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Archives for May 2010

Voyeurism, surveillance and the camera

Phil Coomes | 10:41 UK time, Friday, 28 May 2010

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Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera at the Tate Modern

Voyeuristic and invasive of privacy: is that photography today? When does photography tip over the line into surveillance? These questions are examined by a new exhibition at the Tate Modern in London.

The press release tells me that Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera will give a:

"fascinating insight into photographic images made surreptitiously or without the explicit permission of those depicted. Spanning a variety of lens-based media from the late nineteenth century to the present day, the exhibition will offer an illuminating and provocative perspective on subjects both iconic and taboo."

The show comprises work by a range of photographers, from the black-and-white reportage of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans and Robert Frank to commercial work by Helmut Newton via the paparazzi shots of Ron Galella.

It's a very broad brush and also includes a number of video installations. It's an impressive line-up, especially when you throw in projects by lesser-known artists and amateurs and some frames taken from CCTV.

I would add that some of it is for neither the squeamish nor the prudish.

It's also a timely given the recent stories of photographers clashing with police while taking pictures on the streets and the new government announcing in the Queen's Speech that the use of CCTV will be more tightly regulated and that anti-terror legislation "strikes the right balance between protecting the public, strengthening social cohesion and protecting civil liberties".

But where does all this take us? I'm tempted to quote from Out of the World, a novel by Graham Swift, which argues that to understand the real, we must look to fiction:

"When did it happen? That imperceptible inversion. As if the camera no longer recorded but conferred reality. As if the world were the lost property of the camera. As if the world wanted to be claimed and possessed by the camera. To translate itself, as if afraid it might otherwise vanish into the new myth of its own authentic-synthetic photographic memory. As if it were a kind of comfort that every random, crazy thing that gets done should be monitored by some all-seeing, unfeeling, inhuman eye. Not to be watched. Isn't that a greater fear than the fear of being watched?"

Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera at the Tate ModernIt might be argued that the watchers and the watched are now interchangeable. Social networks provide the space for anyone to place themselves on display, to a lesser or greater extent. The same could be said in terms of photography. The old mechanisms of production and reproduction - in the printed sense - are breaking down: anyone can publish now, though for others to be aware of your work, a certain amount of "salesmanship" is required.

The division and control of space, both real and virtual, along the lines of public and private creates an ever-changing backdrop for modern life; the boundaries move depending on personal opinion.

The show at the Tate Modern explores many of these areas, and in some cases confronts it head-on. It's an unflinching examination of our perceived desire to see all, to gaze at anything we choose. Here, the photographer is an all-seeing eye: one who witnesses the beauty of everyday life, war, death, suicide, sex and beauty.

We can peer through the windows of a brothel, see couples in the backs of cars, examine the remains of those killed in conflict and look at the reconnaissance photographs taken prior to D-Day.

Many of these pictures attempt to explore the barriers between the various forces within the frame. The photographer is active while the viewer and the subject are passive. The viewer knows that they are standing where the photographer must have stood, yet they are always outside the scene. It is a spectacle to enjoy or be repulsed by.

Contrast Merry Alpern's series of photographs shot through a window of a brothel in Wall Street with those by Shizuka Yokomizo who pictured strangers standing in the window of their homes.

Alpern's pictures were taken from a "hide-out" across the street; they place the photographer firmly and squarely as a peeping Tom, and the viewer of the pictures is there with her. We only have one choice: to look or to move on. The photograph exists, but what of the many pictures that were never taken, the moments missed or ignored?

© Shizuka Yokomizo, Stranger No. 2, 1999, Chromogenic print Shizuka Yokomizo's pictures of strangers standing at their windows are an attempt to tackle this issue. Yokomizo sent an anonymous letter to potential participants inviting them to appear in their window at a set time. Yokomizo would set up her camera and photograph them if they appeared in the window. The resulting pictures are intimate and to some degree controlled by the subjects, because they have decided whether to take part in the work and how they will be depicted. The viewer is outside looking in, but we know the subject is happy with this and indeed is looking back at us.

