Meeting Joel Meyerowitz and William Klein

Paris Photo

They say you should not meet your heroes as it often leads to disappointment, but in my case I recently met two of my heroes in photography and both proved to be the exception to the rule.

This year I missed London Photo in May but was able to spend a day in November at Paris Photo. It was my first time attending the fair in Paris and I must say that I prefer the Grand Palais to the London location at Somerset House with its nooks and crannies and numerous staircases.

As always, the fair was a success, well attended by galleries and photographers from all over the world. I particularly enjoy these fairs not only because you have a chance to see original photographs of well-established photographers (I saw some original Fan Ho and Sabine Weiss which I had not seen before), but it is also a chance to see original work by younger  photographers such as Bastiaan Woudt, Bruno van Roels and Jan Schlegel. Another attraction of these fairs is the opportunity to meet legendary photographers signing their books and that day in November I had a chance to meet Joel Meyerowitz and William Klein. Both were very approachable and incredibly generous with their time notwithstanding the long queues. Joel Meyerowitz discussed his masterclass videos with me (see my previous blog of March 19 2018) and some of his work. As for William Klein, now in his 90’s, he has not lost any of his charm and cheekiness. He wanted to know all about the type of photography I do and when he heard that he had been at the origin of my passion for b&w photography and how much I had enjoyed studying his books, he asked me “so, are you a good photographer then?”. Now how can one respond to that question asked by William Klein?!!

(the images below are Joel Meyerowitz getting ready to sign his books, William Klein chatting with me after inscribing a heart in his book for me, and an example of work by Sabine Weiss, Fan Ho, Bastiaan Woudt, Bruno van Roels and Jan Schlegel)

What's in my bag?

If you are into film photography, chances are you are already familiar with the website Japan Camera Hunter created by Bellamy Hunt. If you are not familiar with it, I highly recommend it: it is packed with articles, videos, advice, and of course cameras for sale hunted in Japan by Bellamy. I am confident you will spend many happy hours browsing this site.

One of JCH’s regular features is “What’s in Your Bag?”, where photographers show…well, what’s in their bag! We all approach photography differently and some carry just one camera, and others (me!) only dream of having minimal gear on their back. The articles are all short, most of them very entertaining and will help you discover new photographers from all over the world.

And if you are curious about what I carry on my back most of the time, you may want to take a peek as my bag was recently featured on JCH:

https://www.japancamerahunter.com/2018/11/in-your-bag-no-1616-christine-walter-saxena/
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Photography Magazines

Are they still relevant today?

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Why bother with reading photography magazines today? Google will answer all your questions and the most modest new product will have a great number of reviews online just a few days after coming onto the market (and often before). So why bother? I don’t read the technical magazines anymore, but there are a number of magazines which remain relevant because they will inspire you. I dip into and read many photography magazines, some mainstream and others a bit fresher (for a better word) such as British Journal of Photography, Aperture, Foam, Accent, etc. The Tate Modern shop, the Photographers’ Gallery and Foyles on Charing Cross Road in London carry a wide selection of excellent magazines worth picking up. My two regular magazines are Black + White Photography (produced in the UK) and Polka (produced in France, in French only unfortunately).

 

Black + White Photography is a monthly magazine which covers photography from all over the world. It has regular features (eg new gallery shows, photography books, a fortnight at f/8, tests of new products etc) and it has inspirational articles about the work of a particular photographer or printing ideas, or the philosophy of photography. In brief, you will always find several articles of interest. It is also a magazine which I keep and I dip into old issues regularly. It is the only magazine I read cover to cover, every month.

 

The French Polka magazine is a slightly different beast. It is more glossy but its coverage is wide and is not restricted to black & white photography: portfolios, reportage, innovations, photography in films, exhibitions, interviews, even Instagram discoveries. It comes out every three months and even if your knowledge of French is minimal I am sure you will enjoy dipping into this magazine.

