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Buy All Quiet on the Home Front here.

Buy All Quiet on the Home Front from ICVL STUDIO. It is also available now at the wonderful  Tipi Bookshop in Belgium, at Photobookst...

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Don't talk about the black kid in Bath who was chained to a lampost and whipped with sticks

It was a pleasure to see the documentary Being Blacker by Molly Dineen on the BBC earlier this week. It was a very straightword documentary on the life and times of Blacker Dread and the community and family he was part of in Brixton. Without trying it touched on jail, education, benefits, debt, racism, education, austerity, and the waste that callous and cruel policies result in. Blacker characterised the hardest times as these times, as 2010 - 2018, years when it is more difficult to get a job, an education, a home, a life, anything. He talked about all the circumstances of his education, of how it would be a race to get out of his grammar school in Penge and return home to Brixton without getting beaten up, and the relief he felt when finally he did get home.

I watched this in horror, thinking how that would never happen in Bath, the town I live. It's a lovely town, with nice buildings and a spa and a shop that sells historical buns. And then I saw this story on Beechen Cliff School in Bath, where in January a black boy was subjected to a 'mock slave auction' where   'at least seven white teenagers chained a fellow pupil to a lamppost and whipped him with sticks, calling him extreme racist names harking back to the slave trade.'

The mother 'was still “reeling” from shock at the apparent attitude of the school towards racism and the impact of that on the already traumatised victim.'

The boys were initially expelled from the school by the head before the governors rescinded that decision. Nobody is quite sure why. It is a puzzle. That judgement hit the Bath Chronicle this week and all hell broke loose. No, actually it didn't. Nothing much has happened. The advice given to pupils in at least three schools in Bath (including Beechen Cliff) is "Don't talk about it. Don't talk about it. Don't talk about it."

But I get the feeling not talking about it is part of the problem, especially in a town like Bath which revels in architecture built on the blood and bones of the slave trade. You think Bristol doesn't recognise the part it played in the slave trade, try and sniff even a whiff of a connection in Bath and you will find nothing. It's been wiped as clean as the Bath stone with which the city is built. Hence the don't talk about it part.

I saw the story on the school in the Guardian. The same edition ran the story on   National Geographic's confession that it has a history of institutionalised racism.

It came with reason by John Edwin Mason which examined both the racism and the exoticisation and marginalisation of the real story. I'm not sure that National Geographic will entirely solve these problems of representation - they are problems that are endemic to photography and its very spectacle, but at least they are recognising there is a historical problem, at least they are talking about it.

Here in Bath, it is all being swept under the carpet; the racism, the history, the violence, the effect that has on individuals, the schools, the city. It's the universal response in Bath when you get a problem at a school. Don't talk about it. Don't talk about it. Don't talk about it.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

He is empowering Saudi Arabian women

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia came to Britain last week. He had some meetings and appeared in advertisements and billboards in London and in newspapers like the Guardian. The narrative was one of modernisation, of a new Saudi Arabia that connects very much to the presuppositions of the British public about what Saudi Arabia means. It's part of a long-running PR and soft-power campaign that dates back to well before the crown prince became the Crown Prince.

The image featured above was one of a series appearing in the Guardian last Wednesday 7th March. It focusses on the prince's directive making it legal for  women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

This linked up with other examples of PR representations. The BBC's Today programme had a Saudi woman talking about how she never felt any lack of freedom from the driving ban because she always had a driver to take her where she wanted to go. You can add narratives about 'informal power' and ignoring those women it doesn't work quite so well for when the informal power comes up against another informal power, or against discriminatory formal power.

The image above links in to the law allowing women to drive. It also links in to the law allowing tourism (including single women over the age of 25) to enter the country. It is classically designed for an overseas audience.

There's something of the cult of the individual in the ad despite the fact that the prince is smaller in the picture than the woman. He's got his perfect skin and his perfect beard and his  smirk and the idea that he's a pretty reasonable chap who's going to do right by Saudi women (up to a point). But it is a smirk, you can't get away from that, and he just doesn't look that nice a man, probably because he isn't.

She's bigger than him in the picture with a made up face, a few wisps of hair poking out and the flesh of her right arm exposed. So there's a message about who she is and where she stands on some things. She's quite well off (she'd have a driver for the years before when she wasn't allowed to drive) and she's  feisty. Look at that wry smile and those dimples. She's ready to play '...a greater role in Saudi society culture and the workplace' all granted by the smirking prince.

