Category Archives: Gallery visits

Martin Parr : Black Country Stories. Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Visited Thursday 6/8/15

Parr was initially commissioned by Multistory to document daily life in Sandwell , a district in the Black Country , over a twelve month period. The project was so successful locally that Parr continued to travel across the whole area known as the Black Country , which includes Wolverhampton , Dudley and Walsall.

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I went with my husband and we were initially the only two people looking around the free exhibit , which was great as we could spend longer viewing the images and it gave us a chance to chat with the curator . He told us the exhibition , which had initially been busy in the opening weeks , had become rather quieter recently with visitors frequently looking in briefly then walking straight out again . Maybe some visitors , unfamiliar with Parr’s photography , were expecting perhaps more scenic images , not ones like this here , which I think exemplifies Parr’s ability to notice and give significance to the mundane. The plastic bags were left over chairs by West Bromwich football fans (known as Baggies ) following a match with Wolverhampton , the connotation simply sublime !

The image of Wolves football fans–see above at the top of the page – was our favourite. Printed large scale the detail was incredible , not something that can be appreciated simply by looking at it on a screen or in a book . It was hung on a back wall , not immediately on view when entering the display area , and the curator agreed with us that this should have been placed at the entrance to the exhibit as it has such an imposing presence.

There was a selection of other large scale and slightly smaller prints arranged around the white walled display area.The Black Country has a large diverse multi-cultural population and the portraits were both eclectic and visually outstanding see image here . I found his portraiture exceptional and not something I was expecting to discover.

The area was once one of the most industrialised in the country but no working coal mines remain and many of the traditional industries are in decline and have gone. However smaller factories remain and prosper , Parr’s large scale image of father and son see here was particularly cogent .

My iPhone images below are not particular good but give an idea of the exhibition lay out.




The Wolverhampton Archive

An entire wall was covered in hundreds of smaller prints , and the curator , a Parr fan, told us his favourite Parr image from the selection on the wall changes from week to week . This week his choice was of a notice in a shop window asking women to donate old bras for charity . The humour is subtle , as he pointed out the bras provide support in two senses of the word , not something I initially picked up on !

To make the archive accessible Parr arranged for copies of 10 x 8 inch prints to be available to buy for £12 each with a maximum of four per person. I was going to purchase some for myself but unfortunately they were all sold out but I am not sure how I would have been able to chose just four out of the available prints though !

Parr 2
Four short films made by Parr were included in the exhibition but we only had time to watch two:
Turkey & Tinsel & Tudor Crystal .

Link to short clips of the films here

Turkey and Tinsel
Follows a group of pensioners from their Black Country homes on a trip to Weston-Super-Mare.The film was a mix of laugh out loud moments with moments of pure pathos as they celebrated Christmas and New Year in November. The music accompanying the film was interesting — In the Bleak Midwinter accompanying sombre scenes of the desolate winter seaside and the ageing guests whilst the pensioners dancing to Show Me the Way to Amarillo brought to mind Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights ! A few people ambled in whilst we were watching it but did not stay to watch the film in its entirety–we loved it.

Tudor Crystal
A more serious but interesting film about a firm of traditional Glassmakers based in Stourbridge .

I wish we had allowed more time to be able to watch the other two films.

Oral histories were also available to listen to describing life and memories of the Black Country.

The combination of prints , film and audio form a comprehensive documentary and additionally an important archive of the Black Country, well worth a visit. Parr’s short video below is also well worth watching and gives an insight into his working method. A book is available and I shall probably buy it as I really enjoyed the exhibition.
Accessed 8/7/15
Accessed 8/7/15
Accessed 8/7/15
Accessed 8/7/15


Martin Parr : The Non-Comformists

Exhibition at Compton Verney , Warwickshire.

