Publisher: Goldsmiths Press // Pages: 240 // Date: Dec 2020
In 2011, a contemporary artist and a US council of war both made use of a series of photographs taken from satellite imagery. The artist was Mishka Henner; his Libyan Oil Fields appropriated the aerial views of petroleum extraction in that country which are freely available on Google Earth. The facilities appear high res, and, as has been noted, there are less interesting locations in the Libyan desert yet to warrant so much photographic detail. Henner was only the first to make use of these shots. The same year there was a US strike on some of these targets with some 110 Tomahawk missiles.
The same year, another contemporary artist, Andrew Norman Wilson, got interested in the activities of Google, by filming employees in and around the corporate headquarters in California. One important role was to make digital photographs of books for Google Scholar, but those workers were only given ‘white badge’ status, and hence lost out on some of the privileges (free food, etc) given freely to their colleagues. Though his 11 minute film, Workers Leaving the Googleplex, has a wry connection with early cinema (See Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, 1895), its more straightforward purpose is to draw attention what happens when photography becomes menial work.
In Enjoy Poverty: Episode III, a 2008 film by Renzo Martens, we meet a group of Congolese wedding photographers who, instigated by the artist, attempt to boost their income by selling images of conflict to Médecins Sans Frontières. Their considerable efforts are rejected in what makes for a very uncomfortable scene in which the artist acts as broker with the client. And it appears that only Western photojournalists can be permitted to make reportage.
What these three projects have in common, besides inclusion in the book Photography After Capitalism, is a concern with the more sinister aspects of contemporary imaging. From oil to systemic poverty via the digital academy, photography is everywhere. Artists who churn out examples of so-called poverty porn in order to condemn capitalism are not doing enough. It appears here that artists need to address photography’s role at the heart of capitalism, and Burbridge demonstrates page after page that fortunately many already do.
But even that might not be enough. Critical art also enables left-leaning fans of critical art to feel that merely by consuming politically engaged art they are doing something. This issue is grappled with by many artists today. Yet even the high earning players in the art market have a critical edge, without which they would lose status and stock. It’s a problem. Burbridge does not call for the storming of the Googleplex, but he does agitate for more incisive photography projects and new social models which photography can facilitate.
Renzo Martens, for example, has been instrumental in the establishment of a white cube gallery at a former plantation in Lusanga, DRC. Will it change much? The implication of its inclusion within these pages is that, locally, it makes a difference. And indeed once you’ve seen those pictures, and once you’ve read this galvanising book, you need never look at a photography exhibition at your own local white cube in the same way again.
Photography After Capitalism documents the loss of innocence given rise to by ubiquitous images, the digital era, and mining for the components of smart phones. But the book also points to the experiences of photography, those projects of resistance, which might one day grant us innocence afresh.
Brighton Photo Biennial 2016 will look at the way photography fosters our understanding of style, the body, gender and subcultures. It is arguably the biggest visual art event on the city’s calendar, and this year the month-long festival issued a call out to BA students on Brighton Uni’s acclaimed photography course.
Four chosen artists, who appear to come from all walks of life, will feature in one of the busiest exhibition spaces in town. So if you’re passing Jubilee Square, do take some time to take in Our City, How Do We look? I spoke with the talented group at local music festival Together the People.
Interview: Chynna Guyate
It is at once a comfort and occasional source of alarm that Brighton’s sartorial flair extends to residents of all ages. So in putting together her show, Guyate has looked for “the elderly who defy age and disability and dress how they want to express themselves”.
Brighton may be thought of as a city for young people to see and be seen in, but Guyate is drawn to those who have seen it all before . “These people need a voice,” she says of her subjects, “Because they’re just as great. That’s why I picked up on the older generation”
While aware that it might sound like a cliché, the second year student was inspired by her own 91-year-old grandma, who was living with dementia. “Despite that she loved dressing up, styling; she had all these crazy clothes. I just thought, Good on you!”
Her show came together over three sun-drenched weeks this summer and Guyate recalls “going around and seeing who’s about, clicking away”. She staked out her subjects from cafes and soon learned how to get up the nerve to approach strangers in the street.
