Tag Archives: photography

The Pope of the Paparazzi

One of the advantages of the internet is that on a winter’s day, you can navigate all around the world and visit the finest art establishments, without even leaving the house. Today in Blighty the wind is howling like a possessed hound. So let’s visit NYC.

Liverpool has its Shakeshaft, Paris its Brassai and New York has Weegee, a self-styled showman who created a pulp fictitious persona, the father of tabloid culture. He would boldly proclaim,

My name is Weegee. I’m the world’s greatest photographer.

Born Arthur Fellig in 1899, the photographer was nicknamed Weegee by the office girls in Acme Newspapers – after the Ouija board – for he had an uncanny way of always arriving at the scene to capture a moment.  Weegee helped to found the tabloid culture that is still apparent today. His images capture humans at their most vulnerable and bare. Photography that produces compositions that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone. Sensationalist and sensual, an acute portrayal of human nature. From two lovers embracing, to a burning building, all of his images transport the viewer into the very heart of the experience.

The summer heat in a New York apartment, forcing the residents to sleep on the fire escape, radiates from the picture.

heatspell HEATSPELL, 1938 (NAKED CITY, SUNDAY MORNING IN MANHATTAN)

You can practically smell the perfumery of two old broads, all war paint and fur, out to enjoy an evening in the city, whilst one onlooker’s envy cannot be hidden:

the criticTHE CRITIC. MRS.CAVANAGH AND FRIEND ENTERING THE OPERA, 1943 (NAKED CITY, THE OPERA)

Never officially trained, he used the darkroom of Acme Newspictures as his university, honing his craft and training his eye whilst working on other people’s images. His pictures of New York and her people are like a carnival of the Electric Jungle. The book Naked City (1945) went on to be exhibited in Museum of Modern Art and helped to shape urban American consciousness.

In his book Weegee on Weegee, the artist frankly lays down the passion for his craft, a love for New York and its people,

My camera… my life and my love… was my Aladdin’s lamp.

His catalogue of work is like a visual love letter between him and the city, a composition of magic.

crook

I had so many unsold murder pictures lying around my room…I felt as if I were renting out a wing of the City Morgue.

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Sleeping with the Dead

After alighting at the Metro station Gambetta, I walked through a hill garden to gain entrance to the cemetery. Along one of the walls there was a figurine with arms spread out, pushing back the wall, faces surreptitiously appearing, almost fading away. Keeping the souls encased.

Cemetery Figure

An old phrase my Nan used to say came immediately to the forefront of my mind,

You should never fear the dead, it’s the living you should be afraid of.

I’d bought four blue iris flowers with a lick of yellow in the centre, a fragrant tongue. The rain came down forever, wet arrows bouncing off my grey wool suit. I walked through a narrow entrance in the wall and was totally mesmerised. Death done with panache. Gothic miniature chapels. Stone crafted sculptures. Ancient tree trunks with branches dramatically stabbing the sky. A calm within the core of the City of Light.

Cemetery shrines

The graves were so decrepit and battered by the ages that at times I had to remind myself that these were authentic graves and not fabricated. Four ravens appeared and for a moment I’d assumed I was really in Universal Studios, Florida and not the 20th Arondissement in France’s Capital City.

Oscar Wilde 2

Oscar Wilde’s grave had an Egyptian-like quality, a mini shrine. The tomb had been encased in glass, as admirers had for years glazed it with lipstick. This had not prohibited the ritual. For all over the surface, lipstick-stained kisses re-decorated it. One bold visitor had even puckered a smooch onto the lips of the Sphinx’s head. I placed the flowers on an arm-like ledge and waited for a moment. The rain, birds and stillness added to the atmosphere.

Thinking about the roll call of people buried in this site, I thought imagine what it would be like when the gates are locked at the end of the day. Sleeping with the dead, the site of numerous French luminaries – writers, artists and musicians:

Moliere
Marie Callas
Sarah Bernhardt
Isadora Duncan
Amedeo Modigliani
Edith Piaf
Gertrude Stein
Oscar Wilde
Colette
Frederic Chopin
Eugene Delacroix
Max Ernst
Jim Morrison
Marcel Proust
Marcel Marceau

Imagine the party the spirits could have. Now that would be one big Bohemian Kiki indeed! I guess in the way a Catholic pays homage to their faith by going on a pilgrimage to Rome, a pagan to Stonehenge, a writer or lover of the written word chooses to show their respects to the literary gods.

Cemetery sculpture

Later on in the evening, I danced like an idiot in the Marais. I thought about how laid back the attitude is in Paris. As I saw my sister in the midst of a cluster of bald, bearded bears, an adult version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, perhaps, it made me smile and I said inwardly, ‘Thanks, Oscar!’