Visited Sunday 31st May 2015

Martin Parr.The Non-Conformists

Martin Parr is best known for his colour photography but his first significant body of work from the mid 70’s was the B&W images taken between 1975 and 1980 of Hebdon Bridge and the Calder Valley , Yorkshire . Having completed his art studies Parr moved to the area he then documented. His images of the surrounding landscape and its inhabitants record a very traditional British way of life that was already in decline.

I found it very different to his distinctive later work that I am more familiar with . I like Parr’s luridly saturated candid documentary style but these are much gentler observations , the humour more subtle. There is also a poignancy , a glimpse of a lost social landscape and tightly knit communities that now hardly exist.

The exhibited 75 images accompanied with wonderful descriptive text written by his wife Susie were displayed in three interconnecting areas. On reading that the roomful of elderly men seen in one image were all members of The Ancient Order of Hen Pecked Husbands at their AGM made me (& my husband) laugh out loud , the context changed by the additional information    .

Cleverly observed and using juxtaposition a well dressed woman sugars her tea beneath a frieze of The Last Supper at Boulderclough Methodist Chapel , .

Whilst a young boy in shorts aims a toy machine gun at an outdoor service of three chapels from behind a cenotaph.

At the head of queue outside a picture house waiting to see Jaws is a young girl , mouth open and teeth bared , that seems to mimic the poster behind.

Two elderly ladies appear to be asleep at the Mankinholes Methodist Chapel ,  a funny but strangely touching image too.

Also on display were the winning entries from the Compton Verney 2015 photography competition ‘A Sense of Britain’. It is interesting to compare how each finalist interpreted the brief, my personal favourite is the middle image below. Isolated between two rather large individuals casually dressed in bright yellow tops sits a well dressed Sikh gentleman , the epitome of a well dressed Englishman in his suit , gazing ahead as pigeons peck around his well shod feet. A comment on our multi-cultured nation and a clever observation of modern-day Britishness.

Compton Verney


Close and Far Russian Photography Now

Close and Far Russian Photography Now
Mead Gallery
Warwick Arts Centre
University of Warwick

Scan Russian

I visited the exhibition on Saturday 7th February 2015.

The exhibition featured work by contemporary Russian artists and re-discovered work by the Russian pre-Revolutionary photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944)

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II to record his expansive empire, something Prokudin-Gorsky had long aspired to achieve. From an aristocratic family he was at the forefront of the development of colour photography. He set up a studio in St Petersburg in 1901 , and in 1902 spent six weeks in Berlin studying the colour process with Adolf Mieth , the foremost practitioner of colour photography of the time. A colour portrait of Leo Tolstoy in 1908 ensured Prokudin-Gorsky’s recognition helping him gain the patronage he needed to travel across the diverse Russian landscape. Between 1909 and 1915 he travelled Russia’s vast landscape , a pioneer who captured images of a people and place that were previously un-recorded and unknown.

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The images , about 4×6 , were beautiful to look at with their rich deeply saturated tones and look thoroughly modern . I found it hard to believe they had been taken over 100 years ago. The method he used is know as colour separation or three-colour photography. Three exposures of each subject , at about one second intervals , were made on a glass plate that was re-positioned following each exposure using a different colour filter , red , blue or green. His subjects would have needed to stand incredibly still to avoid becoming a mere blur.

Prokudin-Gorsky was only able to travel extensively with the Tsars’s explicit authorisation and similarly prior to the collapse of the Soviet regime travel was still extremely difficult. Photography was heavily restricted and what could be recorded was censored. Hence between 1917 and 1980 , unlike the photography of the British and American documentarists during this period , there is very little Russian imagery of the day to day lives of the Russian population.

Olya Ivanova b1981 Moscow.

Olya Ivanov’s series Kich Gorodok (a Russian village North of Moscow ) recorded the typical inhabitants , their homes and landscape . The large scale printed portraits are in the style of traditional turn-of the-century professional photographers . Her subjects , in their best clothes and pensive faces , do not look that dissimilar to those captured by Prokudin-Gorsky a century before , almost suggesting that nothing has changed. But the kitsch interiors of the villagers homes reveal the advance of modernity , traditional icons of Russian culture share the space with glossy magazine images displayed on walls.

