Category Archives: Photography

Gorgie, is that you?

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It’s very seldom Gorgie Road goes against type – that of a crime-ridden tracksuit-clad ghetto. Here we have a rather serene moment with complementary rainbow. It was Vanilla Sky (2001) territory in the ‘hood last week.

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The Americans (1958) – Robert Frank.

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Swiss-born émigré Robert Frank is still alive, now a venerated pioneer at ripe old age of 92. Perhaps it takes an outsider to capture the United States in all its contradictions and peculiarities, how else to explain how his The Americans remains the peak of photojournalist style – a little regarded anachronism upon initial release but now viewed as one of the most enduring photographic works of the last century (no hyperbole, it’s a pantheon piece).

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Frank sees things no other photographer of that time did, such was the head-scratching curiosity behind the lens. In his stills everything is in uneasy transition, demographics colliding, wary-of-each-other generations co-inhabiting within the same evolving social and physical landscape.

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These photos could even be mistaken as present-day portraits of America in the age of Trump, albeit shot in black and white and developed in one of those dark rooms of yesteryear, shoddily framed, apparently without regard for stylistic form and technical mastery. If Frank were to document the effects of so-called Globalism on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania I offer the content would be eerily similar to his ’58 magnum opus.

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Further reading/viewing:

https://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/new-york-historical-articles/the-foreigners-road-trip-robert-franks-america/

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/robert-frank-the-americans

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/dec/15/robert-frank-the-americans-auction

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Bus CCTV – the accepted Panopticon.

It’s the year 2017 and I don’t look out of the window when I’m on a bus. This is because I’m too busy staring at everyone (and myself) on the bus through its CCTV feedback screen.

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Me on the No. 3 bus to Gorgie (Edinburgh) this afternoon.

I am specifically talking here about the Lothian Buses device, Edinburgh’s own slice of PG-13 voyeurism. Officially, I have no active interest in the other people joining me in the ramshackle vessel’s journey, but the screen is just … there. I even play a game: I sit at the back and pick my nose when the camera isn’t on me, and attempt to unearth something green and solid before I’ve been framed. If the contraption were on the Orient Express I’d be doing this instead of gazing through the glass and marvelling at the changing landscape.

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David L. Ryan/Globe Staff.

I’d like to see the crime statistics for bus assaults, and measure them against the introduction of cameras with their feedback display. I maintain my hunch that there is no doubt a correlation between knowing you’re being watched and committing a crime. A lot of scum frequent buses – these cameras are our psychological protection against the most cautious riff-raff.

I once again come back to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, which appears to be my obsession of late.

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The Presidio Modelo prison in Cuba, closed in 1967.

So many of our external endeavours – by this I mean our post-house interactions – are oriented within a Big Brother framing device. The only difference between Orwell’s all-seeing eye and our ‘real-life’ one is that we’re complicit in the game, inspecting ourselves in the frame and often inhabiting our own watered-down (or up) voyeur’s gaze. The amount of times I’ve acted the paparazzi in the presence of a midget, for example, is frankly beastly.

Further reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/23/panopticon-digital-surveillance-jeremy-bentham

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/exposed/exposed-voyeurism-surveillance-and-camera-exhibition-guide-4

Your generic shop for equipment: https://www.videosurveillance.com/buses.asp

 

 

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Edinburgh from the skies.

The sheer technical brilliance of this snap, and the conditions of its making, shouts out pure romance. What a time to be alive. Today we get crappy iPhone images from the window of a Ryanair flight to Lanzarote.

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Alfred G Buckham’s Aerial View of Edinburgh (1920) keeps cropping up in material I’m reading about aerial reconnaissance in the First World War, not as a documentation of that period, but as an example of what some pilots did following the conflict. In this new age of flight, they simply took to the skies and put to good use the skills they honed on the Western Front. It’s what I’d like to imagine Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) would have done had he survived the making of his legend – art superseding war.

Buckham, the first head of aerial reconnaissance for the Royal Navy, captured most of his shots standing up in his plane. He left us with this enduring quote on aerial photographic technique: ‘If one’s right leg is tied to the seat with a scarf or a piece of rope, it is possible to work in perfect security.’

The guy had balls.

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Miracle on Princes Street.

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Every once in a while something miraculous occurs on Princes Street. The traffic momentarily vanishes and the bus speeds beyond 5 mph. I thought I’d wandered into an alternate reality this morning. Incredible.

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Air travel #throwbackSundays.

A Braniff airliner in the 1960s.

It’s something out of Mad Men.00-00-braniff-airliner-in-the-1960s

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Iconoclasm and ‘truth’ – challenging the official narrative.

Iconic moments of recent history are inseparable from the defining image which catapults them into popular consciousness – the Moon Landing, ‘Tank Man’ at Tiananmen Square, that famous kiss on VJ Day.

It’s only through viewing other photographic sources that we can escape the prism of these force-fed yarns and experience events three-dimensionally.

 

I see some accompanying images of articles and do wonder why, time and time again, the same stock image is used. It’s as if the rest have been erased and this one is the last Malteser in the box.

Every single piece I’ve ever read about the JFK Assassination is accompanied by stills of the Zapruder film, which has served as the basis for conspiracy theorising and debunking. No one denies its value, but it has to a large extent conveniently encapsulated and simplified the entire discourse (the ‘death’ of the American Dream, the dawn of cynicism) into a singular artefact.

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It’s in our nature to seek easy explanations. What happened immediately before and after the event has been sidelined (with the causal factors and consequences), the icon seemingly enough to digest. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s the problem. There’s only one picture doing the rounds.

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Whicker’s War.

Alan Whicker, that mustachioed gentleman traveller, the original dapper vagabond. It was in the last great daring crusade that he honed his craft as the director of cameramen of the Army Film and Photo Unit (AFPU), or the “Army Film and Punishment Unit”. This two-part documentary is cracking. We seldom get the filmmakers as subject matter, the images of war taken for granted (our YouTube pleasures). Their sole purpose was to document. It’s our record of that struggle, the spearhead evidence offered to new generations. Their weapons were film reel.

Whicker talks of the danger of seeking that ‘perfect shot’. You may get it, but that entails being up close. And then you’re dead. Only Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986) comes to mind here, *the* photojournalism masterwork.

N.B. More than half of Whicker’s team were killed or wounded.

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It was raining in Edinburgh today.

Shock horror.

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One of my ‘hobbies’ entails hanging about the back of buses when I’m bored and taking pretentious ‘art-farty’ snaps of pish. Here is Edinburgh’s Lothian Road. It’s raining. Some folk had umbrellas but others didn’t give a fuck. I love this city like George Best did ethanol.

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