“These people were fairly rare,” she points out. “So when you see them it was, Right, just got to go and do it.” The result is a portfolio of straightforward portraits and glimpses such as you or I might catch of these older denizens one hesitates to call eccentric.
All the same, Guyate does report an encounter with a man festooned with keyrings, who was pushing his own wheelchair, and a woman on the beach playing a tambourine to the seagulls. “That was pretty interesting,” she tells me with wry understatement.
Old people clearly have to work hard to achieve visibility. But Guyate finds in their “crazy colourful clothes”, an intriguing reflection of our “crazy colourful city”. Expect a crazy and colourful display during BPB16.
Interview: Jennifer Jackson
After several moments talking with Jackson, it seems there’s more to gender than male, female, and trans-one-way-or-another. The third year photographer introduces me to the term non binary to describe a group of people who subscribe to neither gender norm.
“I use ‘them’ and ‘they’ pronouns rather than he or she,” they advise me and their portrait-based show is about making visible a diverse non binary community which was a lot larger than Jackson at first expected it to be, even in a city with a vibrant LGTB scene like Brighton.
Not that one can make assumptions about the sexuality of people who might simply be gender queer: “There’s a lot of people who identify very differently within it and express their non binary very differently,” says Jackson.
Although on the boyish side of feminine, this photographer looks fairly conventional. “A lot of people who are more openly non binary might present in a more radical way,” they say. So, the show is not short of telling details in clothing, modifications, tattoos, and hairstyle.
“But there are a lot of people who are non binary who are exactly like everyone else on the street,” Jackson tells me. “Maybe very feminine, or very masculine. Other people are androgynous. So I think it’s impossible to tell. It’s just a feeling really.”
Whatever the case, it is a feeling which is safer to express here in Brighton, as compared with the far flung northerly region where the photographer originates. “In Cumbria there are still difficulties in being accepted,” they tell me. “I can’t imagine anywhere being as accepting as Brighton is.”
Interview: Sophia Wöhleke
Although Brighton has its share of fashion chainstores, it does more than most cities to redress the ecological and ethical balance. Look no further than the North Laine and London Road, where second hand shops encapsulate something of the spirit of this city.
Now in her third year, Wöhleke came from Marseille to join the BA in Photography and having done so she brings an outsider’s eye to what seems to be a growing proliferation of thrift stores, upcycling workshops, leather workers and cobblers.
With an avowed interest in “sustainable fashion”, Wöhleke makes clear: “We live in a consumerist society where little emphasis is placed on the durability of items. Brighton is a city where there is a trend of people going against that”.
So the well-travelled photographer turned her lens on the retailers hitting back and stalked the city’s most bohemian streets to find alternatives to Top Shop etc: “I wanted to look at it from a grassroots perspective while focusing mostly on little shops in order to gain an understanding of how people make a living without succumbing to the consumerist culture that exists elsewhere in Brighton”.
Most businesses were open to participation in a student project. “The first place I photographed was an alterations place. The owner only opened the shop last year and she sometimes has to work nights to finish her orders on time,” says Wöhleke. “She was open about how she works and didn’t mind me photographing anywhere, she helped me out quite a lot.”
Her industrious subjects were also open about their working environments; “I wanted to bring the different layers of the shop into the pictures because I wanted to get a sense of the amount of manual work and time that go into running small businesses like these”.
Wöhleke uses a medium format camera to capture all that rich detail. Her only remaining challenge: finding room for a tripod.
Interview: Judith Ricketts
A show that combines fashion with the realities of Brexit may sound unlikely; the Leave campaign was marred by many things, not least the double-breasted blazers of its chief protagonist Nigel Farage. But third year Judith Ricketts is interested in both all the same.
Ricketts has responded to the referendum by finding EU nationals living in Brighton and taking their portraits in the city they have thus far called home. Subjects were invited to choose a location that had personal meaning and dress to represent themselves to the world.
The concerned photographer reports a general reaction of shock to the outcome. “People were saying they felt very much under the microscope,” she tells me. “Because the vote was most focussed on immigration and before that they were part of the landscape”.
Ricketts’ interests in home and displacement may stem from her African-Caribbean parentage: “I was wondering how that moment in time changes peoples sense of belonging in a city, because one of the things about this city is, I think, it’s always very, very multi-cultural.”
