Starting out in his father’s carpentry workshop, Ken Grant first pursued his interest in photography through a two-year technical course, studying with unemployed shipyard labourers in the mid-1980s. He’s now a respected documentary photographer who also teaches at the Belfast School of Art; as his work on New Brighton goes on show alongside his early mentors Tom Wood and Martin Parr, and BJP caught up with him on his approach to pedagogy
Four years ago, British Journal of Photography dedicated an issue to photography education, in response to the direction that things were going in the UK; university fees were rocketing, resources were being cut, and teaching was being refocused on lectures and distance learning. Every year since, the education issue has presented an alternative to this limited approach, focusing on teachers who mentor and encourage experimentation. Something they all have in common, besides their reputation for guiding and inspiring students, is a clearly understood philosophy, which informs their unique learning environment and leads to specific goals, modules and exercises that are carefully honed over years. In this issue, Aaron Schuman talks to acclaimed photographer, book-maker and educator Jason Fulford about his approach to teaching workshops, and their relationship to his own photographic practice. A guiding light in education, Fulford explains the overarching progression of these workshops, and his improvisation technique within this structure. Daniel Boetker-Smith profiles Yumi Goto’s “fortress” in Tokyo, finding out the secret to the success of her highly coveted workshops at the Reminders …
In 2020 skateboarding will become an Olympic sport for the first time, joining the Games in Tokyo alongside surfing, karate and sport climbing. It’s big step for a sport that’s always been associated with the counter culture – with, as a new exhibition of skate photography puts it, going Against the Grain.
Including images by photographers such as Spike Jonze, C. R. Stecyk III, and Glen E. Friedman, Against the Grain: Skate Culture and the Camera traces the history of skateboarding, from the empty Californian pools of the 1970s to the now world-famous Palace Wayward Boys Choir – a London-based crew whose member Lev Tanju founded a wildly successful skateboard and clothing brand.
It’s disconcerting to think how years of work and effort, of countless hours spent practising and honing a skill, can be wrenched away from any of us in just a few minutes of misfortune. It’s also, for any of us used to good health, troubling to consider how reliant we are on the basic functionality of our bodies. A photographer, for example, needs to be able to hold a camera, to have the strength to frame a shot and time the click of the shutter in the heat of the moment. Shorn of that basic ability, what are we left with? Early one morning in May 2015, Sim had to face that exact question.
She was on assignment for a French newspaper, travelling to the Tumen Economic Development Zone, a government-owned complex of Chinese factories on the edge of the border with North Korea. Tumen employed North Korean labourers who, with state sanctioning, would be sent to live and work in the economic zone. The brief was to capture how North Korea and China trade. This place seemed like the perfect microcosm for that complex relationship – the makings of great pictures.
Entering Tumen with her driver and colleagues from Le Monde, she failed to spot a sign that read: “No smoking, photography, or practising driving”. As they approached the factories, the car passed a small group of women in black jumpsuits, knelt by the roadside picking weeds from the ground. Sitting in the driver’s seat with the window wound down, Sim instinctively raised her camera and fired off a couple of shots. “Almost immediately, the women turned around, ran towards the cab, and reached into the car,” she wrote in an article for ChinaFile, recounting events.
“Contrast, characters, dark humour, forms, shapes, awkward gestures and actions interest me,” says Noma Osula. In his portraits, the Nigerian photographer punctures the staid conventions of portraiture with playful gestures. A man, hands folded formally on his lap, blows a chewing-gum bubble; a woman, resplendent in a jade-green dress and doused in a painterly light, sucks on a red lollipop. At just 25, Osula’s sharp eye for colour and atmosphere already makes for a distinctly offbeat aesthetic. Using his vision to counter mainstream narratives has been an important drive for Osula, and a crucial part of his development as an artist. “First, it was changing the narrative of the so-called ‘Africa stigma’, then embracing imperfection, just like the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi,” he explains. “This projection of Africa as a completely dark and primitive continent, as well as what we represent, is obviously incomplete and inaccurate.”
The “fictive hellhole” of Soham Gupta’s Angst makes for challenging viewing. Since 2013, with the night as his backdrop, the 29-year-old has been creating a haunting constellation of portraits of those living on the margins of Calcutta society. Drawing on a troubled youth spent struggling with societal expectations, Angst is a despairing, personal reckoning with a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are neglected. The project started following a workshop with Antoine d’Agata and Sohrab Hura (a Ones To Watch in 2011) in Cambodia, where Gupta was encouraged to move away from his background in photojournalism and build on his innate interest in loneliness and vulnerability. Setting out on his own nocturnal journey through the streets of his hometown, Gupta began photographing and writing short fictional texts about the people he encountered. After instigating conversation, he would then collaborate with them to create a portrait.
José David Valiente’s graphic flash-lit images render his native Spain in an uncanny light. Drawn to the peculiar and mysterious, his projects steer towards the oddities of everyday human behaviour. From documenting the surreal atmosphere and prized pigs of the Semana Porcina – an annual food-farming fair held in his hometown, Lorca – to capturing the dark energy of the underground punk scene, the 31-year-old’s offbeat vision sheds light on diverse aspects of Spanish society.
“They’re all driven by motivations that are both personal and political to a degree, and they are all self-initiated projects,” says curator Alona Pardo of the photographers in the show Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins. “Some may have started as commissions, but very early on took on a life of their own. It was interesting to think about the role of the photographer, because often the photographer hides behind the camera as a facade. There is also an interesting subtext of the photographer occupying the position of an outsider within mainstream society. They are there, assertively documenting the world.”
Roland Barthes’ tear-jerking account of his confrontation with his mother’s photograph captures the emotions that a picture of a loved one can evoke, and the significance of a family photograph. From early formal portraits of upper-class families shot in studios to contemporary snaps, images have welded families together under the premise of memory. But with private pictures now becoming more public, family photographs are evolving in the way we document our histories. Rie Yamada’s family photographs take it a step further: instead of documenting her nearest and dearest, in her series Familie werden (which translates as Become a family), the photographer plays every relative herself, highlighting gender stereotypes and social archetypes with a good dose of hilarity and absurdity.
Nadine Ijewere has been interested in fashion imagery since she was a girl but it wasn’t until she studied photography at the London College of Fashion that she began to pick up on some of its more unsettling undertones – particularly the stereotypes used in the portrayal of non-Western cultures. The Misrepresentation of Representation, an early project that she completed at university reflected on Orientalism and how it came to rigidly define certain cultures for a Western audience.