Cemetery Panoramic

Pere Lachaise Cemetery is the largest in Paris (44 hectares/110 acres). It was the first garden cemetery in the capital and contains 3 World War Murals. It opened on 21st May 1804.

Photographs courtesy of Liam Maguire

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Liverpool Chinatown Photographic Society

It’s an electric lapis lazuli sky, sitting in The Bluecoat gardens. A classical music score floats out of a window, splattering its notes onto the pavement floor. The sun blushes, batting her eyelashes, flirting with the people sitting in her rays. How many beautiful compositions do we take in on a daily basis? The eye is the ultimate camera, to snap pictures, to capture the moment.

When a collective of creatives come together with a shared interest in a particular discipline; like writing groups, photography clubs and arts associations, the results can be remarkable. A snapshot of a community and an important way to archive, celebrate and document an ever-evolving culture. One such organisation is the Liverpool Chinatown Photographic Society.

In the autumn of 2011, a few friends who share an interest in photography agreed that they could develop their photographic interests and skills by exchanging knowledge and ideas. The first meeting was held on 8th November after Nick Liu, Tommy Wong and Wing W Wong invited their friends to Chilli Chilli Restaurant in Liverpool Chinatown. As a result of that initial gathering, Liverpool Chinatown Photographic Society was born.

Stranded by Wing W Wong

Stranded by Wing W Wong

ten minutes hate caught up with Pak H Chan and Nick Liu to discuss their work and that of the group.

10mh: What inspires you?

Pak H Chan: Many things inspire me: the weather, nature, architecture, Liverpool’s waterfront, people on the streets, light and shadow.

Nick Lau: Capturing the moment of memory and appreciation.

10mh: Which artists have influenced you?

PHC: The photographers who have influenced me are Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bert Hardy and Don McCullin. I also admire the work of the Impressionist painter Renoir, though not sure if he has influenced me in any way.

NL: Bruce Lee (martial art/body movement).

10mh: Describe the work of the group in five words?

NL: Sharing interest, skills and views
PHC: Unique, diverse, personal, eye-catching, passion.

Ribbon Dancer by Nick Liu

Ribbon Dancer by Nick Liu

10mh: What plans do you have for the future?

NL: The Society is to be open to all with interests in: Chinatowns, photography, Chinese-ness as a feature…

PHC: I just hope to continue to take good photos, perhaps travelling more outside of Merseyside. I plan to photograph York as it has been recommended to me by a few people.

10mh: What advice would you give to people who want to take up photography?

NL: Have a passion for photography.

PHC: Learn the basics, like aperture, shutter speed and just go out there and enjoy photographing anything that looks interesting.

10mh: What most recently impressed you?

NL: Smartphone photography – user friendly, versatile and quality. A lot to be learned by users and more to be developed by the designers. Photography is getting more and more popular and diverse.

PHC: I took some photographs of stick-insects last week which impressed me. I learnt that nature has a lot to offer and maybe I will shoot more subjects from the natural world in future.

Anyone interested in photography is welcome to join the Society, whether amateur or professional, young or old, regardless of experience, knowledge or background. All that is needed is a passion for photography.

Chinese New Year by Pak Hung Chan

Chinese New Year by Pak Hung Chan

The LCPS meets once a month in Liverpool Chinatown, with various activities hosted in-between meetings. For more information, please see their ‘contact us’ page.

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Shakeshaft

City living has its risks, seven seagulls fly by pooping on my suits in the last year. Concrete paving slabs splashing up rainwater underneath.

shakeshaft_nun_prison

But one of the advantages has to be the cast of characters you can encounter simply walking down the streets. Who needs to pay for a TV licence? Real life is far more entertaining. This ensemble of characters is captured in the work of Liverpool photographer, Stephen Shakeshaft.

Wash house. Photo by Stephen Shakeshaft. First use DP w/c 14/9/09

The photography of Shakeshaft first flashed onto my retinas in Liverpool’s now closed National Conservation Centre. I used to visit this exhibition space and sit with a double espresso underneath the Eros statue in the café. I was stunned by the image-maker’s work and have been a fervent admirer of his art since. He does something which I think is unique in his compositions. Anyone can simply take a picture, point and click and now with the invasion of apps, airbrush, tint to vintage, fade away and radiate.

children_sweep_shakeshaft

This artist captures the resilience of Liverpudlians. The Scouse stoic sense of surety, with a cut to the bone sarcastic humour.