Depending on your own tastes, you will no doubt feel at home in some of the exhibition's 14 rooms and not in others, but that's no bad thing: there is some very challenging work on show.

Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera at the Tate Modern

See more images from the exhibition in a picture gallery here.

Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera can be seen at the Tate Modern in London from today until 3 October 2010.

Your pictures of the week: Spots

Phil Coomes | 10:01 UK time, Thursday, 27 May 2010

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Photo by Adam Rice

Each week we set a theme and ask you to send in your photographs, this time the theme was "spots".

You can see the 18 pictures I have selected here.

We were spoilt for choice this week with shots including ladybirds, leopards and lollies.

spotsMany thanks for those of you who sent in your pictures. If your shot didn't make this week's selection, why not send us something for next week?

The new theme is "hands".

Interpret this in any way you see fit and send your pictures to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk or upload them directly from your computer.

Please include the word "hands" in the subject line of your message.

The deadline is midnight BST Tuesday 1 June 2010, and remember to add your name and a caption: who, what, where and when should be enough, though the more details you give, the better your chance of being selected.

We will publish a selection of your photos this time next week.

If you want to plan ahead, you can see a list of the upcoming themes on this page.

Files should be sent as JPEGs. They shouldn't be larger than 10Mb and ideally much smaller: around 1Mb is fine, or you can resize your pictures to 1,000 pixels across.

Please see our terms and conditions, but remember that the copyright remains with you. The pictures will only be used by the BBC for the purposes of this project. Finally, when taking photos, please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

Your pictures of the week: Construction

Phil Coomes | 10:01 UK time, Thursday, 20 May 2010

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Your pictures

Each week we set a theme and ask you to send in your photographs, this time the theme was "construction".

You can see the 12 pictures I have selected from more than 200 sent in here.

Your picturesAs well as photographs of construction sites there are some inventive shots of sculpture and even one from Antarctica.

Many thanks for those of you who sent in your pictures; if your shot didn't make this week's selection, why not send us something for next week?

The new theme is "spots".

Interpret this in any way you see fit and send your pictures to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk or upload them directly from your computer.

Please include the word "spots" in the subject line of your message.

The deadline is midnight GMT Tuesday 25 May 2010, and remember to add your name and a caption: who, what, where and when should be enough, though the more details you give, the better your chance of being selected.

We will publish a selection of your photos this time next week.

If you want to plan ahead, you can see a list of the upcoming themes on this page.

Files should be sent as JPEGs. They shouldn't be larger than 10Mb and ideally much smaller: around 1Mb is fine, or you can resize your pictures to 1,000 pixels across.

Please see our terms and conditions, but remember that the copyright remains with you. The pictures will only be used by the BBC for the purposes of this project. Finally, when taking photos, please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

Standing in the footsteps of Walker Evans

Phil Coomes | 10:11 UK time, Friday, 14 May 2010

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New Orleans in 2010

Recently I was in the US to shoot a few stories and one of those took me through New Orleans. As I was passing through I was of course drawn to the architecture. It's certainly a place like no other, and one I haven't visited before.

Much is of course changed since the devastating floods of 2005 and whilst in town a colleague and I met up with a few of those helping to rebuild the city, but that's for another day.

On the photographic front I was drawn to look again at the pictures of the town by Walker Evans. Now Evans is one of those photographers you either get or don't. Many just can't see why his work is held in such high regard.

Evans is best known for the pictures he shot for the Farm Security Administration documenting amongst other things the effects of the Great Depression in the US of the 1930s and for his book with writer James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

His portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, a cotton tenant farmer's wife in Alabama, was part of Evans' collaboration with the writer Agee whose words gave context to the pictures, he described Allie Mae as a mother "whose body already at 27 is so wrung and drained and old, a scrawny infinitely tired, delicate animal". Evans attempt at objectivity and Agee's personal responses makes for a powerful mix.