Alexander Gronsky b1980 Estonia

Gronsky’s series Pastoral was fascinating . The large images showing the gradual encroachment of the Russian countryside by building work , unsightly high-rise buildings , cranes and rubbish could probably be considered ugly but were surprisingly beautiful too. Local inhabitants are captured enjoying their free-time , swimming , sunbathing and picnicking amongst the debris surrounding them. Stylistically the images mimic the idealised pastoral paintings of the 17th Century but cleverly subvert them. For his series Reconstruction Gronsky recorded the activities of amateur war re-enactors . Each Reconstruction is made up of three individual images that when viewed together form an unbroken fragment of time.

Max Sher b1975 St Petersburgh

Palimpsest—something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. Everyday day life in Russia is the subject of Sher’s series Russian Palimpsest. The images were printed small and I needed to get really close-up to in order to view them properly. Sher began his project of photographing Russian cities in 2010 , some never having been photographed prior to this. His analytical method of recording , what are not aesthetically beautiful places , reveals the influence of previous regimes on the Russian landscape.

True to life? Photography from the Middle East. Birmingham Art Gallery

26th October 2014 . Visit to the Birmingham Art Gallery this morning to see a very interesting exhibition of Middle Eastern photography.

The exhibition featured an eclectic mix of photographic styles that explore identity, stereotypical attitudes , and images that frequently merge past and present as a way of exploring Middle Eastern culture and questioning preconceived ideas about it.

Hassan Hajjaj (Moroccan) 
Web Accessed 29/10/2014

The highly saturated photographs , which are rather interestingly placed in frames made of recycled materials, are of women traditionally dressed but look like images from a typical fashion shoot, a fusion of Western and Arabic culture. The images subvert biased observations of Arabic women.  

Jana Ina Angels 2000 
The four females , young, confident , and thoroughly modern women ,  pose like models from Vogue in their traditional clothing . The frame is made from bottles , aluminium cans and aerosols.

Saida in Green 2000
Web Accessed 29/10/2014

A very visually striking image with a bold green background in a recycled frame made of black rubber , it stood out immediately when entering the room. The heavy eye make up , hennaed hands , designer scarf worn in a traditional manner are symbolic of two divergent cultures and how modern Arabic women embrace both. This is one of my favourite images from the exhibition.

Shadi Ghadirian ( Iranian )
Web Accessed 29/10/2014

In contrast to the colourful images of Hassan Hajjaj  the images from Shadi Ghadirian’s 1998  series Quajar) look like traditional photographs from a bygone era. Sepia toned photographs in A3 frames printed to about 7×5 they have , on first glance, an orthodox appearance , but look closer and there is a clever merge of past and present. Hand painted traditional backdrops and clothing are juxtaposed with modern props–pepsi cans , sun glasses , books , a bike , even a vacuum.  The women may appear conventional but the images suggest their hidden inner desires, ambitions and expectations , that their customary way of life may deny them.

Newsha Tavakolian (Iranian ) 
Web accessed 30/10/2014

Mothers of Martyrs 2006
These are such powerful portraits of bereaved elderly women holding framed prints of their dead sons. The Iranian boys , they are barely men , died during the 1980-88 Iran – Iraq war. So much pathos in a single frame.

Youssef Nabil (Egyptian) 
Web accessed 30/10/2014

The Yemeni Sailors of South Shields 2006   
I was very surprised to learn that there had been a community of Yemen ship workers living in Tyneside since the 1890’s . My mum is a Geordie ( long exiled though ) and from visits there in the late 50’s and early 60’s I cannot recall seeing any Middle Eastern men (or women ) working or living in the area, this series disproves my pre-conception about the North East of England as being more intolerant towards Muslim communities. The men portrayed in this series are the last generation of ship workers. The silver gelatin prints are hand coloured , reflecting a bygone era. The elderly men wear a mix of clothing , a blend of past and present , that not only reveals their assimilation into a typical English Northern working class neighbourhood but also communicates a long lasting link with their heritage.

