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Thursday, 20 December 2012

Happy Christmas and New Year



Happy Christmas and New Year to everybody and have a great holiday wherever you are.

I'll end with my favourite picture of the year, by Billy Monk, from the book of the same name. You can dress everything up, but ultimately it's all about the picture and this is the one that did it for me in 2012.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Christmas Present Idea #2: The Mushroom Picker

 
 Concealed by ferns sat PENNY BUN,
by day protected from the sun.
On most clear nights she'd gaze with love
upon the shimmering stars above.

Tonight she didn't dare in case
the Picker spied her golden face.


 Rising up without a sound
from fungi networks underground,
her friend the Gypsy formed a cluster
with Scarlet Cup and Rosy Earthstar.

 Through the wild green thickets
in the distance
stalked the Picker with persistence.

He crept along with quiet purpose,
boots swift across the moonlit surface.

He clenched a stick,
sharp and slim,
and a basket to put the mushrooms in.


He should be
careful
not to pick
a mushroom that
could make him
SICK!

The Mushroom Picker by David Robinson is a story book with pictures of mushrooms in it. And what pictures?

They're made in the darkroom using analogue equipment and the mushrooms that Robinson started selling when he became disenchanted with advertising photography ( half the photographers in London have worked for him - so if you see someone selling mushrooms, chances are...).

It is something very different and a little bit special turning mushrooms into characters with personalities all of their own, kind of reminscent of the 2D renderings of child's play by the likes of Jan von Holleben,
but rather more original.

The Mushroom Picker tells the story of Penny Bun's attempts to escape the clutches of the evil Mushroom Picker in full-Gothic mushroomorama. It really is something else. 

They're part of a growing trend in photography books for children (I think there's an upcoming feature in the BJP on this), though I doubt there are many that are as scary as Robinson's mushrooms. 

Buy the book here. 

This is from an interview in Another Mag:

Robinson has a background in advertising photography, which he conducted successfully alongside a printing and production business for other photographers, based in a darkroom in east london. But he found the commercial world somewhat disenchanting, and in 2005 set up Sporeboys and produced Wonderland, a series of landscapes documenting international destinations and theme parks, in search of a change of direction. The same year, however, he became a father and, with a desire to remain in one place, turned back to the darkroom once more: "I wanted to be creative without having to leave London and in my darkroom I had a huge fridge full of mushrooms and all this amazing analog equipment that wasn’t being used as much as it should have been and suddenly my interest in mushrooms and all the facilities that I had available just melded together."

Monday, 17 December 2012

Christmas Present #1






Let's just say that Live Through This is a fabulous portrait project. It takes the junkie genre and reinvents it with a collaborative twist that has an almost happy ending.

Pictures come with notes, letters, prescriptions and transcripts of Stephanie's own words. It's beautifully printed and is a fascinating take on both addiction and the personal involvement of the photographer. More on this in the new year.

Buy the book here.

Read more about the project here.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Enduring Srebenica Past and Present



When I go to bed at night, all the memories and fears come back - and then I can get no peace.

Mejra Dogaz - 21 Nov 2010


The quote begins Claudia Heinermann's book, Enduring Srebenica, a book that maps of the aftershocks of the Srebenica massacre of .., and in so doing creates a narrative with multiple narrative, one that goes beyond the simple oppositions of one side against another or the simple attribution of blame with all the hypocrisy and self-deceit that inevitably involves.

In that sense, Enduring Srebenica, has a connection to Heinermann's earlier work Spuren/Traces, which details the excavation of the bodies of German soldiers from mass graves in Russia.

The visual language of mass graves is also there - the stacked coffins, the sheets of plastic, the bones laid out for forensic examination, the staring skulls, the layers of fabric, and the photographs and family traces that the dead/murdered have left behind.


There are interviews with the Dutch soldiers who were part of the mission that was ordered to withdraw - resulting in the men of Srebenica to be murdered:

....I still sleep badly and still have nightmares  and sometimes I have panic attacks and have to go outside... I hardly say that I have had a tough time: the people of Bosnia, they have had a really dreadful time.

Henry van den Belt - 9 May 2010

And of course interviews with the people whose family were killed in the massacre, with people who are experiencing the economic hardship of living in such a depressed environment.



We have 170 euros each month. When we have paid for everything, we have 25 euros left to buy food for seven children and two adults. If somebody gets ill and we have to buy medicine, then we will have a big problem.

Suhra Mustafic - 25 November 2010

I can't describe my feelings, as the words do not exist to do so. I can't sleep at night. I can't stop thinking and remembering. 

Habiba Masic - 14 April 2010

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Joerg Colberg's Grandfather

 Joerg Colberg has a great post over at Conscientious on the search for his grandather, who died on the Eastern Front in the Second World War. 

It touches on documentary, the family album and how to break through the toxicity of the second world war. Joerg is trying to find out who his grandfather was, but is having little luck. He gets hold of some old family photographs...

 
After I received the photographs I looked at them for a long time. Here was, after all, visual proof of small parts of the life of a man I had never met, a man who was one of my grandfathers. I had not known my grandfathers (they had both died before I was born), so the concept - a father figure once removed - itself seemed strange to me. All these photographs, I figured, would surely tell me something about my grandfather, wouldn’t they? How can 25 photographs not say anything?

.....


Every photograph tells a story, the old adage goes. It’s a wonderful cliché, it’s a horrible cliché, and it’s most certainly not true. What stories do these photographs of my grandfather tell me? Having looked at them for so long now (a few years) I’m still not an inch closer to knowing anything about the man. He loved music, I wrote. How would I know that? All I can really know from the photographs is that he knew how to competently hold an instrument and, possibly, play it. Everything else I added on top. Maybe he didn’t love music, maybe he just ended up playing music on the side because it’s something he had learned doing, and he had somehow never abandoned it. Who can know for sure?

