Farewell to a Mayne Man of Monochrome

 

Just read on Film And Darkroom User that one of my heroes, Roger Mayne, died on June 7th.

The first time I came across the work of Roger Mayne was in (for me) an eye-opening exhibition at the Barbican in 1989 entitled Through the Looking Glass – Photographic Art in Britain 1945-1989. The exhibition featured superb images by Bill Brandt, Tony Ray-Jones, Fay Godwin, Don McCullin to name just a few. I bought the catalogue and it has been well-thumbed ever since!

A few years ago I attended a wonderful lecture at the NPG that Roger gave, talking eloquently and passionately about the splendid images he took on the streets of North Kensington in the mid 1950s. Even though Colin Macinnes commissioned Mayne to provide a cover image of disaffected youth for his novel Absolute Beginners, he was a photographer who never really got the recognition he merited. His monochrome photographs of street life in the area around Southam Street were both edgy and arty.

Hopefully, someone will now show a big retrospective exhibition of his work, which he thoroughly deserves.

 
Boys Smoking, Portland Road, North Kensington. Roger Mayne, 1956

Boys Smoking, Portland Road, North Kensington. Roger Mayne, 1956

A Photography Festival Extraordinaire!

 

The 50 exhibitions of  Les Rencontres D'Arles 2014 are housed in over 20 locations: in halls, churches, unoccupied office buildings – amazingly, in a set of vast disused railway sheds. Then there is the “fringe” – 60 shows listed as Voies Off (Voices Off) in empty shops, cafés, even the cellar of a private house. And then the very unofficial – in a disused garage, on some railings – even prints strung between two trees on a washing-line in a park. And every wall, tree, lamp post, and hoarding is covered in flyers and posters advertising the hundreds of exhibitions. All this appears to be accepted happily by the town. The narrow streets are full of photographers walking from one show to another.

My highlights were: Lucien Clergue, who showed some lovely prints from the 1950s of gypsies in the Carmargue – a real class act; the Spaniard, Chema Madoz, who produced dynamic, graphic surreal monos of still-life stitched-together images – think dinner plates not placed vertically on a draining rack but in the grilles of a street drain cover, and you've got the idea; and American Mitch Epstein, who showed big prints of singular trees shot in New York City (again in mono).

A nice surprise in Voies Off was a show entitled West Coast by the Parisian photographer, Hedge. His images of colourful beach scenes were shot in Biarritz using a digital pinhole camera. The short exposures produced slightly out-of-focus prints that had a real ’60s feel. Excellent.

Sadly, the only living darkroom photographer we came across (apart from Clergue) was Boris Hazoume. Shooting mostly on Tri-Ex from a Nikon FM or Leica, his well-crafted monochrome street images were, for me, a breath of fresh air amongst the surplus of contemporary conceptualised colour around the town.

One of the most bizarre shows was from a Dutch guy, who had shot exactly the same car parking space, presumably taken from the window of his first-floor flat. Each huge print – and there were easily 20 or so – showed a different car roof and bonnet. Probably to be seen soon at the Photographers Gallery in London!

Nicest moment was meeting an Italian, Beppe Bolchi, who was walking the streets wearing a sandwich-board. Hacked off with the fact that there were never any Italians showing at the official Festival, Beppe proclaimed “Italian photography is alive. Long live Italian photography!”  It will be interesting to see if any Italians are included next year?

Arles has something for everyone, photographically. The festival, which runs until 21 September, is well-organised and varied. From the iconic, the beautiful, the vintage and the contemporary, through to the totally conceptual and almost insane, it is all here. Only the French could put on a show like this!

Beppe Bolchi  – justifiably bolshie?

Beppe Bolchi – justifiably bolshie?

Only the French could put on a show like this!

Only the French could put on a show like this!

 

Stardust or Star Rust?

 

Spending a few days in Provence at the Les Rencontres D’Arles Photographic Festival and distributing a bundle of flyers for my Paris show!

The line-up is a bit too “Photographers Gallery” for me, but out of the 20+ exhibitions I certainly want to see Youngsoo Han, People in a Period of Discovery – b&w shots of the civilian aftermath of the Korean War in the 1950s; Lucien Clergue (a show of more than just his classy nudes); and someone with whom I’ve had dealings. Daile Kaplan. Daile is the Head of Photography at Swann Auction Galleries in New York, and she is showing her Pop Photographica collection – 3-dimensional objects (cushions, furniture, cups...) enhanced with photographic images. Sounds interesting?

One exhibition we will be giving a miss is the headline show, David Bailey's Stardust. I saw it at the NPG in London earlier this year; and though his 60s cut-to-white-background portraits were just brilliant, everything after that was extremely average (and in some cases, poor). For the NPG this was a massive exhibition, taking up the complete ground floor. A shame they couldn’t have just given Bailey one room and used the rest to show the work of other iconic 60s portrait photographers as a comparison.

 

Has the Role of Film Ended...?

 

Just visited the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition – last year they had a complete gallery full of photography, including an information notice that said something like, “Photography has always played a big part in the RA Summer Exhibition...” This sign was an insult to photographers, as the previous year the few images that were on show were hung, literally, on the back of a panel screening the exit door!

So this year was to be no surprise: out of 1,250 artworks on show, I would think maybe only 15–20 were photographs!

My entry for this years Summer exhibition was not in fact a photograph – even though it was made up from 35mm film. The work (nearly a metre square) has the words “Has the role of film ended?” – the letters being made up of small rolls of 35mm film. As a darkroom photographer, I was indeed making a statement – a statement that obviously went right over the heads of the judges (who, no doubt, were sculptors/printmakers/artistes etc.) as I didn't even get past the first round!

An artist friend of mine describes the whole RA Summer exhibition thing as a “cash cow”. At £25 per submission, and a limit of (only!) 12,000 entries from the public, I think I agree!

Cropped Has the role LR.jpg
 
 
 

In the Footsteps of Doisneau...

 

Spent some time reading my Robert Doisneau book about his experiences photographing the Passages from 1975–1980. He said:

“In this aquarium of light, all of these people were preserved as if under glass ...”  and “The magical side of things is invisible for people who are in a hurry, more interested in mechanical things.”

My aim is to capture the ‘magical side of things’ in the Passages, albeit in the 21st century. There is too much to look at for me to be in a hurry – using my 1979 camera!

To think that I bought my Nikon FE that I still use, when Doisneau was shooting his project.

 
Hotel Chopin, Passage Jouffroy . Robert Doisneau, 1976.

Hotel Chopin, Passage Jouffroy. Robert Doisneau, 1976.

Real Photography...

 

Reviewed some of my prints and decided to print two of the best at 20 x 16ins – the largest I can in my darkroom. From a 35mm neg they have enlarged beautifully, though of course all my enlarging notes from the smaller prints were useless. However, that's the joy of film and darkroom. It is REAL PHOTOGRAPHY!

 
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