The Beat That My Heart Skipped

I ain’t gonna take it no more.
I ain’t gonna take it no more.
I ain’t gonna stand idly by while the bridal reply of a marriage of styles is
“Yeah, but what’s their demographic?”

I ain’t gonna take it no more.
I ain’t gonna take it no more.
I ain’t gonna stand idly by with a tut and a sigh while inside we all cry out for something new.

I ain’t gonna take it no more.
I ain’t gonna take it no more.
Soulless music, artless lyrics.
Goalless movements, heartless gimmicks.
Controlled and clueless, careers lasting a minute.
If this is the big life, well I ain’t lookin’ to live it.
We ain’t pushing the boundaries, we’re blowing them up.
We ain’t trying to expand the scene, we want the scene to erupt.

So make some room on the floor and somebody bolt the doors cos tonight. we ain’t seeking applause.
Tonight… Well, gee,
we’re just looking to have some good new-fashioned fun, y’all.

The Beat that my Heart Skipped, Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip (2008)

I have always had a passion for books, but my love of photography books as objects didn’t happen till late in my photographic education. Like many students we were made to do an artist’s book unit in our first year at Falmouth, however along with many other things that I am still resentful for, this was so poorly explained and managed that I took no enjoyment from it. This is the one and only time I have ever been failed for a unit and forced to redo the whole thing. I made a notebook journal, filled with polaroids of my mates and I getting “pissed up”, these were held in place with cellotape and interspersed with my memories of the period, in the form of diary entries. Now a days I could contextualise this with endless examples of the DIY aesthetic, but at the time I was clueless and angry with being held back by stupid briefs (time). I was going to refuse to play their version of the twee craft artist book.

Simon's Diary May 2003 (or until the money runs out)
Simon’s Diary May 2003 (or until the money runs out)
I wish I could afford scampi, Diary detail (2003)
I wish I could afford scampi, Diary detail (2003)
all night drinking, Diary detail (2003)
all night drinking, Diary detail (2003)

The version of the book that I had to make to pass, was 24hrs on the beach in one spot, housed in a book made of toweling, with decorative hand marbled end papers, all housed in a canvas toe bag. I still keep both to remind me to stick to my guns, however originally I kept it to remind me not to eff up again and play the game. The version I was forced to produce is horrific and I’m still angry about it

Simon Robinson, Time, Tote and toweling cover (2003)
Simon Robinson, Time, Tote and toweling cover (2003)
Simon Robinson, Time, marbled end paper (2003)
Simon Robinson, Time, marbled end paper (2003)
Simon Robinson, Time, (2003)
Simon Robinson, Time, (2003)

With the element of hindsight the original is far closer to my eventual aesthetic than I ever knew at the time. Scanning it’s pages it reads like a proto-version of this blog, but with more teen angst and misguided pathos. It captured a moment in my life when I came very close to dropping out and wasn’t coping with uni. the final page “the first of many” was taken at the end of my first year, and within a month half of the people in the images wouldn’t talk to one another ever again, bearing grudges that stand to this day.

The first of many, Diary detail (2003)
The first of many, Diary detail (2003)

My passion didn’t kick in until my MA at Rochester, and it was down to two events. The first being the publications of the history of the Photobook Volume 1 & 2, which for the first time allowed me to see the scope of the field.

Screen shot 2011-07-28 at 7.10.17 PM 6The second was the V&A’s Blood on Paper exhibition

The incredible catalog is still one of my most prized books, and at the time as a poor student was a hard purchase to justify, due to it’s price.

Blood on Paper (2006)
Blood on Paper (2006)

From the moment I walked into the darkened space to be confronted by the range of publications, I Knew I was in love, it was the beat that my heart skipped, like the moment I developed my first photo, or seeing Thomas Struth’s images at the Met. The floor opened up and suddenly I could see the potential of the subject, photography wasn’t about prints on the wall, it was about audience, curation, and spectacle. Ever since that point I have made book dummies and encouraged my students to think about the presentation of their work, how its intentions change dependent on it’s publication outcomes.

I feel slightly odd writing this post because it goes into things that I have barely discussed with my supervisors except in passing. They are well aware that I was offered two studentships at two very different universities, each involved working out of two differing research clusters and approaching the thesis in differing but interconnected ways. The one I accepted was the AHRC funding at LCC, working out of the Photography and Archive Research Centre, somewhere that with hindsight is the perfect fit, however at the time it was more difficult decision. The other was UCA Farnham’s BookRoom cluster, and since I turned it down, my potential supervisor, whom I felt I had built the start of a rapport with, hasn’t spoken to me.

Before this point however I spent two years working with Norwich University of the Arts on designing the thesis as a joint body of work between my wife and myself, joint bodies of practice with linked thesis, based on a research methodology from theater research where the outcome will always be collaborative. I am in debt to my wife’s input throughout the entire process, I have stolen countless ideas from conversations we have had and never fully thank her for them.

The two things that this work was always supposed to be was collaborative and book based. However during the last year this hasn’t really been discussed, except for briefly wanting to one day roll the project out as a wider commission, which Val wisely pointed out to me was for way in the future.

