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Archive for the 'uk' Category

“Arty Wow Moment”: Review of Angels of Anarchy @ Manchester City Art Gallery

 

UPDATE ADDED:  5 March 2012.  Tremendous blog post on Francesca Woodman and her work over at Wayne Ford’s Posterous.   Her tragically short life is put under the microscope and the resulting post is a wonderfully informed and a comprehensive look at her background, work and influences.  Thank you Mr Ford!

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It has to be said I probably attend my fair share of exhibitions, but what doesn’t happen very often is that I enjoy one so much I feel a powerful urge to blog about it.  But the “Angels of Anarchy” exhibition currently in residence at Manchester City Art Gallery really does deserve to be seen by anyone with even the vaguest interest in the visual arts.

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My last real big “arty wow moment” in Manchester was back in 1997 at the David Hockney exhibition, the one with all his photocollage stuff.  OK, well yes, I did also have one seeing the footage of Gandhi visiting Darwen at the Procession exhibition (Cornerhouse, Summer09).  But that doesn’t really count as it wasn’t the art that made me hold my breath with wonder, rather the actual event happening at all and being recorded forever by someone with a movie camera.

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To be truthful, the only reason ‘Angels of Anarchy’ even twitched on my radar was due to the inclusion of some of Lee Miller’s photographs.  I am not really a big fan of Surrealism.  A few years ago, when I got to see some of Dali’s best work up close, I could appreciate the beautiful brush work but I didn’t find myself particularly moved.  It was all a bit too clever for me.

Surrealism emerged in the mid-Twenties, a potent, shifting and bubbling period in the art world.  Most of the celebrated artists and thinkers were male (Breton, Dali, Freud, Magritte, Man Ray, Picasso) and these are the names which are inextricably linked with the movement and whose work we have become accustomed to seeing.

Where the curators of this new exhibition have struck gold is by choosing to limit things to a unique viewpoint, namely the part women played as creators.  This helps to make the work relevant, it introduces a much more human aspect and allows the viewer to better understand and feel the emotion pouring out from the artists work on show.

Exhibition spaces can often feel cavernous, cold and intimidating.  Manchester Art Gallery have got things right here though.  Subdued lighting, warm rich colours and intelligent grouping of images make for a meandering and intuitive journey.

The work takes all forms, from painting and photography through to film, sculpture, books and poetry.  Many of the pieces can usually be found ensconced within numerous different private collections, there are 150  images from the 1920’s through to the 1970’s.

After viewing the exhibition I came away with much to think upon.  Many images deal with the representation of women as sexual objects; beautified, empowered, sad, disconnected, shackled.  Sometimes it felt like a celebration, stumbling into someone else’s party, women united and enjoying each others artistry, support and friendship (Lee Miller’s portrait work).  This is women experimenting and questioning, using their art to examine traditional roles and their place within a wider world and trying to find a voice.

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It is a privilege to have the opportunity to see powerful work such as Lee Miller’s ‘Severed Breast’ (a freshly removed female breast is photographed served up on a dinner plate complete with cutlery on a white linen tablecloth, the was showcased in Vogue the magazine Miller worked for at the time) and Meret Oppenheimer’s wickedly disturbing “Fur Gloves With Wooden Fingernails”.  I really like the work of Manchester-based artist Rachel Goodyear and I believe her images would feel right at home in the slightly gothic and fetish-themed room where Oppenheimer, Penny Slinger and Josette Exandier’s work is displayed. Within this leatherbound haven you will find a fur teacup, a blonde human hair whip (fairytale/Rapunzel?) and bird skeletons.

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Argentinian painter Leonor Fini’s work stands strong and powerful.  A remarkable women, artist, costume designer and novelist.  I was wowed by her “Little Hermit Sphinx (1948)” with it’s subtle colours and exquisite technique, capturing decay and innocence, a guardian for life and death.

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Batting for the British corner I found Edith Rimmington’s painting “The Oneiroscopist (1947)” haunting, weird and beautiful.

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Photography is well-represented in the exhibition.  I mentioned Lee Miller’s work earlier, but there is an abundance of powerful work.  I discovered the images of Francesca Woodman (Kate Bush a big fan apparently).  This US artist took the photograph chosen for the Exhibition poster and “Untitled” (1977) a self-portrait showing her hanging from a doorway really stayed bouncing round my mind long after I had left the gallery.  Using long exposures she generates a ghostly atmosphere, made all the more powerful when you discover she had a troubled life and committed suicide aged 22yrs.

