“There is a term to describe the cultural ache that Koreans go through: Han. A complex intermingling of historical, collective and personal sorrow, acceptance of a bitter present, and a hope of a better future.” Introduced to the term by a North Korean defector, Herman Rahman decided to adopt it as the framing concept for his project of the same name.
Han traces the collective history of the notoriously closed regime of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, relying largely on archival imagery and found text to probe at the borders of a near-impenetrable subject. The work is an interrogation, not only of the secrecy of the North Korean state, but also of the nature of photography itself.
In our September 2018 issue, we interview Vanessa Winship and Hellen van Meene about the genesis of their latest works, and the backstory of death and rebirth that led them in new directions. We also speak to Marina Paulenka, the artistic director of Organ Vida festival in Croatia, about the 10th anniversary edition and its focus on the female gaze. Lucy Davies meets Winship at the Barbican Art Gallery, which is currently staging a mid-career retrospective of her work alongside Dorothea Lange. They discuss the photographer’s decision to step back from making pictures at the height of her success, and how she found her way back after the arrival of her first grandchild. “It has been a rebirth in a way,” she says, speaking about her new direction, “sort of freeing myself from the constraints of my former life. But it was also about conveying the immediacy with which my granddaughter sees the world.” Van Meene’s new series, which goes on show in Amsterdam this September, confronts the subject of death in an inherently personal …
1854 was a big year for photography. Kodak founder George Eastman was born, and the first issue of British Journal of Photography was published in Liverpool. Since then, the magazine has undergone several evolutions, rejigging its format from a weekly trade journal to a monthly glossy, and changing its name several times along the way. The magazine’s content has also continued to shift. With roots in scientific journals, British Journal of Photography has now changed course and grown into an art and documentary photography magazine, focused on the cutting edge of editorial and commercial practices. However, looking to the past, its most instantly noticeable transformation is its change in design. Staying alive for 164 years is a formidable achievement, but perhaps the key to our long life is our capacity for change. The redesigns of the magazine have always reflected its changing direction and willingness to adapt to the times, and they have carried us through right up to the present day. Here are some of British Journal of Photography’s most drastic changes. 1864 This centenary …
In October Chloe Dewe Mathews is publishing a book titled Caspian: The Elements with the prestigious Aperture (New York) and Peabody Museum Press (Cambridge, MA). In 2011 she won BJP’s International Photography Award with images from her first trip to the region. In 2014 Dewe Mathews was awarded the Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography by the Peabody Museum at Harvard University to complete the work.
“For me, photography became a solution because I could be independent, spontaneous and more creatively engaged,” she says. “In feature films, you always work within a structure and you have to plan every shoot carefully; I liked the freedom you have with a stills camera. Fine art gives you more independence, of course, but it can also become too self-referential, so I was attracted to documentary photography because it felt more outward looking. I was keen to explore what was going on around me, as well as stepping out into the wider world.”
When Polish photographer Wiktoria Wojciechowska first heard about the ongoing Ukrainian conflict she was in China, shooting a project titled Short Flashes, which went on to win the 2015 Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award. “I was cracking the internet but everything was so blocked I couldn’t get any information,” she says. “I was asking all my friends, then I realised not many people knew about it, even though it’s so close [as Ukraine borders Poland]. I was really inspired to go by fear, by wondering how I would react if the same thing happened in my country.”
Paul Kooiker’s latest photobook, Nude Animal Cigar, is a peculiar hybrid made up of variations on the three themes revealed in the title. It’s as if the weirdest and most beautiful nudes, mournful animals and mysterious still lifes of cigar butts have been picked out from photography’s 176- year history. But although the images look old- fashioned, they have all been made within the past five years by this contemporary Dutch artist. Applying sepia filters to all the images, he lends the series a vintage and melancholy feel, and by virtue of the treatment knits this motley trio of monochrome motifs together.
“My work is successful if it is about looking, and about photography,” says Kooiker in his studio, located in a quiet street on the southern periphery of downtown Amsterdam. “Ultimately, my work is about looking, and looking is the ultimate act of voyeurism. It makes the work accessible, as everybody is able to recognise himself in this act. It also leaves the viewer confused. What I want to achieve is to make the public feel accessory to the images they witness.”
“It’s hard to know when to stop,” says Gregory Halpern. “I remember putting my camera away on a trip home and being relieved it was out of sight. I never feel that way, so that was clearly a sign. I haven’t kept track, but I shot maybe 700 to 1000 rolls of film.”
He’s talking about ZZYZX, which he’s worked on for five years, partly supported by a Guggenheim fellowship. Shot in Southern California, starting out on the eastern fringes of the state then moving slowly westwards towards Los Angeles and the Pacific, it’s named after an ‘unincorporated community’ in the Mojave desert, and has a similar sense of the outsider. The opening picture shows a gnarled hand, with a callus on the thumb and dirt in the fingernails, outstretched to show seven stars tattooed on the palm. The next shows stark black trees in the desert in the wake of a fire.
Last time I spoke to Polish photographer Rafal Milach, he told me that protesting the alarmingly fast political changes brought about by the PiS (Law and Justice) government felt like his new hobby. And he reiterates this today, speaking of the “permanent state of demonstration”. In summer 2016, he was invited to participate within the Kolekcja Września residency programme, which each year selects a photographer to produce a body of work reflecting on town life. Milach and his Sputnik colleagues have been amassing an archive of found and newly shot photographs from the post-communist Eastern Bloc for their Lost Territories projects, so he was naturally drawn to the town’s historical material. He was also aware of a children’s protest that had taken place there at the turn of the 20th century, when western Poland was under German occupation.
“They had this amazing enthusiasm; a very creative enthusiasm,” says Peter Kennard, the well-known photomontage specialist and early member of the radical photography collective Half Moon Photography Workshop. “Camerawork contained all the different debates that were going on in photography at the time, but it was practical as well. The whole thing was about democratising photography.”
Radical Visions, a new exhibition at Four Corners in East London, reveals the lesser-known history of Camerawork magazine and its creators, the Half Moon Photography Workshop. The exhibition coincides with the launch of the Four Corners Archive, which has made all 32 issues of the magazine publicly available to view online.
The collective’s aim was to demystify the process of photography, and to use it as a tool for social change and political activism. The first issue of Camerawork, The Politics of Photography, published in February 1976, was stark black-and-white litho print on a broadsheet format – sheets of A2 paper folded to A3, then to A4 – and sold for 20p. It was pulled together over an all-night session fuelled by bagels and coffee at the Half Moon’s first studio in Chalk Farm.
For the past five years, Ulla Deventer has been working on a project about women and prostitution in Europe – specifically in Brussels, Athens and Paris – but also, more recently, in Ghana. Several of the women she met in the project’s early days were from West Africa, and Deventer developed close friendships with some of her subjects, who inspired her to travel to their home countries to experience first-hand what life is like for women living there.
In May 2017, Deventer, who was born in Henstedt-Ulzburg in north Germany and is now based in Hamburg, spent six weeks in Accra, the capital of Ghana, where she focused her attention on the living conditions of the city’s youth, particularly its female sex workers. She recently returned to the country to continue to work on Butterflies Are a Sign of a Good Thing – an extension of her original project.