel illustrated with archive pictures. I know I do.

But making a photobook is also a  very lived-in and a very visible process. It's shared. In a quiet way, it can be a performance. That's what both Toledano and Kruithof understand. Toledano's Days with my Father was a hugely successful  project that went way beyond the photobook world and engaged its viewers both through the publication and the preceding social media version of the project. It was moving and, as with The Reluctant Father and When I was Six, was intended to move. He tells a story and he tells it extraordinarily well.

Kruithof's books are very different. They are a documentation of her socially involved photography. In Untitled, she looked at how we curate pictures, how we look at them. And she got us to look at them by not showing them. She made us slow down in our viewing of the pictures. She addressed their slippiness, but in a sparky, slightly chaotic way, which is at odds with the stereotype of the cool design-obsessessed Dutch. She goes beyond cool. Which I really like.

That's what the best photobooks do. They make us slow down in our viewing of images, they build up ideas and stories and pictures.  Few of them are the ultimate finished article. They are part of a way of using images, words, layout, colour, design, emotion and a hundred other elements essential to telling a story that has at least some kind of visual element. They take chances.

Toledano published his book with Dewi Lewis, with Lewis covering the costs. Kruithof self-publishes most of the time. And that costs money. In the past, she's done the artist's book overlap, so between them they cover most of the photobook gamut from the rough-edged handmade to offset, clothbound, from an edition of  a few hundred to one of a few thousand. Either way, within that gamut everyone can make a photobook (and if you can't reduce the edition to ten or twenty and make it by hand). Everyone can buy a photobook. Everyone can write about a photobook and say it's good or it's bad and why that might be the case. this section has been edited so a few corrections have been put it here

It's a bit punk in other words, but with the proviso that we're not quite at the stage where people in Iowa, the Potteries or Fishponds are hanging around bus stations in charity-shop jackets with Akina or SPBH or Dalpine written on the back. We're not quite at that stage yet.

The photobook world is very open and accessible. It's not a closed world or a self-selecting world in the way other photography environments are. We can't all get access to a fine print, or an archive or even get to the big city to see an earth-shattering show. Not even online. But with photobooks, even online, we can often see what is not at our fingertips. There are people showing the work, writing about the work, selling the work.

It's social in other words. At the lower end of the photobook food chain, people are making an effort to make books. And they are doing it in a community-minded way. It joins up and it's supportive. It's supportive for the simple reason that most of the people making photobooks don't have much money, are doing it independently and they're finding it difficult. They're struggling but they're doing it. That's reason enough to support them.

For the big monographs and the exhibition catalogues there is a different market. They feature as free content in newspapers, magazines and online. They have a far bigger audience than, for example, most of the books featured on this blog or on Photo Eye. And quite right too. More often than not the photography is great and the stories are great and the pictures are great. In a trade kind of way, sniff sniff - (the other side of the whole punk analogy is that there is that fetishisation of small labels, the obscure and it could be incredibly exclusive. And it only lasted a few years and ended up transmogrifying into something awful and then the eighties happened and god help us! Who are the New Romantics of the photobook world. Find them and kill them all before it's too late).

But on this blog, on most blogs or online sites, the books featured are made by people who are self-publishing and self-marketing or publish with small publishers. The books they make are built up through enthusiasm and passion and a large degree of trust. Much of the time these books are shown as works in progress, and the people making them put their work on the line digitally as it is made. And they're selling their books through independent booksellers who are as far away from Amazon as possible. These booksellers do it for love too, and add a real personal touch, and don't make much money from it. But they have some fun, and they get things done.

Embedded in this little photobook world, in the Photo-Eye Lists and the Clubs and the Festivals is this basic truth. There is one side of it where making a photobook isn't just about making great word, it's about taking part in something that is very hands-on, giving and social.

And part of the totality of photobooks is the idea that the whole thing is moving in some direction, that there is a development of ways of working, designing and showing photobooks. When I review a book I try to engage with the thought process behind the photography, the book, the way of seeing, the engagement with family or people or place. Or the materials, or touch or size.

It's part experimental in other words. It's small and it's a preservation of our humanity in a detached and disengaged world. And it's enjoyable.

Not many photobooks are truly great. But the whole photobook phenomenon is something that is great, has impetus and punches way beyond its weight. People enjoy writing about it, debating it. I do, Toledano does, Kruithof does.

So that is why I think Anouk Kruithof never got to much of a response to her idea (despite it being a great idea). And why people are not so critical of the smaller photobooks. Because why bother? When life is tough, you don't have much money but you want to express yourself, what's wrong with that? If you're working hard and trying to stay true to something, and are reaching that some place, however imperfectly, why should you criticise it, why should you try to judge the legacy of something that may not have too much impetus in itself but does as part of something bigger.

I can get annoyed by anything and everyone, including myself. I do so on a daily basis. It's all annoying isn't it. But it's tiresom to be constantly annoyed. I'd far rather be happy. I'd far rather take pleasure in life of photography than constantly find it problematic or troublesome. Fuck that for a game of soldiers!

Mudita is the word for taking pleasure in somebody else's happiness. It's the opposite of Schadenfreude. It's a Buddhist concept which is part of a world view where overall contentment and happiness reigns. It's a word that fits Photobook Land, because it is very positive on the whole. "That's a great book," is a phrase you hear so often. And it's one that makes me happy.

I'm happy so you're happy too.  That's the spirit!


Buy When I was Six Here


Monday, 23 March 2015

Ken Grant: Photography's Poet Laureate



I enjoyed writing this article on Ken Grant for the BJP earlier in the year. In the feature, I describe the process of a Ken Grant crit, the thing where you lay your pictures on the table and Grant gives it the once over.

'You’d bring out an unedited mess of pictures and Grant would start talking in his mellifluous poet’s voice, his thoughts weaving in and out of the pictures, connecting music, literature and photographers to them.'

'He touched on places where life shone, where soul came through, and left the rest alone; it was never about you, or the images, but about the wider world, the quiet moments, what you might do and what you could do. Then you’d leave the room, never quite sure what had happened, but always knowing that what mattered was the meaning and the rhythm and the soul, and that what you could do was what you hadn’t done.'

So if your pictures were rubbish, you'd come out of there with a warm honey-tongued glow of cultural references and multiple possibilities, and a slow burn of a realisation that actually you needed to do something. If your pictures were good, Ken wouldn't say much so you'd feel good about that, but you'd miss out on lyrical endeavours. The pleasures came from the pictures on the table.

It was a zero sum game.

Reading it again made me wonder about other crit styles which had me thinking of the old taxonomy of  Nazi General Stereotypes (the shouty, the austere, the sadistic/pervey, the cultured, and the Rommel model).

I think you could probably fit all those into the photography teaching slot, But what are the other types. A short scientific survey revealed these, among others.  But I'm sure there are many more.

1. The card sharp (shuffle-shuffle how-about-this, shuffle-shuffle how-about-this...)
2. The meat market judge ( no, no, no, no, yes, no, yes, no...)
3. The Ethicist
4. The nit-picker
5. The camera operator
6. The do-what-I-do Crit ("everyone should do what I did")
7. The Empathetic Crit ("what is it you're trying to do?")
8. The you're-not-going-to-make-a-living-from-this-so-what's-the-point
9. The It's Shite and I'm not afraid to say it Crit
10. The My Great Career Crit
11. The Everything's Lovely Crit
12. The X-Factor Crit (can I make them cry?)
13. The Auteur/Whisperer