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Dora Maar’s photographic portrait of an armadillo embryo is freakish, spooky and rather innocent, whereas her “Sans Titre” seashell with a hand is classic surrealism, another of her prints hints at her striving towards a more documentary style and one can understand there is a truth to rumours of her appreciation of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange .  Maar is perhaps better known as Picasso’s muse, but I would love to see more of her photography.

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A big star of the show is Frida Kahlo, probably acknowledged as one of the more celebrated female surrealist artists, her work is vibrant and pulses with it’s own distinctive style,  symbolism and themes.  I must make an effort to see the film “Frida” based on her life,  she overcame huge odds to create such powerful paintings.

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A new discovery for me was Kay Sage, an American painter working mostly with oils.  She created beautiful, linear landscapes filled with futuristic structures all coloured from a sublime palette.  Sage’s work felt decidedly modern and distinctive, her painting “The Hidden Letter” immediately made me think of Phillippe Starck’s famous iconic lemon squeezer (or am I alone in that thought!).

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This really is a feast, an exciting opportunity to see such a range of high quality work in one place.  The Gallery has made sterling efforts to enhance the experience, with a programme of talks and tours, games and interactive websites.  All part of a quietly terrific marketing and social media campaign, steered by Wilmslow agency Wonder Associates. Fantastic to see an arts organisation making such an effort to find and engage with their audience.

Further reviews of the exhibition can be found at the Guardian, Independent, Prospect Magazine, creativetourist.com and for a queer slant try Chroma Journal. Angels of Anarchy continues at Manchester Art Gallery until 10th January 2010 and was curated by Dr Patricia Allmer, MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University.

UPDATE: Nov 2010.  Just found a well-written piece in The Telegraph newspaper (England) today on Francesa Woodman.  It’s well worth a read, particularly  if you have an appreciation of Francesca’s work and would like to learn more about her (sadly) rather tragic and short life.  It also highlights the fact that some of Francesca Woodman’s work will be on display at the Victoria Miro gallery in London 17 Nov 2010 – 22 Jan 2011 and also in the New Year 2011 a major retrospective will be on show at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and then on to the Guggenheim in New York in 2012.

Next year, a major Woodman retrospective will travel to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, and on to the Guggenheim in New York in 2012. Before that, though, an exhibition of around 50 of her photographs, including some rare colour prints, opens at the Victoria Miro gallery in London on Wednesday.

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Manchester Artist heads off to “Th’Arctic” …

As ever Kate @ the Manchizzle shows she has the proverbial finger on the pulse of all things interesting and arty in the Manchester region.

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Kate gave a mention to local artist Rebecca McKnight and her mission to explore the icy beauty of “Th’Arctic” (that’s Lancashire for The Arctic in case you were wondering).

A place so cold that the Ocean frequently freezes solid and only the hardiest of animals and plants survive. It is here the Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Wolverine and Arctic Hare find their natural habitat.  For much of the year things are so unbearable that most living things hide away til the warmth of the short summer gives them a nudge to briefly explode into life. Though, if you are lucky, you may catch sight of the Aurora Borealis to take you mind off the biting wind!

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I got to know Rebecca last year as we both had work displaying at the Chorlton Arts Festival. This was May 2008 and she was already focused, excited and working hard on plans for the trip, so I have seen first-hand how dedicated she has had to be to make this project happen.

The logistics of pulling something like this together requires nearly as much determination and effort as surviving the Arctic elements. Sponsors and funding, website, journal, publicity, technical gear, experienced mentors, involvement of the community, travel plans, flights, visa’s, communications … not to mention a map and route! I’m sure that’s only the half of it.

She is hoping to become one of the first British people to ski up to 300 miles pulling a pulk (sledge) from Resolute Bay to Grise Fiord, the most northerly Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic. So, getting supremely fit prior to the attempt has been one side of the preparation, plus this trip is also a live art project which aims to “explore personal identity in relation to situation and environment.”

The use of the word ‘live’ was not a mistake. Check out Th’Arctic website, which has regular updates from the location, a live tracker map showing the groups progress and there is the ability to send the Team a text or email to keep them all on their toes and gain a real insight into the experience. There are no photo’s on the website just yet but as they have only just arrived at base camp I am sure some amazing work will surely follow.

The actual trek starts tomorrow (1st April) and the latest weather conditions sound tough (-60oC and blizzards). So best of luck Rebecca and everyone else, what a fantastic effort to bring such a dream trip to life.