 

So what to do with all of these magazines lying around at home? After a while (I have subscriptions to both magazines and buy others along the way) they do take a lot of space. After a year or so, I have another look at each magazine. I cut out articles or even just pictures which give me ideas, or remind me of technical points, and I put them in a scrap book (which in of itself will become a personal inspirational tool). Magazines which I have not cannibalised will be passed on to other photographers or sometimes left in train stations’ bookshelves for other people to find .  

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Lost Childhood

Robi Walters - a Channel 4 documentary

You may recall (see blog in March) that I had the pleasure of taking photographs of the painter and multi-media artist Robi Walters while he was working in his Soho studio. Channel 4 has recently made a documentary about him. It is part of its series on lost childhood and their effect on people's lives. In this short documentary we get an insight into Robi Walters' traumatic past and its impact on his art and life. A moving and inspiring documentary. 

https://www.channel4.com/news/lost-childhood-artist-robi-walters-early-trauma
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Kodachrome

Photography Films

 

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If you are reading this then you are probably like me passionate about photography. It is not enough to take pictures and dream about the photograph we should have taken (if only ... I had my camera with me .... the car had stopped ... this person sitting across me on the train moved two centimetres to the left....I got out of bed this morning in time for the light.... tick all applicable excuses), we need to read about it, watch documentaries and we indiscriminately love any film featuring a photographer.

It is actually quite hard to love the main character in the film Kodachrome, released by Netflix earlier this year. Ben Ryder (brilliantly played by Ed Harris) is a renowned photojournalist who is dying of cancer and whose last request is for his son Matt to accompany him on a road trip from NYC to Kansas to the last remaining lab to process Kodachrome films. Ben Ryder has a few remaining rolls which must be processed before they are lost for ever. We run the gamut of emotions during the film while we witness the strained relationship between father and son. The film is very well acted but one of its main attractions is that it was beautifully shot on Kodak 35 mm. The film is based on true events: the last Kodachrome film was processed at Dwayne’s Photo in Kansas. The director of the film, Mark Raso, based his film on a 2010 New York Times article describing how the last roll of Kodachrome film was exposed and developed at Dwayne’s Photo. We photographers are a romantic lot who like to hark back to the past. A film to watch anytime, and maybe best on the train journey when you forgot to take your camera with you!

Here is a trailer to whet your appetite:

There are plenty more films where the main character or one of the main characters is a photographer. Here is my current list; let me know if you know of more:

  • the Bridges of Madison County

  • Smoke ( Harvey Keitel plays a cigar shop manager who is also an amateur photographer; this is one for the cigar and photography aficionado. In my opinion, this film is an unknown masterpiece)

  • High Art (an independent film loosely based on Nan Goldin's life and work)

  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (a close friend of the main character is a freelance photojournalist shooting on a Leica of course)

  • Carol

  • Mothers and Daughters (one of the characters is a photographer)

  • The Bold Type (fluffy series set in the digital age of women magazine and a bit of a tangent: one of the main characters’ girlfriend is a photographer)

  • Betrayal (main character is a photographer - there is a reason why there was only one season made of this series)

William Klein at Polka Galerie

Anything Goes...

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On my last visit to Paris, with great anticipation, I went to see the William Klein retrospective at the Polka Galerie in Paris. The gallery has a warm, close relationship with Klein which was obvious in the exhibition. This was not a cold retrospective where photographs are reverently lined up on white walls so that we may admire them in hushed tones. This exhibition reflected not only Klein’s oeuvre, but also his personality. “Anything goes” he likes to say - this does not mean anarchy, uncaring photography, but rather daring photography but always with a smile or a cheeky approach to the subject. This was reflected in the manner the retrospective was curated: photographs crammed together where it was appropriate, others standing on their own on a white wall.

Klein’s career is well documented: it has so far spun street photography to reportage via fashion. I am a huge fan of his work and he has influenced many remarkable photographers including Daido Moriyama (which whom he had an exhibition at Tate Modern in London a few years back), Jacob Aue Sobol and so many others.

What struck me as I toured the exhibition a few times is that this seems very much work in progress. I mean that one does not get the sense that this is it; Klein (who recently celebrated his 90th birthday) is still producing work, photographing and I understand has picked up the brush again on occasion, sometimes mixing photography and painting. This is a true artist enjoying every second of life to its fullest.

