Posts Tagged ‘art’

The heirs of the East London Group

Friday, August 30th, 2019

 

A couple of years ago, the Spitalfields Life blog published a rather lovely book called East End Vernacular. It featured the work of the almost forgotten East London Group – a collection of painters who showed together from 1928 to 1936 and who all portrayed everyday life in a changing East End. They were mostly working class, realist painters who drew and painted what they saw around them. The book struck a real chord with me. As I’ve written many times before, I grew up in the 1970s in a grim and gloomy Hackney; a much changed landscape from the gentrified hipster hangout of today. As soon as I could, I fled the tower blocks and the grainy streets and made a career photographing (and sometimes writing about) the places that I could only imagine as a child. I spent more than two decades working (and sometimes living) mostly in Indian and Africa – but pretty much anywhere across the world that wasn’t where I was from. So the book was like a window into the past for me – more because it featured what I might call the heirs of those original artists. People like Jock McFadyen, Anthony Eyton and Dan Jones (a reproduction of whose painting of Brick Lane in the 1970s we now have on our wall at home) who painted a more contemporary vision of my formative streets.

A year ago I decided to try and photograph them all at home, in the studio or making work on the streets in a way to reconnect with my own past. The photographs connect in some way with my last book, The Englishman and the Eel as a form of re-discovery and trying (at last) to come to terms with that. It’s been a long process: a quick look at the embarrassingly extensive archive of this blog shows that I was stumbling around trying to find an answer to that more than ten years ago. See here for more on that.

Anyway, I digress. With the help of the Gentle Author, I managed to make contact with them all and each was generous with their time and thoughts. My only regret is of course being too late to manage to photograph one of my heroes, Leon Kossoff who had been ill for some time and died recently. He had a studio off Dalston Lane in the early 1970s and I remember seeing some of his work of my local area as a teenager and thinking clearly how the world could be made to seem different.

Here are three images from the portrait set of twelve. You can see the rest of them on my site here. For those technically minded, I wanted a clean, simple look to them all and decided rather than to shoot them as reportage, I’d use one or two Elinchrom Ranger heads on each set-up trying (OK… sometimes three) to make them look not lit but as natural as possible.

 

 

 

Adam Dant

 

Ronald Morgan

 

Peta Bridle

 

The last of the light – about twilight

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

 

Light and moreover, the quality of the light that I’ve photographed in has, it’s true to say, been rather an obsession for me.

Working away from the cold, blue northern light of a damp Britain, I’ve been completely enthralled by the warmth and the colour of the light of the South – particularly of Africa and Asia. Sometimes I confess, that concern has overridden my image-making – sometimes I’ve simply not taken an image that perhaps I should have done because I didn’t feel the light was beautiful enough. It used to be much worse when working on transparency film: dawn and dusk were the only times I would work outside comfortably because only then could you guarantee that rich, golden warmth.

I’ve therefore been intrigued over the last few days to read Peter Davidson’s new book, The last of the light – about twilight. In it, Davidson examines twilight in the tradition of Western art, thought and sensibility. It is an extraordinary book and a meditation on the very brief threshold between day and dusk. I realised that I’ve shot so little outside of the ‘golden hours’ that actually I wonder if I’ve done myself a great disservice. I’m not sure that except on a few isolated occasions that I ever have shot at twilight – that briefest of in-between times when the sun has dipped and ushers in a blue sky just before the inevitable black.

Digital cameras allow us a much greater latitude to cover marginal light – sometimes light that the human eye cannot see. In that way perhaps we’re becoming less aware of light’s peculiarities and certainly its perceived technical limitations. Certainly if we are able to photograph more in twilight perhaps we are less aware of its historic and symbolic meanings for past generations. Inevitably, it just becomes another time of day shorn of it’s cultural significance – and hence the kind of imagery that we can photographically reflect.

I’m not sure that except on a few isolated occasions that I ever have shot at twilight. Here’s an image taken (ironically in London) of an instant before twilight – just as the sun is dipping below the horizon.

