When Derek Bishton, John Reardon, and Brian Homer set up a photography and design agency in the late 1970s in Handsworth, a multicultural, inner-city district of Birmingham, they were viewed with suspicion. “I lived in Handsworth and walked to work with my camera, and I felt people were looking at me as if to say ’Who is this white guy, is he working for the police?’” says Bishton. “As I started to take photographs I was aware of this problem.”
Their agency, Sidelines, had been set up to work with community groups on issues such as social justice housing, unemployment and immigration though, so the photographers were keen to win the locals’ trust. Discussing it in their office, a converted terraced house on a busy shopping street in Handsworth, Bishton happened to find a photograph in Camerawork Magazine, showing a Ukranian woman who had photographed herself in a portrait studio set up by American photographer David Attie. It was, he realised, the perfect solution – and one which their office was seemingly built for.
Our pick of the key stories from the past week, including a new book on London’s Thamesmead estate, an exhibition of Diane Arbus’ early work, and World Press Photo Foundation’s pick of the emerging photographers from Asia
“My aim is not to make PHOTOGRAPHS, but rather CHARTS and MAPS that might at the same time constitute photographs,” writes photographer and prolific writer on his craft, Luigi Ghirri in his 1973 essay, Fotografie del periodo iniziale. Trained as a surveyor, the iconography of maps and atlases prevail Ghirri’s photography. “But what if you map his work?” asks curator James Lingwood. “He was, in a way, mapping the changing topography of modern life in Europe in the 1970s and also the change in the relationship between people and images.”
In the mid-1960s, a vast concrete housing estate began to rise out of a neglected marshland on the south bank of the River Thames. Headed by the Greater London Council (GLC), the scheme was seen as visionary; Thamesmead would provide a marina-esque lifestyle with plenty of greenery, and wide walkways that connected housing with schools and local amenities, all set within striking brutalist architecture. Thamesmead was to be the “town of tomorrow”.
Five years ago though, it was announced that the estate would be undergoing a huge redevelopment, and now a new book published by Here Press, titled The Town of Tomorrow: 50 years of Thamesmead, celebrates its part and present.
“Tish believed that photography was an important form of visual communication that could stimulate discussions about real life situations and captured accurate records of the world we live in. She was trying to force people to look at the truth and learn from it,” explains Ella Murtha, the daughter of the documentary photographer. In honour of her mother’s memory, Ella has put together a new photobook, Youth Unemployment, which gathers Tish Murtha’s work photographing poverty-ridden communities in Newcastle in the 70s and 80s. Raw, powerful and emotional, Murtha has captured youngsters trying to survive turbulent economic times, when they had limited prospects – something which has recently come full circle as a new generation has had to deal with the global financial crisis.
“It’s getting near show time!” the voice would boom out over the cheers of the punters. Susan Meiselas would hover at first near the back of the tent. “Don’t be shy, take your hands out of your pockets, take your money out of your wallets. Rest your elbows on the stage and look up into the whole, the whole goddamn show. Show time! Where they strip to please, not to tease!” Susan Meiselas was 24 when she started Carnival Strippers. It was the summer of 1972, and her photography experience was limited to portraits of her housemates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She had just completed an MA from Harvard, yet she still was shy and unsure of herself – very unlike the direct intellect of today, who treats Magnum’s offices like second homes.
“I believe that the great strength photography has, and in particular documentary photography, is content. So much of what is published today, seems to me to be content less. I hope my photography illuminates and resonates with viewers and tells how British society was. And, of my more recent work, of how society is,” says Homer Sykes. he has been photographing British society for five decades, including major social and political events, such as The Battle of Lewisham. Now, some of his work is set to be featured in a Burberry show this month.
Robert Mapplethorpe tried his hand at a startlingly extensive range of artistic forms over the course of his 20-year career – from sculpture and drawing to collage and construction – but it was photography, the most instantaneous and intimate of all those he employed, which he found best suited his needs. Now, following the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and neighbouring J Paul Getty Museum’s acquisition of the vast body of work he created in the 1970s and ’80s, the two institutions hold complementary retrospective presentations, together titled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium (showing mid-March to the end of July) to highlight different aspects of his oeuvre. The show, which will tour to Montreal, Sydney and beyond, takes as its underlying theme the ‘inherent dualities’ that characterised Mapplethorpe’s practice, explains Britt Salvesen, LACMA’s head of photography and the curator of the exhibition. “He seemed to enjoy playing with those contrasts between his downtown reputation as a rebel and a provocateur, and his uptown reputation as a maker of beautiful society portraits and floral still lifes. We took that as a point …
Hannah Farrell’s project, Close Your Eyes and Think of England, uses images found in vintage pornography magazines to explore notions of sexuality. “They are taken from early 1970s’ Penthouse magazines and other adult memorabilia, which I have collected over the past few years,” she explains. “What started out as an interest in the aesthetic of the photographs turned into a fascination with how the magazines comment on social movements of the time, particularly attitudes towards women. It’s interesting to explore the relationship between the evolution of photography and how this is linked with changes in the female body.” A graduate of Blackpool and The Fylde College, Farrell deliberately picked out images with earthy tones and natural light to play up a sense of nostalgia, but says this aesthetic also suggests a connection to the natural world and animal instincts – factors she emphasises in the still lifes she sets up. As such, her images feed into her ongoing exploration of nature versus culture, and how women in particular are socialised. “I guess it …
For the thousands of migrants entering Europe, the journey of making a home in a foreign place has just begun. The work of Aikaterini Gegisian, 38, is especially relevant for those of such placelessness. Her surreal multi-national collages form a seven-chapter narrative in her 2015 book A Small Guide to the Invisible Seas. Gegisian was one of 18 artists to exhibit in the Armenian pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year, which won the Golden Lion at the Biennale’s awards for Best Country. The exhibition, Armenity, is set apart from the main body of the art festival, on an island called San Lazzaro degli Armeni, a 20-minute boat from the mainland across the lagoon. Its distance from the bustle of Venice neatly reflects the exhibition’s theme of a diasporic people – those who have been forcibly moved from, or have had to flee, their original homeland and scattered across the globe. Being situated in the island, inside a monastery, compounds the exhibition’s overriding sense of being adrift. In the Middle Ages, the Mekhitarist Monastery …