I can’t in this blog summarise Klein’s career so far: it extends far beyond photography to cinema, and even sculpture and paintings in his early days. I can only recommend his many books (the book “Life Is Good And Good For You In New York” is in my opinion on par with “The Americans” by Robert Frank as seminal books in photography). If you wanted to have a look at one book only, I would recommend the recent book published (in French only I believe) by Polka Galerie with Editions Textuel for this exhibition: it covers Klein’s career but most interestingly with short (often cheeky) introductions for each chapter by Klein himself which will give you a sense of his approach and the man. (I could not find the book for sale on Amazon or in my usual photography bookstores, but the Galerie has it for sale. The title of the book is simply “ William + Klein”).

In 2012 the BBC made a documentary with Klein in its excellent Imagine series: The Many Lives of William Klein. I can only highly recommend this entertaining documentary:

 

I must here also mention Polka Galerie. I regularly go to photography galleries. Some seem like stuffy sanctuaries; others welcome you; a few owners have friendly chats with you. But Polka Galerie must be one of the friendliest, most approachable, knowledgeable galleries. It is located in the heart of the Marais in Paris and once you go through the first room of the gallery you enter the courtyard where you will find the bigger gallery in a typical Parisian setting. Of course there is never enough time when visiting Paris, but do try to pop by this gallery and then maybe make your way to the Picasso Museum and have a quick lunch at one of the Marais’ cafes and restaurants (the Sévigne for example has wonderful vegetarian homemade tarts and it is a neighbourhood brasserie with a few tourists and plenty of locals).

A couple of years ago I saw William Klein at Photo London going around the exhibition. He was very approachable and gave me a chance to thank him for his work. I have no selfie with him (it did not cross my mind); rather I have a smile, a twinkle in his eyes in my heart and plenty of inspiration.

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Japanese Photography

A/FIXED

Japanese Photography '60s-'70s

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A recent long weekend gave me a chance to read the first issue of A/Fixed, a new magazine specialising in Japanese photography. Although it is today more accessible in the West thanks to photographers such as for example Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki and Hiroshi Sugimoto, the sheer vastness of material available in print and more particularly photobook form is daunting. Adding to that the language barrier, it is actually quite difficult for non-Japanese speakers to familiarise themselves easily with Japanese photography. This is the gap this magazine fills in an interesting, entertaining, academic and yet readable way. The first issue covers the Provoke Generation (1960s-1970s), so called after the short-lived magazine issued in 1968-1969 as a platform for new photographic expression. One of the main attractions of A/Fixed is that it places this movement within the political and social context of the time in Japan. The articles cover Provoke, but also the influence of William Klein on the Japanese photographers of that era (most famously on Daido Moriyama), interviews with various photographers many of whom were new to me, protest photography, the beauty of the Japanese photobooks and the printing process for which Japan is still known today. There are also helpful biographies of the main photographers of that era. I particularly enjoyed the articles written by Pete Duval because he takes us along on his voyage of discovery in Japan, from visits to photographers’ home and studio, to Japanese restaurants which would probably not win any Michelin stars but which have plenty of character. A final word about the format of the magazine which must have been chosen quite deliberately: it is in newspaper format (think Le Monde or the old format of The Guardian before it moved over to the tabloid format), but in good thick quality paper which does not stain the fingers. Somehow it befits this topic very well.

The overall effect of this magazine is that I have expanded my knowledge of Japanese photography, discovered more wonderful photographers and whet my appetite for a trip to Japan. The team at A/Fixed are already working on the second issue, but the first can still be purchased (I believe still for the sole cost of shipping) from Instagram ( @afixed.in ) or on their website at www.afixed.in .