You can follow things and send messages of support via:-
Th’Arctic website
Facebook page
artist’s talking a-n website
The Big Screen Manchester

plus there will be a live-link up with the team which is being co-ordinated with the guys at the Cornerhouse on Saturday 18 April.

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Spring Snowdrops @ Rode Hall Gardens, Cheshire …

Just as the green fields here are being invaded by crocus and daffodils, I thought I would post up some shots I took a few weeks ago featuring two of the earliest British native spring flowers.  Can you believe it is the start of summertime next weekend and nature is certainly doing its best to cajole us all into life.

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The shot above is actually a snowflake (I think?)  from my very limited knowledge I believe it is unusual to see it facing upwards.

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The extensive National Trust gardens at Rode Hall, near Congleton, are famous for their spectacular displays of the delicate snowdrop.  The sight of the bobbing white bell-shaped flowers heralds the end of Winter and the beginning of some warmth.  The shot above is a section from a wonderful swathe of snowdrops in a sheltered spot quite close to the main house, these plants were right at the peak of their powers a few weeks back.  On close inspection you can start to discover the subtle differences which signal the different varieties.

The names are fantastic, sounding more like racehorses than flowers including “Lady Beatrix Stanley”, “Merlin” “Primrose Warburg” and “Mighty Atom”.  The study of snowdrops seems to attract those with a competitve nature, followers are called ‘galanthophiles‘ (taken from the flower’s Latin name) and some collectors think nothing of spending £150 for a rare bulb.

If you fancy a trip out to see one of the lesser-known Cheshire Gardens it’s well worth it and after strolling the grounds, be sure to leave time for the wonderful pairing of a pot of tea and homemade scone, jam and cream before you head home.  You know you want too!

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Shot Up North exhibition reaches Newcastle @ the Biscuit Factory in March …

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I blogged during the light nights of June 2008 about my decision to enter the Shot Up North Awards.  SUN is a showcase designed to reward the best in professional photography north of Birmingham and to increase the profile of Northern Photographers in general.  50 images are chosen to be printed in the SUN catalogue, this wings its way to most of the movers and shakers in the Northern creative fraternity.  The winning work is also printed and framed and exhibited at various venues including Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Newcastle, Belfast and Birmingham.  So not a bad little showcase at all.

This was my first time for entering any kind of award, so I tried to canvas opinion from my inner advice circle (you know who you are – and thanks!).  In the end there were 3 or 4 images that seemed to be the most popular, which I then entered via the Shot Up North website.  Each image entered incurs an entry fee, so it isn’t just a case of entering hundreds and hoping one will produce success – unless you have money to burn of course.

After the judging I discovered I was successful with one of my images, which I had taken during the summer, at the Feast Festival in Manchester.  It was chosen for exhibiting, inclusion in the SUN catalogue and is also available to purchase as a limited edition print (framed or unframed) via Comme Ca Art.

I had to supply some blurb to go in the brochure and having to write this proved far more strenuous than taking the shot I can tell you!

“I find our physical world fascinating in all its forms from tiny seeds to panoramic landscapes, even crumbling buildings have a soul which sometimes cries out to be captured.

The image (see below titled “lanterns”) was taken at a recent Festival in Manchester, locals placed the floating lanterns on the Lake and created such a beautiful and powerful scene, I just tried to catch the moment – the merging of the community, nature and mankind in harmony, rebirth or farewell?  It made me think of so many things.”  (Gill Moore).

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The exhibition has now reached what looks like a very nice venue in Newcastle called the Biscuit Factory.  It is Britain’s largest commercial gallery with two floors of space.   Apparently my image has been chosen to go on the front cover of their latest gallery brochure which previews the SUN show, which, if true I shall take as a real compliment.  I will endeavour to get my hands on a copy and post up on the blog.

For now here is my image “lanterns” and the overall winning image (and my favourite too) a stunning shot titled “Alpine Choughs” taken by Robert Pogson.

lanterns

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“Where can I buy original Art in Manchester and why should I?”

The appetite for owning original works of art has grown steadily over recent years.  Maybe because it is one way to make a house feel individual in these times of flatpack ubiquity.  A well-chosen piece of art can reflect a chink of character of the owner and prompt a smile or moment of pause in the thick of our busy lives.  No bad thing at all and not something that often happens with a Billy Bookcase.