Raeda Saadel (Palestinian)
Web accessed 30/10/2014

Who will make me real ? 2003
A large scale digital C type print . The self-portrait is a parody of 19th Century oriental imagery.  The artist reclines seductively , but any pretence of eroticism is corrupted by her outfit of Palestinian newspapers with news of deaths in Gaza 2003. A thought provoking image.

Atiq Rahimi ( Afghan ) 
Web accessed 12/11/204

As an exile from his homeland for 22 years on his return the country had been ravaged and altered by war. Using a simple box camera he recorded how war had altered his homeland. The images are ethereal , evocative , otherworldly and nostalgic , perhaps representing a longing for what has been lost forever  .
The 3 x 2 prints that were displayed in A4 frames.

Mehraneh Atashi ( Iranian )
Web accessed 12/11/2014

An usual self-portrait from a series , a large scale printed digital C type. The female photographer can be just seen in a small proportion of the frame , with her camera , recording the scene.  The image is of a traditional 16th century gym , a  male only environment. Including herself in the frame Atashi asks questions the role of a female in a male dominated society , roles that are increasingly being challenged in modern Iran.

Mohamed Bourouissa (Algerian)
Web accessed 12/11/2014

A staged image on a Parisian ring road that reflects on migration. The image suggests unease , isolation and has I feel a slightly threatening mood.

Baham Jalali (Iranian)
Web accessed 12/11/2014

Image of Imagination 2003
You needed to look very carefully at this  large scale C type  montage that merges time and space . An intriguing image , one that I kept returning to , the more you look the more it reveals.

I have also scanned my quickly written notes  — see below-very scrappy & probably totally illegible to anyone else!!!

Scan 1ScanScan 2Scan 3Scan 4Scan 5Scan 6Scan 7Scan 8

Black & white , Falmouth Art Gallery.

Visited on Monday 6th October 2014

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Martin Howse


Martin’s photos were arranged up and around the staircase leading to the main gallery upstairs. All of the images were printed to the same size and exhibited in a simple black frame with a white mount . I found it an unpretentious but effective use of the space available for the exhibition of his photographs. The images are all (obviously ) black and white , printed and developed by the photographer himself , who uses film.

He lives in Gweek, Cornwall and began to document local artists in their environment 3 years ago . The portraits include very cluttered backgrounds , he comments “ I do not want the subject against a blank backcloth. My aim is to capture something of the artist through the inclusion of their work and sometimes their working environment”  (Martin Howse , Introduction , 2014)

The disorderly backgrounds do not create a distraction from the subjects, each is an artist in their own right , and I think the images enhance their individuality and uniqueness , providing a glimpse into their inner , private world. I think black and white images such as these work really well , a riot of colour could distract , full of detail they are deceptively simple to look at but highly informative.

I bought the accompanying catalogue of Martin’s work which was very reasonably priced. The majority of the artists are given a double spread , on the left a close up portrait accompanied by text , opposite a page filling image. Just two artists are not shown this way , there is simply a plain page with text at the bottom on the left and a full page portrait opposite , I like the design of the book.

photo 5

photo 2
References / Bibliography

Howse Martin , (2014) Black & White , Falmouth Art Gallery , Falmouth UK.

Web links accessed 19/10/2014




International Centre of Photography. New York

I was in New York and the hotel we were staying in was only around the corner from the Photography centre so was on my list of places to visit.  There were three exhibitions on public view but I must be honest I thought there would be far greater access to the vast collections of images that are held there. However there is an e-museum link that will be useful as reference in the future.