Saul Leiter - the poetic flâneur

"I DON'T HAVE A PHILOSOPHY, I HAVE A CAMERA"

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I became familiar with Saul Leiter’s work in 2016 at a wonderful exhibition in the Photographers’ Gallery in London. It showed not only his black and white early work and his colour photographs, but also his sketchbooks.  The pictures he took in the early 2010’s (he died 2013) were in the same style as those he took in the 1950’s. He searched his whole life for beauty, believing in it and that everything is worthy of a photograph. In his early career most of his photographs were in black and white, but he quickly moved over to colour and became a master of it. His fame came late in his life (in his 80’s) and he was perfectly comfortable with that, never seeking fame or glory, an unusual attitude today. He just went about his life photographing with passion and developing his own style, ‘in no great hurry” as he would love saying. Today he is a major influence not only on photographers but also in cinema. The film “Carol” owes much of its colour and camera angles to Leiter.

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He was born in Pittsburgh but is best known for his photographs of New York City, the more famous ones today taken in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Leiter originally came to NYC to be a painter and there is a painterly feel to his colour photographs. He made his money with fashion assignments (mainly Elle and Esquire) and he was quite reluctant to show his street photographs believing that they did not offer anything new or noteworthy for a long time. But they did and still do today. Leiter believed that “photographs are often treated as important moments, but really they are little fragments and souvenirs of an unfinished world”. There is a real sense of stolen moments in his photographs with their emphasis often on small parts (eg the sole of a shoe, a street lamp), fragments of life which will show more about our world than sweeping views. “If we look and look, we begin to see and are still left with the pleasure of uncertainty” – this view of the world is constantly echoed in his photographs with their muted colours and reflections, their abstract views, painterly feel and quirky framing.

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Today there are many books on Saul Leiter available, with some of them such as “Early Color” published in 2006 already a collectible item in first edition. There are a number of videos which you can easily find on YouTube about Saul Leiter’s work, but I would particularly recommend  the film “In No Great Hurry”: perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon spent in the company of the inspiring Saul Leiter.

 

Andreas Gursky

"Reality can only be shown by constructing it."

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Gursky

re-opens the Hayward Gallery in London.

Third time lucky: first time, I went to the gallery a week before the show opened; the second time, I went on the one day of the week the gallery is closed (Tuesdays) but last week I finally struck gold and managed to get a ticket to see this exhibition (very popular; I would recommend booking a ticket in advance). One of the advantages of the Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre is that there is a lot of natural light flooding through the roof. It is unusual to see art in natural light which shifts during the day. The renovations are not obvious but once inside you can feel the natural flow of light and of the space. A great spot to see an exhibition. On to Andreas Gursky: truth be told, originally I was not a fan of his work. I had seen some of his work in books and in articles online and on paper. It all seemed rather artificial to me - but most art is meant to be seen in the flesh so to speak. The scale of his work, for which he is particularly known, and the details of his photographs must be seen in person to have its intended effect. His pictures raise some of the key issues of our time (the environment, our materialistic society, over population, etc.) but it is up to us to interpret as we wish his pictures. Most of his photographs are either packed with details or seem at first blush to be minimalistic - in a sense they are all both at once. It takes some time to process what we see. Many of his photographs have become iconic (eg Amazon's warehouse in Phoenix, Arizona) and we think we have "got them" because we have seen them in print; it is only when standing in front of the actual photograph that the scale of our society's excess and waste is truly appreciated. So yes, as Gursky says: " Reality can only be shown by constructing it". 

Below is a short video of the exhibition; I hope you'll have a chance to actually see the exhibition.

 

Ted Forbes' Artist Series

Where to find inspiration

Today I want to talk about Ted Forbes, the photographer and filmmaker with his own You Tube channel, The Art of Photography. I discovered this channel about a year ago when I had the flu. I suppose we are all the same: when we are well we can't wait for a whole day to spend in bed reading and sipping tea; and then we get ill and we can't read further than one page before our brain gets overwhelmed by some sort of flu fog. For me, this is when I start exploring YouTube and there are plenty of videos aimed at photographers. But few channels are as varied, educational and entertaining as The Art of Photography. Ted does some gear review (we all suffer from GES - gear envy syndrome) but actually most of his videos are educational: they give an insight into a particular photographer's work; or he showcases some photography books and zines; or sets some specific assignments which we have a week to complete...all of that in a casual, friendly way. I do not know how he earns a living but he certainly spends a lot of time producing quality videos. At my first visit, I went through all the videos he produced in The Artist Series (there are two seasons of documentaries out now). They are short, extremely well put together documentaries where he visits and interviews photographers at the top of their game such as David Brookover, Laura Wilson, Graciela Iturbide, William Wegman and many more. I cannot recommend them enough. Here is a trailer for Season 2:

Photography books in London

I am often asked where to buy photography books in London. Most bookshops will have a small photography section but a few bookshops are definitively worth the detour.