Painted Doorway of French Opera Barber Shop on Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana

But to return to his New Orleans work then the shot above of a shop front in 1935 bears all his trademarks from the work of that time. Full frontal photographs of buildings which are often covered in text, usually in the form of advertising signs.

Evans photographs are at fist glance simple depictions of a place. The barber shop focuses on the sign writing, the poorly spaced words, the home made feel of the whole affair, the uneven stripes. Evans has used this as the central theme to hold the frame together, neatly dividing the space.

The other Evans picture below is also from New Orleans and again a passing glance makes the viewer wonder why he has framed it so tightly. Yet, what is the picture about. Again the central theme is the text, the words, and the iconography of the street. Seen today it looks quaint, yet then it was as fresh as a shot of a supermarket sign is today, or a shot of building condemned following the floods.

New Orleans by Walker Evans

And that's where the documentary angle kicks in. Evans photographs uses the signs to signify what is available at a time of great depression. The pictures are as straight and objective as they can be. Yes Evans has chosen what to photograph, editing the world to his vision, but they are none the less a record of those times that should be treasured.

Your pictures of the week: Wet

Phil Coomes | 09:20 UK time, Thursday, 13 May 2010

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Photo by Ronald Gordon

Each week we set a theme and ask you to send in your photographs, this time around the theme was "wet".

Given the weather at present, finding a suitable subject should be easy enough. Turning it into a great picture however takes some skill. I'm pleased to say we received more than 400 pictures and I have had a tough time selecting 12 for this week's gallery.

Your picturesYou can see the photographs I have selected here.

These include a delightful study of a wet leaf by Paul O'Neil and a shot by Rachael Sherry taken while on her Duke of Edinburgh expedition, that brings back memories.

Many thanks for those of you who sent in your pictures; if your shot didn't make this week's selection, why not send us something for next week?

The new theme is "construction".

Interpret this in any way you see fit and send your pictures to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk or upload them directly from your computer.

Please include the word "construction" in the subject line of your message.

The deadline is midnight GMT Tuesday 18 May 2010, and remember to add your name and a caption: who, what, where and when should be enough, though the more details you give, the better your chance of being selected.

We will publish a selection of your photos this time next week.

If you want to plan ahead, you can see a list of the upcoming themes on this page.

Files should be sent as JPEGs. They shouldn't be larger than 10Mb and ideally much smaller: around 1Mb is fine, or you can resize your pictures to 1,000 pixels across.

Please see our terms and conditions, but remember that the copyright remains with you. The pictures will only be used by the BBC for the purposes of this project. Finally, when taking photos, please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

Your pinhole pictures

Phil Coomes | 16:10 UK time, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

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To mark World Pinhole Day on 25 April I asked you to send me your pinhole photos, and I'm pleased to say I've had a few excellent examples which I thought I'd share.

The first is a clever twist on the conventional pinhole technique. We are surrounded by unseen images as every dark corner, every closed cupboard where the light can filter through a keyhole may contain an inverted picture of the world outside.

To see this for himself Faisal Chris Joyce blacked out a window in his house in Brisbane using cardboard and tape and then pierced a hole in the cardboard to create the pinhole which resulted in the scene below being visible on his wall.

Photo by Faisal Chris Joyce

Faisal said: "I was amazed at the result and it's something I'd always wanted to try. Once my eyes adjusted to the dark, the image just revealed itself upside-down, amazing."

Faisal then used a normal camera to take this shot of the inverted image on his wall so he could share it with us.

Steve Hickman has been experimenting too. He used a hot pin to pierce a spare body cap for his Canon EOS 400D and set about photographing his family and other household items.

Photo by Steve Hickman

Dan Bennett sent in a number of pictures but I liked this one as you can just see the shadow of the photographer in the bottom right.

Photo by Dan Bennett

Dan said:

"The camera was constructed using a Mamiya RB67 back loaded with Kodak T-Max 100 roll film.The lens was made from cardboard taped together and then covered in tin foil to make it light tight. I then re-taped it so as not to damage the foil in use.
 