MARGI CLARKE PREPARING TO GO ON STAGE IN PANTO

MARGI CLARKE PREPARING TO GO ON STAGE IN PANTO

With just one look of the eye, his sitters tell their story. Take Lizzie, for example, selling fruit from her market stall, whatever the weather. She glares at the camera with a hard affection and knowingness.

lizzie

It was a treat for the eye to view his collection of images of the Liverpudlian icon Ken Dodd recently at the Liverpool Life Museum.

ken dodd

I absolutely love Ken Dodd, I find he is like a Scouse Surrealist, a genius of madcap humour. Try and explain the Diddy men to anyone, bizarre with a capital B,

Did someone spike that man’s tea?

And what about his tickling stick? Like Magritte’s pipe, it has become a signature. As the joker Dodd puts it,

A lot of people say it’s a sex symbol, but I think that’s a fallacy.

The candid snaps displayed the man on stage and backstage drinking a pint, a cup of tea, lounging on a couch. With close-up images to reveal the attention to detail that is applied to his act. For example, a worn battered make-up kit and arsenal of tricks, to help him on his missive to give the world, ‘a little drop of tickle tonic’.

If Ken Dodd was around in William Shakespeare’s day, he would have been a fool in one of his plays, all, ‘Nuncle’ and mirth-laced, with a subtle dosage of truth. Kenneth Branagh recognised this quality and cast him in his screen version of HAMLET. This celebration of the official lunatic from Knotty Ash, Mr. Ken Dodd, did leave me feeling

full of plumtiousness and gratitude.

 

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Words to live by

I don’t often post funny signs from Japan, as it seems a bit cheeky when I speak about 20 words of the language, but the juxtaposition of this set made me smile. Vital advice, I hope you will agree.

The rules are: try not to make a noise, stop playing with fireworks and  do not climb over the fence.

Thank you for your consideration!

Photo by me, taken in Yokohama

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Challenging preconceptions and prejudices

Ever since I arrived in Japan I have held a – some would say irrational – prejudice against Roppongi. Admittedly based on little more than an after-work trawl through the area’s multiple British pubs and a few horror stories heard about the clientele of the ‘all you can drink’ nightclubs, I was content to describe it to a visiting friend as something she could comfortably miss off her itinerary. ‘Like drinking in Leicester Square in London’, I said, ‘fine for idiots who don’t know better and tourists’.

But, as with holders of all other prejudices, close examination proves me to be the idiot for damning the whole neighbourhood based on a couple of dodgy nightspots. Today I was lucky enough to be invited to Roppongi’s Mori Art Museum for the ‘Arab Express: The Latest Art from the Arab World’ exhibition, which runs until 28 October. You would be daft to let a similarly irrational aversion prevent you from seeing it.

The exhibition, the first of its kind to be held in Japan, opens by noting a significant parallel in the way both the Arab and Asian nations are viewed by outsiders. The diverse natures of both regions are often dismissed as offering little more than their stereotypes, be that veiled women for one or geisha for the other. The artists in the Mori’s exhibition play with these stereotypes in various ways, from Halim Al-Karim’s ‘Untitled 1′, with its indistinct red-clad figure to Maha Mustafa’s ‘Black Fountain’. The latter splashing oily droplets all over a white room whose windows look out over the Tokyo landscape, reminding the viewer that while one country’s problems are caused by a lack of natural resources, another’s spring from an abundance of them.

The Arab Express curators are aware that for many people, the first thing they think of when considering the region will be its conflicts. The artist always has a choice about how much reality to include or ignore and many of those represented here wrestle with these concerns. In ‘To Be Continued’, Palestinian artist Sharif Waked confronts our fears with his depiction of a typical suicide bomber’s video which, on closer inspection of its subtitles, has the protagonist reading from One Thousand and One Nights. ‘The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer’, included in Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s ‘Wonder Beirut’, features depictions of the once-popular tourist attractions of the ‘Paris of the East’, the negatives burnt by the photographer after the outbreak of the civil war in an attempt to make the pictures resemble the city he found himself living in.

It is a powerful and thought-provoking collection, yet not without moments of humour, even including a series of works which reference the Japanese trend for purikura. Capturing the diverse cultures which make up the Arab World is no small challenge, yet the range of works on display will ensure you leave feeling at once informed, wrongfooted and entertained.

Confront your own preconceptions at the Mori Art Museum before 28 October.

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Eight methods to beat the blues

My pal the Japan Camera Hunter has written this great post, all about escaping a photography rut and beating the blues. While it is no doubt useful to those with a camera permanently affixed to their hands, I was struck by how much of his advice – read a book, change of scenery, look at your old work – could also apply to writers and, I am guessing, to other creative types too.

I have been feeling like I have been in a rut lately, probably something to do with the summer heat encouraging indolence, so will be giving this advice a try – with some luck and hard work you will be seeing the results here soon! In the meantime, take a look at JCH’s excellent post and see what you think.

I hope it helps with whatever you are working on…

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