It’s a spectacularly beautiful early morning in December and the traffic is rolling past indifferently on one of North London’s less than silent streets. I’m standing in front of a large red door, having come to visit David King and his world-famous collection documenting the extraordinary visual history of the Soviet Union. King has been assembling the collection for almost five decades and now it is in the process of being transferred to the archives of Tate Modern. The collection has always run in parallel to his work as a graphic designer, photographer and author – work, it is fair to say, that shows influence from the Bolshevik-era material he has discovered on his many visits to the former USSR, and which he has often drawn from in his books, posters, photographs and graphic work.
Sleeping by the Mississippi has been ranked with the great representations of the United States, including Walker Evans’ pictures of the depression, Robert Frank’s harsh vision of the 1950s and, more recently, the colour work of Joel Sternfeld. As Alec Soth’s seminal work goes on show in London and is given a handsome reprint by MACK, we revisit an interview with him from back in 2004 – when the series first came out.
Taking inspiration from the DIY culture of his homeland during the Soviet era, Belarusian photographer Alexey Shlyk’s series of playfully staged photographs explores craftsmanship and resourcefulness.
“I don’t start with intentions,” explains Elliott Erwitt. “I take pictures and then see what I’ve got and put something together.” It’s a process which has served him well throughout his career as a photographer. Born in Paris in 1928 to Russian parents, he spent his childhood in Milan, then emigrated to the US, via France, with his family in 1939; he first cut his teeth in the photography industry whilst still at high school, then built up a professional portfolio whilst serving with the Army Signal Corps in Europe. Joining Magnum Photos in 1953, he went on to apply his unmistakable style to everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Presidents of the United States. Now 89, he prefers to let his very varied collection of photographs speak for themselves, and his new collection, Cuba, is no exception. “I took a lot of pictures and sat down and made an edit. The way I always work,” says Erwitt. “[The book] seemed like a good idea since I was going to Cuba anyway
Katie Burdon’s ethereal fashion images make no secret of a childhood spent outside in the English countryside. A Cornish native, the 20-year-old first began taking photographs when she was 14, using her friends as models and the picturesque fields, woods, and seaside of her surroundings as her backdrop. Now a graduate of the University of Bournemouth, her practice has evolved into an intimate and considered portrayal of femininity through fashion photography. With a rich yet hazy 1970s-inspired palette and surreal undertones, Burdon’s photographs are elegant in their composition, yet still capture something of the raw and playful nature of youth. Determined to counteract the impossible beauty standards of the imagery she grew up with, the young photographer prefers being real and “celebrating women”, choosing models with big personalities.
“In this series, I dissolve images and fragments of time,” says French photographer David Infante. The monochrome ‘portraits’ that make up Mirror without a memory certainly feel as if they are unfixed, spanning time as they shift and melt under a fragmented surface. Triggered by a period of solitude in London, he resurrected images from his archive, reprocessing his memories by selecting photographs, cutting them up and combining snippets to give them new forms. For Infante, slowing down time or wrestling many layers of it into one frame takes us into what he calls “parallel worlds”: a space to reflect and search for new meanings beyond the surface of the everyday. The photographer, who has just completed an MA at the Royal College of Art in London and is based in southern Portugal, ascribes his meditative approach to his early experience with analogue photography. “It brought me concentration and contemplation,” he explains.
When Veronica Viacava moved to London, straight out of high school in Milan, she had never studied photography. But she had developed an interest in the concept of the photographic image, beyond the physicality of manually taking pictures, and seeking independence from her family, who didn’t approve of her desire to study the arts, enrolled at the University of Middlesex. Viacava has just graduated, and her work has been deeply personal throughout. When she was 17, her mother passed away, which led to intense musings on old family photo albums. By the end of her second year at Middlesex, she had begun to think about the materialisation of memory and “the idea of photography turning the past into an object”, she says. “So that you can look through it.”
The Parisian curator Quentin Bajac has spent the past two decades working in three of the world’s leading cultural destinations – starting out at the Musée d’Orsay, he moved to Centre Pompidou, and then the most coveted post of all, chief curator of photography at MoMA in New York. Here he shares his insights into photography and life with BJP editorial director Simon Bainbridge
On the face of it, Thomas Ruff has radically altered course since his first major series brought him to international fame in the mid-1980s. He followed his portraits of fellow students at the Düsseldorf Art Academy (where he was studying photography with the legendary Bernd and Hilla Becher) with photographs of modern architecture in the 1987-1991 series Hauser, and then began working with appropriated images. His 1989 series, Sterne, used astronomical panoramas from the European Southern Observatory, for example, while his Zeitungsfotos made during the 1990s took images culled from newspapers. Over the following decade he has continued working with the vernacular, incorporating source material such as manga comics which he manipulated into colourful abstractions (Substrat), highly pixellated images he downloaded from the internet (Jpegs), and an archive of glass negatives found in a factory archive from the 1930s and 40s (Machines). But while Ruff is happy to admit his techniques change from series to series, the concept behind his work has remained consistent. In an interview for his latest catalogue he told Hans Ulrich …
“The Face had a different theme every issue and were planning an issue on sex, so Graham Rounthwaite [the art director] said ‘Can you photograph in clubs and sixth form parties and get an idea of young kids’ idea of love?’”says Ewen Spencer. The feature became a regular spot, sometimes shot by Spencer and sometimes by another photographer, a writer going along each time to talk to the kids they found. But it became an ongoing interest for Spencer, who started to pursue it in his own time as well as on commission, and images from the series have now been published as a book by Stanley Barker