"The pinhole was made using the first millimetre of a pin making a diameter of 0.25mm with a focal length of 40mm and an aperture of f/160.
 
"This particular shot was taken on Southsea seafront near the hot walls looking towards the round tower and the harbour entrance. The exposure time was two seconds and I timed the exposure with the waves drifting out to give those streaks in the water.
 
"Composing the shot was difficult. I managed to make the camera so the sides were roughly in the plane of the shot, however I managed to get a shadow of myself standing on the wall taking the photo.
 
"I then developed the film in Rodinol and scanned it once it was dry. I liked the edges of the film in the shot it gives it that home made feel."

Another delightful pinhole shot was sent in by Omar Kuwas who took the pictures on the island of Curacao in the Caribbean.

Photo by Omar Kuwas

My thanks to all who sent in their pictures, it's a real joy to see such creativity and dedication to the art of photography.

Inside the Westminster bubble on College Green

Phil Coomes | 11:01 UK time, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

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Neil Kinnock on College Green

As I blogged last week the election has thrown up some great pictures and some surprising moments revealed via the power of the photograph.

Bookie on College GreenAnyone who has followed the election on television for the past month can't have failed to see the many interviews with politicians and political commentators that have taken place across the road from the Houses of Parliament on College Green.

This small square of turf has over the years been home to many encounters, yet during this election, and the week following the poll as David Cameron constructed a government, has been stranger than most.

Photographer Stephen McLaren is best known for his street photography, catching quirky moments in everyday life, making the ordinary seem extraordinary but throughout the past few weeks he has made a number of visits to College Green to record the events of the 2010 election.

He told me:

"College Green next to the House of Commons, was a very familiar place to me from seeing it host televised news reports on political matters of the day, but I didn't know you could just wander down there and be part of the whole circus yourself, better still with a camera in hand. So this year I decided on a whim to see how the launch of the election would look from inside the media bubble.
 
"I was amazed and astonished that on this matter of national interest you could just wander around eavesdropping on Andrew Neil talking to Nick Robinson, sit two feet from Mandelson as he chatted on 5Live while eating a packet of crisps, and all the while chat with ordinary members of the public who were similarly amazed to be hanging around and watching the days news unfold right in front of them."

Peter Mandelson

"None of the main participants, politicians, reporters, camera crews and so on seemed bothered by those of us hanging around looking for odd little moments to photograph."

Nick Robinson

"News presenters faces were powdered and hair ruffled just as the camera swung round to them, eccentrics asked bemused journalists for their autographs, bookies showed-up looking to get some off-course betting action."

A TV crew

"It was a joy to follow the cavalcade round and round the Green and I came to realise that in amongst this chaos, affairs of state were being chewed-over on a bald piece of turf over-run with tourists and the downright nosey."

The crowd laugh

"I went down there four days in total and yesterday, the day the election was finally decided, was the most interesting. All the commentators were huddling on the grass trying to work out who had the scoops, onlookers were shouting Daily Mail headlines from the pavement, and John Prescott was cheered by a hundred-strong crowd who were following his bombastic interview from atop the BBC's stage."

John Prescott

"I'd like to think College Green could host another election media event just like this, but I'm not sure it could cope with another four weeks of such craziness. I'm just annoyed I missed Adam Boulton from Sky News nearly swing at Alistair Campbell. Now that would have been a shot!"

As you can see Stephen has captured some wonderful moments in a series of pictures that get inside the walls of the "Westminster bubble". Here are a few more of his photographs.

Michael Gove

Workmen on the green

Taking pictures

Stephen's next project is a book called Street Photography Now in which, together with Sophie Howarth, he explores the work of a number of contemporary image-makers from across the globe.

You can see more of Stephen McLaren's work on his website, I thoroughly recommend it.

Remembering those who fought

Phil Coomes | 11:36 UK time, Friday, 7 May 2010

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Con Glanton

Photography and conflict have been curious bedfellows since Roger Fenton pointed his camera at the cannonballs lining the valleys of the Crimea back in 1855.