It's not exactly the world he's promising then. It's still the patriarchy, but a patriarchy led by, you guessed it, the Crown Prince. It's deliberately limited because this is the real world (that's the idea), you have to start small, it's the entire Saudi clergy he's battling, and let's face it who wouldn't take the Crown Prince against men who look back at the Dark Ages with a sense of nostalgic longing.

But some people are sceptical. The promise is limited even more by the fact that 'He' is empowering only 'Saudi women', not even women in Saudi Arabia, which is a different matter entirely, including women from other countries. But still, there's the idea that it's a start.

That's the idea anyway, but  if you ever bought into the idea of the open-minded liberal King-in-waiting the next day this advert popped up in the Guardian fund-raising for Save the Children's campaign in Yemen, a country that is being bombed to pieces by the loving Crown Prince's  not-so-loving expansionist side, as though the world really needs another expansionist wannabe-power broker.

That thought is summed up in this editorial from the Guardian. Which of course is the same newspaper which ran the ads in the first place.

And so the circle continues to turn...

Stories From the Home Front: Gabriela Cendoya and The Fullness of Loss

The latest Stories from Home comes courtesy of Gabriela Cendoya-Bergareche  and is filled with absence. Find previous Stories  hereherehere and here

These two pictures are the closest to All quiet on the home front I could find… I'm not sure they are about fatherhood or motherhood though, maybe they are more about the lack of it. 

The first one is me in the woods in 1971 and it must have been taken by my aunt, who was THE photographer then. My mother died young and as far as I can remember, my father never touched a camera. 

The second one is from 75, a few months after my father’s death, and has been taken by my brother. It is about living in a rather isolated place, very close to the landscape, and not being able to talk too much about what we miss. 

I really love the way you do it in your book, showing this strong link of love with Isabel in the landscape, and your vulnerability and fear at the same time. Your book took me back in time, to remind me of the lost moments I miss today. 

Monday, 12 March 2018

1,000 words fundraiser

As part of the celebrations of the excellent 1,000 Words Magazine, there will be a special, one-off print edition, due for release in October 2018 with a London launch at The Photographers’ Gallery bookshop and party at a different venue.

Designed by Sarah Boris it will comprise a front, middle and back made up of exciting content that looks both back over the 10 years of the magazine and forward to what photography can be in the worlds of publishing, exhibiting and advocacy.

In order to finance its production and, perhaps more crucially, to maintain its independence, 1,000 Words are running a Kickstarter campaign during March, via a beautiful video made by filmmaker Carlos Jimenez.

Contribute to the Kickstarter and pre-order your hard copy here.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Bone Records and Hindi Cinema in the Soviet Union

I've always loved x-rays. They are so spooky and great, the Mr Bones of photography. And they are also so simple. Nobody questions the veracity of their basic indexical nature. Maybe one day somebody will make a film where Guy Debord or somebody breaks a leg and rejects the x-ray on the grounds of the indexical film-subject relationship being a myth grounded in the capitalist image-fetish-spectacle construct. Which it is of course.

The film's been made already, an experimental 1970s Czech animation. It was quite good. If you remember the title, do let me know. There aren't many avant-garde movies based on the philosophy of the image and its production/consumption.

Anyway, I saw this on Facebook yesterday (thank you whoever reposted it from Ripple Music's page). It's an x-ray record from the Soviet Union.

The basic story is this (from Ripple Music's Facebook page)

'Probably the most unusual record in my collection! In post WWII Russia, Stalin banned the possession of any western music. All records allowed in the country had to be of Russian composers. But there was an underground hungry for Western popular music—everything from jazz and blues to rock & roll. But smuggling vinyl was dangerous, and acquiring the scarce material to make copies of those records that did make it into the country was expensive and very risky.

An ingenuous solution to this problem began to emerge in the form of “bone music," or sometimes called "bones 'n' ribs" music, or simply Ribs.

A young 19 year-old sound engineer Ruslan Bogoslowski in Leningrad changed the game when he created a device to bootleg western albums so he could distribute them across Russia. Problem was he couldn't find material to bootleg his pressings onto, vinyl was scare as were all petroleum products after the war. Then, one day he stumbled upon a pile of discarded X-rays. It worked. At the time, Russian law mandated that all X-rays had to be destroyed after 1 year of storage because they were flammable so he dug through trash bins and paid off orderlies for x-rays and for 20 years he handmade about 1,000,000 bootlegs onto X-ray film of everything from classical to the Beach Boys, eventually spending five years imprisoned in Siberia for this rebellion.

