Agism in Photography

Why is ageism so prevalent in the photographic world? Why do emerging photographers have to be aged between 18 and 35, as so many competitions and initiatives demand? What is so critical about those years? Why does a persons’ work made within those ages require more attention than someone who is 10, 16, 39, 54 or 90?

It seems that, for those who run competitions and initiatives etc., youthfulness equals, and I hate this term so much I can feel the bile rising even now, freshness. When will it be realized that youth does not guarantee innovation! We, photographers, are supposed to exist in a creative world, where communication of a point of view, an idea, or a particular event, a story, what ever you want to call it, in an intelligent and eloquent manner is paramount. Yet, despite this, we persist in allowing rampant ageism to flourish. If a ninety year old picks up a camera for the first time and produces something wonderful, why should they be excluded from so much because of their age?

I always thought, or hoped that people within in the creative world would, more than any other group, lead by example in the fight against prejudice of any kind. It astounds me that collectively, people who are supposed to be the enlightened ones, people who should be fighting against prejudice, allow this to happen. Would we accept competitions etc. that excluded certain racial groups, or women?

Read this carefully: It is the work that matters. Get it.

Harry Callahan at the Tate

A few days ago I went to Tate’s Modern and Britain; they had respectively work by Harry Callahan, William Eggleston and Diado Moriyama. Rich visual pickings galore! First off, I’m a huge fan of Eggleston and Moriyama so it was a thrill to see work by both on one day. I was, however, until yesterday much less familiar with Callahan’s work. I know that this will have some people recoiling in horror, but his work really had passed me by. I knew the name, knew some pictures, had seen books on the shelves of many a notable bookshop, and yet yesterday was the first time I had really seen his work. What a revelation.

I’m not going to go into any details about individual pictures, I’m still getting to know them and besides, there are far to many fantastic images to write about in the Tate show.

Apart from the actual quality of his work, what struck me most was its breadth: Street photography, portraiture, landscapes, architecture and abstracts made from all of these. Oh, and he does all of this in black and white, and using a variety of formats. He is the style pedants’ nightmare!

Yes there are broad themes in his work: the city, his wife and nature, which he pursued through his working life, but he explored them with obsession and a creative inquisitiveness that sometimes I find lacking in more contemporary work. As Peter MacGill of Pace/MacGill has said “..he typically worked on a subject for a period of time, until he reached a dead end, and then he would either change the subject or change the camera…”. (Watch him speak about Harry Callahan: HERE).

In a time where photographers are pretty much forced to have a ‘style’, (or a consistently recognizable visual brand), if they want to succeed in the market place it really is a joy to see such a skilled photographer exploring photography, while seemingly lacking artifice. What is also most apparent is the influence Callahan has had over photography. Walking around the four rooms of photographs it is impossible not to see the work of more contemporary photographers.

So, if you’re in London, get yourself down to Tate Modern and have a look at Harry Callahan then pop up to the fourth floor and check William Eggleston out.

First Published 08.03.2014

A Get to Know Me Book List

1. Paul Graham by Paul Graham.

This is the catalogue of the White Chapel Gallery retrospective exhibition. A light blue hardback book by MACK, it covers all of his work up to and including a shimmer of possibility, which stupidly I didn’t buy. How I regret that. Graham if you don’t know him is the king of the oblique social comment. He produces work that not only makes us think afresh on social issues but also draws our attention to photography itself.

2. Broken Manual By Alec Soth

This will be the first of Soth’s entries in my little list. Do you feel like it’s getting all to much, tired of living the rat race, feeling like you’re loosing touch with your inner man? Want to get away from it all and live a simple life, get back to nature and live the way that nature intended us? Then this is the book for you. Great concept and fantastic photography – Soth examines the desire to flee from the trappings of modern living, while showing us that it can’t really be done.

3. Sleeping by the Mississippi By Alec Soth

The book that introduced him to the world. It’s beautiful, lyrical and slightly melancholy. Soth takes us on a journey along an American icon, while hardly ever showing it. What he does show us is fringes of American society, which exist in the looming shadow of the mythology.

4. Capitolio by Christopher Anderson

I bought this at the book launch/talk by the man himself. A filmic journey through Venezuela under the leadership of Hugo Chavez. It’s a country of extremes: wealth and poverty, love and violence, passionate expression and oppression all served with ample doses of paranoia and the ever-present personality of the man. Anderson also brings great book craft to it too.

5. Toshi-e by Yutaka Takanashi

One of the great photo books of all time – by one of the legendary Provoke photographers. I don’t have the original because I don’t want to take a mortgage-sized loan to by one. I do have the Errata editions version. It’s a journey by car, through a landscape of pessimism, to a notional city in a country going through economic, political and social change. It was great then and is even greater now. Why because it stands the test of time and is still relevant.

6. For a Language to Come by Takuma Nakahira

Another of the great Japanese photo books from the Provoke era. Nakahire joins Provoke’s agent provocateur in chief Daido Moriyama in throwing the narrative baby out with the bath water. It’s a high contrast, claustrophobic, oppressive and unnerving. Full of fragmentary, chaotic images it could be moments before the apocalypse or years after in a world of decay and hopelessness. Brilliant!

7. The Pond By John Gossage

We join John on a walk through some wasteland between the town and the county side proper, to find that there isn’t a pond in sight. What we do see are the details that attract his eye – small things that others don’t care to look at – but perhaps should. It also serves a treatise on the effect of mans dauntless encroachment into the natural world, a place we seem to be increasingly removed from.

8. The Maze by Donovan Wylie

Wylie unlocks the logic of the modern political prison. Designed by the British to house Irish political prisoners of both persuasions – the institution was made to dehumanize, alienate and destroy the soul of those imprisoned there. The photography and the design of the book aim to replicate something of this process. A very successful book.

9. The Americans By Robert Frank

It’s a classic! If you don’t know it – you should. It’s the blues on 35mm film. Forget the shiny America of the fifties; this is a sullen, moody road trip through an uneasy America populated by Kerouacian characters.

10. Invisible – Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes by Trevor Paglen

A book about the things they don’t want us to see. Paglen employs a multi-disciplinary approach to examine the world of secret bases, black ops, spy satellites, code names and rendition programs.

First Published: 04.03.2014