From that day forward photographs of ever increasing gore and shocking reality have attempted to explain war or provoke outrage. Yet as Don McCullin, one of the most highly regarded conflict photographers of the last century, noted recently whilst talking about his work: "What purpose did any of it actually serve?"

It poses the question, is there another way to capture the essence of conflict visually?

The first decade of the 21st Century has provided photographers with plenty of opportunities and many have continued to document conflict in more or less the traditional manner. Others have taken a new approach.

A few notable examples being Simon Norfolk's Chronotopia, Nina Berman's Purple Hearts and Ashley Gilbertson's The Shrine Down the Hall which ran earlier this year in the New York Times. All are shining examples of the power of photography, with Gilbertson's series channelling the unimaginable loss of a family into the wider picture.

But on the eve of the 65th anniversary of VE Day is there still a role for photography in picturing and understanding conflicts past?

The obvious place to turn is to the work of Steve Pyke whose pictures of veterans of World War I are now more important than ever as that generation passes on. I can remember being captivated on seeing his portraits at the old home of the Royal Photographic Society in Bath back in the mid 1990s for the first time. These pictures are strongly lit portraits of old men, old heroes, veterans of a conflict that my great-grandfather fought in.

The portraits by Steve bought home the passing of time and that despite this the experiences they shared in their youth shaped them forever. This was something they could not shake off, and indeed a subject many veterans would not discuss, at least until late into their lives.

Now that time is past, and we look to veterans of World War II, another generation that is ageing and needs to be recorded.

There are a number of photographers who have worked on this but I thought it worth highlighting the ongoing work of Damian Drohan who is documenting Irish veterans of that conflict using a multimedia approach. Damian is a photographer based in Cork who is currently completing a Masters in Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication.

He told me:

"At present I'm only documenting World War II veterans and specifically I'm interested in Irish veterans, as so much work has been done on British, American and other nationality veterans, but as yet the Irish have been relatively undocumented, photographically at least. It was a big deal here to join up. Ireland was neutral in World War II."

Despite that neutrality an estimated 70,000 citizens served in the British armed forces, together with 50,000 or so from Northern Ireland.

Damian's work uses photography as part of the whole. Many of the portraits are used as a way to draw the viewer in, to get them to engage with the ex-soldier and hear their story in their words. The portraits are not mute as Damian records their memories and runs these alongside the picture.

I asked Damian what the addition of the audio meant to him and how it affected the practicalities of the shoot. He said:

"I decided to use audio for a number of reasons. I believe that we react strongly to the spoken word, nuances in a person's voice. Simple, appropriate text can add a powerful extra dimension to images also, but I favour audio. When I started this project I always saw it as having an interactive quality, whether that would be in a physical space or online, I hadn't determined, but I wanted to give myself the option.
 
"I've also started using archival material, old photographs and pilot's log books and so on. Together with the audio I think it will help the audience to engage more with the work than if it were a traditional printed image and brief caption for each veteran."

This expansion of the format was inspired when Damian attended a multimedia workshop run by the duckrabbit team. His first foray into the expanded format is with Ted Jones, a Catalina pilot who has an interesting tale to tell.

Damian told me:

"There are a number of difficulties with this approach. From a practical viewpoint the sheer amount of equipment that I have to take with me to shoots can be a little overwhelming at times.
 
"The veterans are all aged from mid 1880s-early 90s and there's a real sense of time playing an important role. Because I decided from the outset to photograph each participant against a plain background, space can sometimes be an issue, although I have to say that all the people I've photographed have been very gracious about me re-arranging their furniture temporarily and I haven't broken any ornaments yet.
 
"I also decided at the outset that I also wanted the highest quality audio I could get, so I bring a portable recorder and external microphone, along with windshield and boom arm, it was difficult at first, especially as the mike needs to be placed really close for good quality, but once I got over my initial nervousness it didn't seem to bother the veterans either.
 
