Publications we loved, and the big news stories from the last month in photobooks – featuring work by Peng Ke, Tom Wood, Paul Reas, Vivian Maier and the post-war PROVOKE group
“I see the bastard countryside everywhere I go,” says Robin Friend, pointing out of the window of his studio in East London, where an ivy plant has climbed up a nearby wall and is wrapping its vines around a rusting CCTV camera. “I ran with this idea of city and countryside splattering into each other, creating this hybrid nature,” explains Friend, who has been producing photographs for his book, unknowingly at first, for 15 years since he started started his BA in Brighton, where he studied under Jem Southam.
“Bastard countryside” is a phrase coined by Victor Hugo in his novel Les Miserables, in which he describes the city of Paris as an “amphibian”, stretching out into the countryside and devouring everything in its path. It is a zone in which the urban and rural mix, the manmade and the natural, clashing and colliding to create a strange form of beauty and ugliness.
Founded in 1997 the Pingyao International Photography Festival is China’s most prestigious photo festival, featuring images from more than 50 countries each year in indoor and outdoor venues across the UNESCO-listed ancient city. This year it includes a huge exhibition called Distinctly, which is curated by Open Eye Gallery’s Tracy Marshall and which will travel to Merseyside in 2019 as one of the main exhibitions of LOOK International Photo Biennial.
Featuring work by 12 documentary photographers – Martin Parr, Chris Killip, Daniel Meadows, John Myers, Markéta Luskačová, Tish Murtha, Ken Grant, Paul Seawright, Niall McDiarmid, Robert Darch, Elaine Constantine, and Kirsty MacKay – the exhibition “takes a unique approach to the depiction of Britain and its distinct landscapes, industries, social and economic changes, cultural traditions, traits and events” over the last six decades says Marshall. “The exhibition looks at the gentle, the humorous, the starkness, the beauty, and the realities experienced and captured by the photographers around their lives living and working in Britain,” she adds.
Merrie Albion: Landscape Studies of a Small Island is a concise compendium of Britain over the past few years and is an excellent visual survey of the run-up to Brexit. The photographs examine rich and complex variations of Britain that are now even more poignant after last year’s vote. Images of election campaigning in clean and tidy suburbia, protests, the aftermath of riots in London, diamond jubilee celebrations, rock concerts, a family enjoying Brighton beach, computer screens of the trading floor of Lloyds – the list goes on. Roberts has managed to capture all the major events in juxtaposition with minor situations that are large with meaning, from the dead of the Iraq war being saluted by Army veterans through Wootton Bassett to an depiction of impoverished mothers and children at a youth club in Blackburn. Contained within each photograph are mini dramas, cheap-looking high streets with pound shops set against Victorian architecture. Roberts shows a Britain at odds with itself. Rather than a harmonious society, we sense fragmentation and awkwardness and a yearning for a glorious past that never existed.
“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.
The Portrait Issue returns this September just as The British Journal of Photography launches the return of Portrait of Britain, which will once again appear on digital JCDecaux screens across the country, in partnership with photography giant Nikon. Portraits have a rare capacity to capture a person, family and community in a way that reshapes a narrative or empowers an entire group of people. Each photoseries in this issue manages to shed new light on an individual or group and move beyond stereotypes to find a more honest truth – whether with a Roma group in the south of France, or a working class neighbourhood in The Netherlands.
Portrait of Britain returns for a second year with 100 more images that encapsulate life the length and breadth of the UK. From almost 8,000 entries this year, the final hundred will now be displayed in a digital exhibition across JCDecaux screens in shopping centres and commuter hubs around the country throughout September. In partnership with Nikon, the photography giant, Portrait of Britain aims to show the social and cultural diversity of people in the UK and showcase everyday citizens and unsung heroes in a gallery of the people, by the people, for the people. Simon Bainbridge, Editorial Director at the British Journal of Photography, was excited about the latest portraits for 2017, saying, “Collectively, the portraits celebrate the unique heritage and diversity of modern Britain, as much as its thriving photography culture and the myriad styles and approaches they employ in their work.”
“The Irish can’t forget their history because the English refuse to remember it,” says Luke Dodd, quoting renowned academic Terry Eagleton. If that’s true, it’s something Dodd hopes to change with an exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery devoted to Ireland’s rebellion against British rule. The Easter Rising 1916: Sean Sexton Collection depicts the growth of Irish nationalism, the uprising of 1916, the subsequent emergence of the Irish Free State, and how it all played out in images. Dodd, who has just edited a book of Jane Brown’s photojournalism, has drawn the images from a private collection of more than 20,000 prints put together by Sexton over the last 50 years. Including press and military photographs, amateur shots and postcards, Sexton’s archive is outstanding, says Dodd, because it’s so comprehensive, but at the same time so personal. “He’s a slightly eccentric character and has searched everywhere – he’s been to every car boot sale, and voraciously collected anything Irish,” he says. “That means there’s a lot of obscure stuff, but that’s also its great strength. “There aren’t …
Returning to Theydon Bois on the outer borders of London after a four-year stay in Berlin, Lucy Sparks embarked on a project about her birthplace. “I felt it was the perfect time to explore what I perceived as an Essex renaissance,” says the 31 year old. “The stereotype has been enjoying a revival, thanks in part to cult reality TV show The Only Way is Essex. A stereotypically Essex lifestyle has become even more decadent since the 1980s and early 1990s, so I wanted to investigate this.” Essexland, which Sparks made into a book for her photojournalism and documentary photography master’s course at London College of Communication, looks at the county as “an aesthetic phenomenon”. “I didn’t want to avoid the stereotypes; the project definitely reiterates many of them,” she says. “The images play on a sense of hyper-reality. The new story Essex has been telling about itself is loud, brash and in HD. Of course it’s an unsettling characterisation for some as not everyone in the county fits such a generalisation. But I hope the work …
It took Andy Sewell five years to photograph the fragment of green that is Hampstead Heath, and given that its “ancient trees, tall grass and thickets dense enough to get lost in” cover just a couple of square miles, it was some investigation. For this British photographer, endgame is long in the forging. Instead, he begins with “an attraction; something I feel confused about, and making the work is the process of finding some coherence within that”. For his latest undertaking, he has set about unravelling the myths, histories and impressions encircling the English countryside. Once again the venture took five years, and once again it will be published initially as a special edition book – an approach that worked well with The Heath, which won the International Photobook Award in 2012 and plaudits from both Martin Parr and Robert Adams, the latter stating that it had rekindled his dwindling faith in photography. Both bodies of work engage with landscape, but where grand, sweeping views might have been an obvious source of inspiration, Sewell hones in on the particular. …