The first one is on the ground floor of Foyles on Charing Cross road (Foyles' flagship store). It not only has a good section of books by photographers and on the art of photography, but it also has a large selection of zines which I highly recommend (I have not yet found another bookshop with a dedicated photography zines section). There is also a small selection of signed books. Foyles encourages browsing and if you take a book up to the cafe (highly recommend it; on the top floor), you can browse your book while sipping coffee.  As you walk out of Foyles and walk south on Charing Cross, you will pass Koenig Books which specialises in art books. It has a small selection of photography books but downstairs, there is a larger section of photography books on sale - you'll find some affordable gems.

Tate Modern has two bookshops, each with a good photography section but it is the bookshop in the new building which has the largest selection of photography books. Somehow people will easily find their way to the bookshop at the bottom of the Boiler House (the main building), but fewer people seem to be aware of the bigger bookshop on the main floor of the new building (the Switch House, now known as the Blavatnik Building). It is that second bookshop which has the most substantial collection of photography books, magazines and DVDs. The section is well stocked and looked after and new books are regularly highlighted. It is difficult to come out of this bookshop without buying a book!

If you are at Tate Modern, there is a little secondhand bookshop just across it as you come out the ramp; it has a small but very good photography section (look out for signs for "Art Books").

Waterstones' flagship store on Piccadilly Street (Europe's largest bookshop) has a good photography selection in its Art department, although it is not as good as Foyles or Tate Modern. The wonderful Photographers Gallery in Soho has a small but very good photography section in its basement; it does however have the largest photography magazines selection I believe (but fewer zines than Foyles).

Finally, do not miss the photobook fair Offprint during Photo London in May: you will find a unique selection of photography books and zines from all over the world. 

 

 

Close-up of the extensive zine section in Foyles.

Close-up of the extensive zine section in Foyles.

Tate Modern's photography books section

Tate Modern's photography books section

The sale section, downstairs, in Koenig Books on Charing Cross road

The sale section, downstairs, in Koenig Books on Charing Cross road

Daido Moriyama

I am not always sure why I like Daido Moriyama's photography so much. After all, it is often out of focus, very grainy and contrasty. His photographs are usually of urban settings and not the prettiest parts of town. And yet, his photographs are so compelling. Daido Moriyama is best appreciated by looking at, and reading, his books. Like many Japanese photographers, he has mastered the art of the photobook. Over the years, I am slowly building a little Daido Moriyama library. It will probably never be complete since he is so prolific, but it is a growing collection I enjoy. For me, Moriyama captures like no other the smells, rhythms and sounds of a particular city. I find his type of photography liberating. He goes out most days (actually nights) with a small, simple compact camera and just shoots whatever he feels and sees. When the pictures are put together, they make a unique Moriyama story. Whenever I feel timid about going out doing some street photography, I read one of his books or watch a video of Moriyama on YouTube.  Recently, Thames & Hudson (beautifully edited by Mark Holborn) has published in one volume Daido Moriyama's Records numbers 1-30. These were first published in 1972 as small magazines serving as a sort of visual diary, Kiroku (record in Japanese). Moriyama still publishes them today (I believe we are up to number 36 now). Here is a trailer of the video filmed in London when Moriyama was having an exhibition at Tate Modern with William Klein. You will see how Moriyama goes about taking pictures and putting together one of his records. (The whole video used to be available for free on YouTube but you can only see the trailer now; worth hunting down the video). 

My growing collection

My growing collection