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I’ve been asked the question a few times this year “Where can I buy affordable original art?”.  As I am based in Manchester my answer is somewhat limited but here are the options that I know about in my locality:-

  • ArTzu Gallery on Ancoats near the Art Deco Express Building.
  • Artland Gallery under the Quaker Meeting House opposite Central Library, Manchester.  An exciting new venue which ran a stunning exhibition of Jan Chlebik‘s  cityscape photography recently, latest exhibition is by New York Times photographer Christoph Bangert (see image above).
  • Blyths art gallery central Manchester.
  • Castlefield Gallery close to Deansgate Metro Station.
  • Colin Jellicoe Portland Street, Manchester.
  • Comme Ca Art various spots including upstairs at the prestigious Lowry Hotel, Salford/Manchester border.
  • Cornerhouse Projects (downstairs in the bar) close to Oxford Road Station, Manchester.
  • Cube Gallery (architectural related work)  see upcoming exhibiton from award-winning photographer John Davies.
  • Islington Mill, Salford/Manchester border.  Growing artists collective with studios and galleries, often special previews & shows.
  • The Lowry, Salford/Manchester border.  Has occasional exhibitions and work for sale from artists (often local).
  • Manchester Craft and Design Centre Favourite spot for emerging work, textiles, painting, photography …. all sorts.
  • Mooch Art new venture in Northern Quarter plus online gallery selling mostly local artists; painting and photography.
  • Revolve Gallery used to be Manchester-based, moved in Sept 2010 to an impressive space in Clitheroe (just north of Preston in the Ribble Valley).
  • Richard Goodall Gallery Northern Quarter, mostly illustration and photography linked with music promotion and posters, had Leonard Cohen’s work on show last year.
  • Waterside Arts Centre (Sale) nice Gallery space featuring local artists all media from painting, photography through to mixed meda and between.
  • Wendy Levy Gallery very respected Gallery based in West Didsbury top notch artists represented here including Liam Spencer.

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Finally, just in case you find galleries a little intimidating, then you might want to check out a new event on the calender, it’s the Buy Art Fair 24-27 Sept 2009 which enjoyed a very special inaugural launch last year with 3,200 visitors and over 200 artists on display, well staged at the nice, light and airy Urbis, Manchester.  Never spend more than the price of a new sofa, prove your skill at spotting new talent, support creativity and art, make your home original and breathtaking and you never know you might make some money on it too!

UPDATE : For an alternative take, check out a great blog run by a New York Gallery owner Ed Winkleman.  His blog is a really useful place to pick up terrific candid advice on the art world, the nitty gritty of running a Fine Art gallery and to see how sales are going on the other side of the pond.

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19 steps to be a great Photographic Assistant … and beyond.

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UPDATE ADDED:  5 March 2012.  I came across this excellent piece in The Guardian which looks at “How To Become a Professional Photographer”.  They did a live blog Q & A on the topic and the archive is still there in the comments.  There were some superb questions from students and those wishing to enter the profession.  This archive contains some very good advice from an excellent list of panellists.

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Many people dream of a career as a photographer and there are certainly a myriad of ways to get into the photographic industry.  My own path started by studying at college for 3 years, but the learning really only properly began when I became a Photographic Assistant in a large commercial studio assisting 10 different photographers.  I worked hard and learned a great deal.

I have now worked as a photographer for well over a decade and I have gleaned a fair bit of insight on the question of “What Makes a Great Assistant?”.  So, using my own experiences, reading around and from listening to the many folk I have met along the way I have attempted a potted guide which I hope may prove helpful to others .

Of course, it is all subjective (and by no means definitive- I certainly don’t know it all!)  so take or leave whichever bits you like.