 

An Eco Protester salutes the day’s end on the site in Wandsworth, London that has been occupied by environmental campaigners called “The Land is Ours”. London, UK. The land, owned by Guinness was occupied by activists who built a squatted village to show the potential of alternative land use.

 

Nek Chand and the secret statues of Chandigarh

Friday, June 12th, 2015

In 1996 I was assigned by the Independent on Sunday Magazine to photograph and write a story about Chandigarh, a city in India’s Punjab that had been entirely designed and planned along Modernist lines by the architect and planner, Le Corbusier. I first wrote about that assignment on this blog in 2010 – see here.

During that assignment, my driver recommended that I go and visit a rather dubious sounding rock garden that had been created. Bored and irritable under the blazing sun I turned up asking for a chap called Nick – responsible for what I believed was a inconvenience between me and my hotel room. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nek Chand, the charming elderly man that met me had, in his spare time – in secret – over the last two decades, built the most extraordinary statue kingdom out of waste materials. By the time the authorities had discovered it, it had grown into a 13-acre complex of interlinked courtyards, each filled with hundreds of pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals. It was extraordinary. The garden had been embroiled in a fantastic tale of urban corruption, vandalism and official obfuscation but like all good Indian fables, right had triumphed and the forces of destruction had been defeated. The garden would become one of the most iconic sights in that city and Chandigarh would become proud of its amateur artist and his bizarre dream. This morning I learned that Nek Chand, one of the world’s dreamers had passed away at the grand old age of 90. What a sad loss.

 

India - Chandigarh - Nek Chand in his Rock Garden.

India – Chandigarh – Nek Chand in his Rock Garden.

 

The telling legacy of MF Husain

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

 

I’m delighted that the V&A in London will be hosting a new show of MF Husain’s work this Summer.

I photographed Husain many years ago in his Bombay studio (I’ve previously written about him here and here) and he was as charming as he was prolific. How awful then that his work, a mixture of European Modernism and Indian imagery, is unlikely to be seen again anytime soon in his home country. He had to flee India in 2006 as Hindu militants put a bounty on his head, charging him with “offending religious sentiment”. The London show is, in a sense, a farewell to Husain but perhaps moreover, potentially to the ideas to which his art spoke: of a secular, tolerant India. As India rushes headlong into the clutches of corporations and those that seek to divide it’s people against one another (rigidly defining those who are and who aren’t an ‘acceptable’ Indian), it ironically may take the legacy of an elderly millionaire painter to act as a metaphor for the freedoms that ordinary Indians – indeed perhaps the idea of India itself – are in danger of losing.

 

India - Mumbai - MF Husain (b. 1915, Maharashtra) India's foremost modernist painter at his studio in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). In the 1990s some of Husain's works became controversial because of their portrayal of naked Hindu deities. Charges were brought against him by Hindu Nationalists but were dismissed by the Delhi High Court. Husain dies in exile where his painting continued to command prices of several million dollars at auction.

India – Mumbai – MF Husain (b. 1915, Maharashtra) India’s foremost modernist painter at his studio in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). In the 1990s some of Husain’s works became controversial because of their portrayal of naked Hindu deities. Charges were brought against him by Hindu Nationalists but were dismissed by the Delhi High Court. Husain died in exile but his painting continue to command prices of several million dollars at auction.

Michael Clark – a blast from the past…

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

So, last Friday I went to see Michael Clark’s new work, ‘Come, been and gone‘ at the Barbican – his tribute the the 1970’s music of Lou Reed and David Bowie. Shockingly good if only for seeing Kate Coyne stuck all over with syringes… (you had to be there). Anyway, I remembered that I’d recently scanned an old set of trannys of Clarke in rehearsal for ‘Mmm’ years ago. All shot on 320 Tungsten film pushed one or two stops… you had to hold your breath and hope the shadows wouldn’t block completely. With the advent of digital, that seems such a long time ago…

Anyway, here’s some images from that set…

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"