For over 20 years, Bone Music was the only way Russian music lovers could get western music, which they played at "music and coffee parties" in their kitchens, away from the KGB ears and eyes.

So I had to find one. This is a 78 rpm recording of the Indian Song "Awaara" by Raj Kapoor on an exposed Chest X-ray. Probably around 1951. Each Rib, was handmade, and one of a kind.

Bone Music. A testament to the underground courage to subvert authority, rebellion, and the love of music. The spirit of rock n roll'

You can see more images of bone music at  x-ray audio who have a book out.

Even better, you can see the albums, and hear the music.

So this one is Heartbreak Hotel

And this one is Awaarahoon (recorded onto engineering film)

That's from the Hindi film, Awaara, starring Raj Kapoor. That's him top left in the picture below. Hindi Cinema was huge  in the Soviet Union, its  themes of romance, victory for the underdog and flights from reality finding a ready audience. In 1954, after the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union hosted its first Indian film festival where films like the neo-realist Do Bigha Zamin sold out to audiences hungry for entertainment.

Awaara had an audience of over 63 million in the Soviet Union, Shri 420 (Gospodin 420!) and Love in Simla reached similar audiences as 'Indian melodramas' (indiiskie melodramy) satisfied the post-Stalin thirst for mass audience cinema thanks in part to film exchange arrangements between the Soviet Union and India - with India always driving a hard bargain in the exchanges, but the Soviets always getting the best of the deal and by far the biggest audience - nobody watched Soviet movies in India.

Indian films were dubbed into Russian and edited to a maximum of 2 1/2 hours (Sholay was edited down to 2 hours), but still brought in the highest revenues in Soviet cinema.

Indian films would also be used to doctor statistics for Soviet films. One cinema with two films to show, Sita for Gita and Lenin in Poland, showed Lenin in Poland in the morning and Sita for Gita in the evening, then swapped the audience figures for the benefit of the state film distributors.


Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Restoration Will by Mayumi Suzuki

My latest photobook review is up on Youtube. It's of The RestorationWill by Mayumi Suzuki, a personal exploration of the post-tsunami family photography that Suzuki found washed up in her father's darkroom, ravaged by the waters that took her parents away.

This is the family album as nostalgia, but this is also the family album as memorial because both her parents died in the tsuanami and that story is told in the book and through the album from Suzuki's final phone call to her parents to the images that show her father's ravaged darkroom.

It's a typically expansive work (and I'm still waiting to get tired of that RPS expansiveness but it hasn't happened yet) but so touching with a degree of resolution found by the end, her parents finding solace in the azure night shimmers of the same waters that took their lives.

The Restoration Will is a descriptive title, and one that speaks of how we construct, or here reconstruct, our families in the image of the images that we have of them, that we find of them, that we retrieve of them, and ultimately that we imagine of them. It's what I did with All Quiet on the Home Front, but with a leaning towards the battered British landscape, it's what I'm doing, in a different way with My German Family Album. It's what we do with images, it's a central function of them. And even when we think we are not doing that, when we reject the nostalgic and the emotional, then that is just another construction - it's all made up, and Suzuki does it beautifully. With feeling. And with touch. And with fragility.

You can buy the book here. It's a special one. 

Stories from the Home Front: Stefan Vanthuyne and the resistant picture

The latest Stories from Home comes courtesy of Stefan Vanthuyne and has an eerie familiarity to it. Find previous Stories  here, here and here.

Stefan Vanthuyne

“Are you done, dad?”. 


He’s on a beach in France and he wants to climb the rocks and kick the waves.

He’s anxious and because of that he’s not settling into that state where he’s letting it all go and he’s just there; that moment of mere being.

He is ten now. I’ve photographed him many times. It used to be easy. He would be doing something – or nothing, I would see something, I would ask him to hold still.

For a second he would release everything, let his mind drift somewhere, and there it was: a swift picture.

Ask me why I photograph my children and I’ll most likely lose my way in trying to find a sufficient answer.

Of his photographs of his wife Edith, Emmet Gowin said that they established Edith as a person, and them as a couple.

“If you set out to make pictures about love, it can't be done”, Gowin said. “But you can make pictures, and you can be in love. In that way, people sense the authenticity of what you do.”

By photographing my sons, am I establishing them as such? Am I establishing myself as their father?

Do I find authentic proof of my fatherhood in the photographs of my children?

“Da-ad, are you done?!”

He’s too anxious now.

“Yes, I am. I’m done.”

He runs off.

I press the shutter.

If you would like to contribute to Stories from the Home Front (word and image), send me a message at colinpantall@yahoo.co.uk