The resulting show brings documentary up flush against a conventonal fashion shoot. But the photographer in question sees fashion as political. “It’s a complete identity statement,” she tells me, before adding: “Our identities are fluid. They change depending on who we are, who we are with, and where we live”.
In the case of this show, subjects were persuaded to meet in town at seven or eight in the morning and talk about their experiences of the disaster known as Brexit. (“You have to make that connection really quickly!” Ricketts tells me.)
“Most people I photograph become my friends,” she adds. “They become part of my own identity, because I use it as an opportunity to get to know different kinds of culture.” This attitude, which realises we are in fact lucky to mix with different nationalities, is refreshing, even in Brighton.
Our City, How Do We Look? is a Photoworks/Together the People co-comission for Brighton Photo Biennial 2016. Work by all four photographers can be seen in Jubilee Square, Brighton, between 1-30 October 2016.
The years of lead (or anni di piombo for you Italian speakers) lasted from the late 60s to the early 80s. Thanks to festivals in Venice and the anni di amore are still in full effect.
As a result this is one of the only exhibitions where you can reasonably expect to find photos of the Hollywood A-list alongside those of victims of social unrest. Dead victims, that is.
1976 may be some time ago. But the fate of Vittorio Occorsio still provokes dismay. You can see his last photo, a body falling from a car, blood making rivulets on the asphalt.
The deceased was a magistrate, and since his day job entailed chasing up links between a black Masonic Lodge and Italian neofascists, it’s not hard to guess where to lay the blame.
Suffice to say, whatever your leanings, the press photos of the aftermath will appall you. The blood is still wet and the covert struggle between political extremes is still fresh.
Nearby are press photos of the unfortunate Aldo Moro. The Red Brigade killed five bodyguards in order to kidnap this former prime minister, head of the Italian Christian Democrats.
After 55 days imprisonment, he too was killed. But the evidence is not as graphic. The facts of his death are not as alarming as those of the brave magistrate. And this is an interesting problem.
Since the Terrorism Act of 2006, even the attempt to justify the way of the gun is a criminal act. So far be it from me to explore the strange nostalgia which so many of these agency snaps provoke.
But Italy in the 1970s really was a land of extremes. Of the many photographed demonstrations in this show, there are various mobs agitating for divorce, the monarchy and a ban on French wine.
The situation appears volatile. There may be as many demonstrations in our day and age, but the many millions who in February 2003 marched against war in Iraq barely caused a ripple.
If we can draw a conclusion from that, we might say there is no hope and no alternative. And yet in the years of lead, you had more factions running about left and right than in a Pynchon novel.
But the presentation of terrorists alongside filmstars here in a museum library is tantalising. The path of armed resistance is not so far from the stuff of movies. Can we even get away with seeing that?
Amore e Piombo: The Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy is at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery until 2 November 2014.
To those who say, I could have done that when faced with contemporary art, here is a project that you really could have done. The catalogue provides instructions.
Mocksim’s show comprised some 200 photos of illegally parked cars. 1) check the parking ticket; 2) visit the Penalty Charging Notice website; 3) enter a code; and 4) retrieve your artwork.
The artist notes that data is also available about the make and model of the camera used by each traffic warden, along with shutter speed, aperture, focal length. The mind boggles.
But the final exhibition still represents a lot of work, as much pounding of pavements as a so-called civil enforcement officer. You would have needed some time to emulate it.
As social minded art, Contra-invention seems very honest. We do not have many wars, famines or plagues in Brighton. But we do have zealous parking restrictions.
Part Two of the project presents photos of wardens at work. Using another cheap camera (a cameraphone, in fact), Mocksim now appears to be working in tandem with his subjects.
So there does not appear to be all that much difference between the artist as flaneur and the traffic warden. He snaps them. At times they snap him (see picture above).
No one much wants their portrait taken at work. But the shots reveal a tolerance and resignation which redeems this hated job. If you too could do that, then great. Go make some art.
Contra-Invention appeared as part of Brighton Photo Fringe in 2010. Thanks to the artist for sharing documentation with me in the form of catalogues. See Mocksim’s website for details of other projects.