  1. Find out and learn as much as you can about the key bits of equipment used by professional photographers in your area (and I’d include software in that too).  A good place to look would be the main source for hiring professional gear, ask them what gets hired out the most … what manufacturers people tend to use.  This increases your value as an Assistant if you can show a range of knowledge and familiarity with all the latest kit.  Hire it out yourself or strike a deal testing it for the hire company.  If you are at college use every piece of equipment regularly and know it backwards.
  2. Learn the going rate for an Assistant, never try and undercut others … usually not a clever or productive route to go especially if you are just starting out without a decent reputation.  Different commissions will have different budgets, often Digital Assistants get more than Studio Assistants.  Be prepared to work long hours on some shoots and get no lunch break.  On another day you may find you finish early and go to the beach.  To get the best answers ask other experienced Assistants, if you ring up a photographer, most will give you an honest answer.
  3. Shoot as much as you can yourself, develop your own style, practice using all available equipment and cultivate how you like to do things and slowly build up a folio and a nice set of reliable photo gear.  Once you start thinking like a photographer you should become a better Assistant; able to anticipate and be a real asset.
  4. Be reliable, discreet, loyal, unobtrusive but helpful and decisive when necessary.  Being adaptable, easy-going and good company helps.  Don’t underestimate how important good social skills are in being a good Assistant.  Each photographer is different, some will prefer you to be gregarious and take the pressure off them with models and Clients etc. However, be aware that others may hate that!  You need to read people and their needs pretty well.
  5. Ask if you don’t know how to do something. Never just muddle along and then end up breaking a piece of equipment.  Though not too many questions, or you will make the photographer nervous!  If you can, ask someone else who might know an answer (other Assistants or people who work at the studio if it is a Hire place?).
  6. Learn skills from everyone else connected to the shoot.  Watch how they work as part of a team, how do they conduct themselves and use their skills?  Be helpful to everyone;  yes it is a nice way to be and it can lead to other contacts and work.  Network and cultivate useful contacts yourself and make recommendations should someone come looking.  What goes around comes around.
  7. Keep good notes and contacts of anything you learn.   You think you will remember it all but you won’t.
  8. Create an ideas and influences book. Read, visit and study other photographers.  Come up with a shortlist of your favourites from the emerging to the worshipped.  Analyse why you like them.
  9. Never forget your main role is to support … you are all part of a team, don’t try and take over but a useful suggestion at the right time can be invaluable.  Cultivate showing the right amount of initiative, don’t always be waiting to be told what to do.
  10. Always be a little early, NEVER be late.  If, for some reason, you will be late then phone ahead and let the photographer know.  Don’t turn up with a hangover.
  11. Be available should the photographer need you, “busily hovering” is a very useful skill.  If you go off to do a task then let the photographer know.
  12. Dress to blend in, you’re a creative; you can be stylish but practical.
  13. Be keen and able to drive a car and a van, try and have a clean licence.
  14. Don’t moan on a job, if a photographer is a nightmare then do your best on the job and don’t work for them again.
  15. Keep your private life out of work, put your phone on silent&vibrate. Yes, you are running a business, but when you are on a job, don’t take other work calls unless absolutely necessary.  Try and make your calls back at a suitable moment if there is such a thing.
  16. Don’t approach or show your own work to a Client on a job.  If you fancy collaborating with a Model, Make-Up artist or Stylist then agree to meet up some other time.  It might be nice to let the photographer know of your plans as they did put the two of you together in the first place and it could be better than them finding out from someone else.
  17. Do a business course, understand the market you are in, look at other Photographers and how they have positioned themselves within their sector.  Do you want to specialise, do you want to be your own boss?  Read lots about marketing a creative service.
  18. Understand copyright and Intellectual Property, protect your work. In the UK Own It is a good place to start and often run free workshops and Copyright Action has some excellent advice and links.
  19. Get feedback on your work, listen to advice, enter competitions & awards but always read the small print, make sure they are not Right’s Grabs:- a great place for advice is Pro-Imaging: Competions the Good & the Bad.  Keep shooting, but follow your own instincts too.  Love what you do and never lose sight of enjoying taking photographs.

I have listed some links for obtaining critique on your photography below.  I am not endorsing any of these and the standards of photography submitted varies but you may find it is useful for looking at other work and getting feedback.  Please let me know any others which you have found worthwhile and I can add them to the list.

Photoassist … good UK Assistants website and forum, features a showcase gallery for current test work.
Photo-net
J M Colberg website … US-based, you have to pay a fee for this one ($75) see further comment on this offer at the “A Photo Editor” site.
Photosig
Photozo.com Forum
Photopoints.com
PBase Forum
Flickr photography critique group.
Modelmayhem.com.  You can have a profile and if offers critiques but you have to join, mostly fashion.

For actual one-to-one reviews

Format Festival. Photography Festival in Derby, UK.
Redeye. Photography Support Group in Manchester, UK.
Rhubarb Rhubarb. West Midlands, UK based photo-development Agency.

To finish off, here is a link to some respected and experienced photographers on the Magnum blog, featuring brilliant work and some insightful advice on being a photographer ….  “Wear Good Shoes – Advice to young photographers”

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