At the end of the day, I came to realize that I was bringing more to the photographs of Josef Nowak than they were bringing to me. They brought me precious little. So when I saw Heinermann’s photograph of the little coffins with the blue plastic bags, my thought was that one of them could have contained the remains of a man whose DNA was passed down to me, a man I still know nothing about, the presence of those 25 photographs notwithstanding.
 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Best Books of 2012





 
It's Best books of 2012 Listorama in both the BJP and Photo Eye. I have a bit of a hate love thing with lists, but this year the love won ( aka I was asked) and so I have a list in there. Some seriously good books in there with ( based on a true story) top of the pile just for being so cool. But Billy Monk has the best pictures and The Present is best of a series, Less Americains has the best art history roots (and is the most provocative), Sasha wins the teenage narrative prize, Lebensmittel has the best pairings, A Possible Life and The Altogether the best page turning/cutting design, Live Through This explodes through the intensity ratings, A Girl and Her Room is the best in the world of interiors.
And just in case you missed it, here is Blake Andrews' Best Books list from last year. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Claudia Heinermann's Traces







The pictures above are from Claudia Heinermann's Spuren/Traces, a book in which Heinermann documents the identification of the remains of some of the 400,000 German soldiers buried in mass graves in the former Soviet Union.

It's an interesting book (despitre a few unfortunate translations ), absolutely fascinating in the conflicting visual associations its images of both mass graves and traces of Nazi iconography provide. There is no resolution here, yet somehow Heinermann provides one. It's a kind of humanisation of German casualties, a reconciliation of those who served under a monstrous ideology. I think even attempting that is quite an achievement; succeeding in that is something more.

Enduring Srebenica emerged from this work with a similar undercurrent flowing through it. More on that later.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Belarus, Herta Muller and Come and See








These images are from an album that is not a family album, but Franz Krieger's War Album, with pictures from various locations including Belarus. It's interesting to see the images and then to question how you can have compassion for German soldiers (as with the shell-shocked soldiers featured in the top image) who were operating in Belarus, where some of the most  horrific atrocities of the Second World War took place - horrific both in terms of scale and cruelty.

Can we divide the German perpetrators into Nazis and non-Nazis, into monsters and humans. Is this useful? How exactly does it work? And how about when we measure the contemporary aftershocks of the War - how do we measure and judge and forgive? Do we forgive? Do we remember? Do we forget?

While we can all recognise Naziism as an almost unique murder machine, where does that leave our judgement of our own behaviour both during and after the war? What of British war crimes and torture, of sending home eastern European refugees to certain deaths in the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia.What of the firebombing of German cities such as Dresden or the post-war justice meted out to civilians and soldiers from the defeated sides..

It's not on the same scale as the Nazis ( or Stalin, or Mao or whoever ) but does that matter.In Cruel Britannia, Ian Cobain links the justification of torture in Afghanistan to that in the Second World War

During and just after the second world war, we hated and feared Germans, so we tortured them. Interrogators were told that "mental pressure but not physical torture is officially allowed." While murder was forbidden, interrogators were told they "were permitted to threaten to kill prisoners' wives and children", techniques that were deemed "quite proper". The interrogators read between the official lines, just as their counterparts did later in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. They employed stress positions (standing up for eight days on end), strappado (hanging from the wrists, originally devised by the Spanish inquisition) and denial of food, combined with the "standard sleep deprivation and isolation regime". In a precise parallel with Bagram air base, two prisoners died in the custody of one Captain John Smith.



What did this systematic abuse of Germans achieve? These "interrogations … proved, beyond doubt, that Hitler was dead." When the political mandarins were faced with the horror of what had been done to the prisoners, the truth was too embarrassing to bear, so the British authorities made sure there were no public prosecutions where inconvenient truths might seep out. One witness was advised to "escape" (by walking out of the open gate) after being told that if he testified against the British officers he would be the one spending the rest of his life in prison.






The narrative of the Second World War gets simplified into an after-the-fact Good versus Evil, black and white affair - which isn't surprising really when you consider just how crazy bad the Nazis were. 

However,  the story is a bit more complex thatn that, especially for the people who were multiple victims and were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, something that could be said of Herta Muller, the Nobel Prize winning novelist from Romania.

This is from a Herta Muller interview in last weekend's Guardian

In January 1945, after the Nazi-supporting regime of Ion Antonescu had surrendered to the Red Army, all Romania's ethnic Germans aged 17-45 were deported to forced labour camps to rebuild the shattered Soviet economy. Those who survived spent five years shovelling coal and hefting bricks in a corner of the gulag.Müller's mother was among the shaven-headed deportees, who returned home three years before she was born: "As a child I perceived my mother as an old woman." All the villagers "knew of everyone who had been deported, but nobody was allowed to speak about it."

 Her father, a field labourer and alcoholic, was among many local volunteers for Hitler's Waffen-SS. "It was terrible to find my father on the murderers' side. He was a simple man, and obstinate. When I spoke about the Nazis' crimes, he always said, 'Well, look at what the Russians did.' When he spat on his shoes to shine them, I'd say, 'Ah, that's what a Nazi does.' I didn't make life easy for him." Her father was in the same tank division as Günter Grass. When Grass's teenage SS membership came to light in 2006, Müller berated him for keeping quiet about it. "If I charge my father with this, I must charge Grass, an intellectual, too" she says. "He took the moral high ground for decades. His silence was a lie."

Oh, and back to Belarus in the Second World War is the setting for Come and See, perhaps the most traumatising and relentless war movie ever.

Here's the Come and See trailer.