"One of the things I'm looking for in the interviews is to steer things away from just recording recollections of battle or horror, I'm far more interested in the little human moments, so that maybe the audience will react by saying 'I didn't know that' or 'I wasn't expecting that'.
 
"I guess what I'm trying to create is a multifaceted project which acts as a 'document' to the men and women from here who served, and secondly to create an 'experience' for the audience."

Where do we go from here? With more and more pictures being made every day it becomes harder to pick out those of importance, and that will vary depending on your point of view. But photography has the ability to slow us down and make us engage the grey matter, a way into a subject if you like.

The danger is that we get seduced by the pictures with instant grab appeal, shock value. Pictures that tell us more about the photographer than those depicted in the photograph abound, and while the photographer will always be present in every picture they take, there are ways to take a back seat and let the subject have a voice.

You can see more of Damian's work on his website here..

David Ferguson

Your pictures of the week: In fashion

Phil Coomes | 10:26 UK time, Thursday, 6 May 2010

Comments (4)

Your pictures of fashionEach week, we ask you to send in your pictures on a set theme and this week the theme was "In fashion".

You can see the photographs I have selected here.

Many thanks for those of you who sent in your pictures; if your shot didn't make this week's selection, why not send us something for next week?

The new theme is "wet".

Your pictures of fashionInterpret this in any way you see fit and send your pictures to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk or upload them directly from your computer.

Please include the word "wet" in the subject line of your message.

The deadline is midnight GMT Tuesday 11 May 2010, and remember to add your name and a caption: who, what, where and when should be enough, though the more details you give, the better your chance of being selected.

We will publish a selection of your photos this time next week.

If you want to plan ahead, you can see a list of the upcoming themes on this page.

Files should be sent as JPEGs. They shouldn't be larger than 10Mb and ideally much smaller: around 1Mb is fine, or you can resize your pictures to 1,000 pixels across.

Please see our terms and conditions, but remember that the copyright remains with you. The pictures will only be used by the BBC for the purposes of this project. Finally, when taking photos, please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

Election 2010: Some extras

Phil Coomes | 09:29 UK time, Wednesday, 5 May 2010

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As you can imagine, we have received thousands of pictures on the photo-wire services relating to the election over the past month.

Among them are many photographs taken in everyday situations as the potential members of Parliament go about campaigning. Most aim to illustrate a moment, to show who was where and what they were doing.

Despite the media scrum surrounding the three main party leaders as they make their way around the country, some photographers have managed to catch the would-be PMs looking isolated or disconnected from their surroundings, often as though they are extras on the scene.

When these pictures are removed from context, they have an element of the surreal. It's not just the party leaders. From former prime ministers to potential chancellors, all can appear in ways that can surprise. Below are some little visual treats that I thought I'd share.

David Cameron visiting a social action project in Blackpool

Gordon Brown at the Siemens factory in Manchester

Nick Clegg plays tag rugby against the Leeds Rhinos under 10s during a visit to the club

Conservative party activists wave to a helicopter carrying William Hague and Annabel Goldie in Stirling

Harriet Harman talks to women with children in the garden of Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow

Former Liberal Democrat party leader Paddy Ashdown in Bideford

David Cameron is watched by his wife Samantha during their visit to a parenting resource centre in Halifax

Gordon Brown is watched by his wife Sarah Brown as he speaks to supporters in the garden of Arnold Mill Primary School

Nick Clegg at a Town Hall meeting in Redcar

Conservative George Osborne tours the workshops of Squires Gear and Engineering Ltd in Coventry

Tony Blair campaigns with Jacqui Smith in Redditch

Alan Reid, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll and Bute, meets constituents as he walks beside Loch Etive

Conservative Party leader David Cameron, right, and his wife Samantha walk in Newquay, Cornwall

People look across as Gordon Brown as he talks to residents on the balcony of their newly built flat in London

Nick Clegg prepares for interviews during a visit to Norwich

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