Urbes Mutantes: Latin American Photography 1944–2013  (Mutant Cities)

An eclectic mix of mainly black and white documentary images of 8 Latin American cities dating from 1944 up to 2013 . Arranged into sections depicting cities in transition and life under a repressive dictatorship

Stupidly I only had a few scraps of paper & pen with me so I struggled to make very comprehensive notes as I looked around the exhibition. I have tried to do a bit of internet research on a couple of the photographers featured I but have not found a great deal. Hence my reflections are rather scrappy as I only made quick notes on my personal favourites !

A black and white silver gelatin  image by Mauricio Valenzuela , a Chilean photographer , caught my eye. The city , shrouded in fog , made metaphorical use of the weather to imply how  the dictatorship of Pinochet permeated society.

A full length portrait by Leon Ruiz , Columbian , subverted the genre using a  low angled view , usually reserved for the rich and powerful,  empowering the impoverished man he shot.

The portrait of cross-dresser Evelyn ,Chilean,  by Paz Errazuriz was a favourite of mine. Part of a section of images entitled I want to be me. I like the framing which places the subject at the edge of the frame, I should imagine Evelyn lives/lived on the fringes of society. Errazuriz has captured the exuburence of his subject which is reflected back at the viewer and I can imagine Evelyn perhaps dancing around the room in front of the photographer.

 Copyright : Paz Errazuriz

Copyright : Paz Errazuriz

Somewhere in France: John G Morris and The Summer of 44.

Morris a Life magazine photo editor was allocated the task of  organising the photo coverage of the D-Day invasion. Not a photographer himself his personal images were never intended for public viewing and were not to be seen for 70 more years. A poignant small collection of prints was on display capturing a time of  world change. I love history and looking at these images was a reminder of how ordinary people are caught up and involved in extraordinary events. The faces of the captured enemy , such young boys , are haunting as is the image of a young woman accused of being a collaborator. I found the images very moving : they re-inforce the ultimate futility of war.

Copyright John G Morris

Copyright John G Morris

Copyright John G Morris

Copyright John G Morris

Caio Reisewitz
A display of large scale landscapes , which were huge, and smaller photo-collages by the Brazilian photographer Caio Reisewitz. The larger scale images of buildings and the Brazilian rainforest were so full of detail it was best to simply sit and scrutinise them. His images examine the relationship between the city and the natural world and how each encroach on the other. One of the large landscapes intrigued me , Baoan 2010 , initially as I sat and looked at it there seemed to be no trace of human habitation but on closer inspection there was a wheely bin in the middle of the forrest. The accompanying exhibition guide notes “ his large scale works have also begun to incorporate small collage elements that are at first easy to miss. Digitally inserted into otherwise realistic scenes , they seem calculated to test the viewers attentiveness to the content of the image” Christopher Phillips, Curator, International Centre of Photography , New York , 2014.


MoMA. New York

IMG_0876An enjoyable visit with the main aim of seeing the  photography section but I also spend a long time looking around the museum enjoying all the other art exhibits. (My iPhone images are not great )

Sigmar Polke

 Potato House

Sprouting potatoes growing up a frame–below –caused amusement , not only to myself and hubby , but to the two ladies and gent seen in the picture.


 Akram Zaatari 

After They Got the Right to Arms. Fourteen young men posing with guns’ 

The images of young men posing with guns were thought provoking , especially striking was the one below. What was such a young boy doing with a gun? The answer is not straight forward as the photographs were studio based portraitures and that Zaatari’s work involves re-using found images such as these . His work questions what can be understood from these re-worked documents , and how truth and history can therefore be misunderstood. An interesting and important concept worth considering , what impact does this have on the documentary value of such images? . 



Richard Avedon

The highlight for me was to see some of Richard Avedon’s work , I admire his portraiture immensely. The highly detailed large scale print from the series In the American West was wonderful. Avedon spent around 6 years taking portraits of drifters , cowboys , and the disadvantaged he encountered on his journey. Using a white background his subjects are isolated from their surroundings , the intensity of his subjects gaze makes it impossible to look away. Documentary portraiture like this interests me immensely , I have a personal preference for using a plain background , I would love to have such characters pose for me !