Hopefully by putting these intentions on paper it will force me to move them forward. Until I started writing this blog I never considered myself to be much of a writer, however I am increasingly becoming more comfortable with my written voice. Val is pushing me to find a way that these blog posts can become a tangible object. We had discussed using them as the basis for a show at PARC, hopefully in Feb/March 2015, mixing my words, images, videos, and sound recordings. I am incredibly excited by the possibility of this, but an exhibition is still an ephemeral item, you can’t hold it, or own it, to look at and explore in your old time.

My intentions for the work have always been wider than I am able to produce in the current time frame. The blog allows me to bring together and share all the sources that inform my work, but I, like many people actually find it very hard to read and absorb information from a screen, instead printing all my PDFs so I can read them at a later time, making notes etc. I obviously have always intended to produce a series of artist books for each region within my work, but I would also like to produce a series of publications that bring together my work, with that of others working in the field of urbanism.

The single most important invention of the second millennia was Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. The moment the written word stopped being the domain of the state and church, and was open to the masses is the day that activism started.

How can you think freely in the shadow of a chapel, Situationist graffiti (1968)
How can you think freely in the shadow of a chapel, Situationist graffiti (1968)

The birth of psychogeography as an idea can be traced back to Guy Debord, and the Situationists International movement. An organisation born out of surrealism and the avant-garde movement, whose aims were to challenge the Marxist notion of capitalism and replace the bourgeois nature of western society. Like all good anarchic left wing organisations they were keen publishers of journals as a means to disseminate their manifesto.

The first use of the term psychogeography can be traced back to Potlatch #1 (which ran for 27 issues), of which 50 copies where printed and circulated as gifts. However it was not until the Situationists published their own journal that a coherent idea emerged. International Situationiste published a glossary of terms;

Internationale Situationniste No 4
Internationale Situationniste No 4

Having to do with the theory or practical activity of constructing situations. A member of the Situationist International.

A meaningless term improperly derived from the above. There is no such thing as Situationism, which would mean a doctrine of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of Situationism is obviously devised by anti-Situationists.

The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviours of individuals.

Relating to psychogeography. That which manifests the geographical environment’s direct emotional effects.

One who explores and reports on the psychogeographical phenomena

A mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances. Also used to designate a specific period of continuous deriving.

Unitary Urbanism
The theory of the combined use of arts and techniques for the integral construction of a milieu in dynamic relation to the experiments in behaviour.

Short for: détournment of pre-existing aesthetic elements. The integration of present or past artistic production into a superior construction of a milieu. In the sense there can be no Situationist painting or music, but only a situations use of the means. In a more primitives sense détournment within the old cultural sphere is a method of propaganda, a method that testifies to the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres.

Minor Détournment
An element which has no importance in itself and which draws all it’s meaning from the new context in which it has been placed. For example, a press clipping, a neutral phrase, a commonplace photograph.

I am very aware as I proofread this that it has become very heavy, very quickly. The point I’m trying to make is like all subversive political movements the journal or pamphlet is the key method of dissemination. The Situationist International’s methods had a huge influence in counter culture movements in the proceeding years. Especially in the anti establishment politics of Oz or the punk movement, when the zine took hold, with its anarchic content and cheap cut and paste content, every page dripping with anger and resentment at the old guard.

Oz Magazine
Oz Magazine

On the pages of John Savage’s London’s Outrage (1976),

London's Outrage No 2 Cover, Jon Savage
London’s Outrage No 2 Cover, Jon Savage
London's Outrage No 2, Jon Savage
London’s Outrage No 2, Jon Savage
Same Thing day after day, London's Outrage No 2, Jon Savage
Same Thing day after day, London’s Outrage No 2, Jon Savage

and Linder Sterling’s Secret Public,

The Secret Public, Linda Sterling
The Secret Public, Linda Sterling
The Secret Public, Linda Sterling
The Secret Public, Linda Sterling

Audience were introduced to left wing politics, trade unions and feminism. While I have never enjoyed the aesthetics or sounds of the punk era, I can’t help be appreciative of their energy, and content. Savage’s images were recently shown at Tate Britain as part of the Ruin Lust (2014) exhibition, here they were shown out of context with no text linking them to their past use.

Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)
Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)

These photos were taken on an old Pentax during January 1977: their purpose was to serve as an image bank for the second issue of the fanzine London’s Outrage. The location was the square of North Kensington that lies between Holland Park Road, the Shepherd’s Bush spur, Westbourne Park Road and the Harrow Road.

Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)
Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)

The bulk of the images come from the streets around Latimer Road and Lancaster Road: the district called Notting Dale. Here, as in other inner London areas like W9 (the Chippenham) and WC2 (Covent Garden), the tide of industry and humanity had temporarily receded. Slum housing stock had been demolished, but there was no reconstruction: squatting communities like Frestonia (based in Notting Dale’s Freston Road) occupied the remaining buildings. Not yet the clichés of punk iconography, large tower blocks loomed like primitive monsters above the rubble and the corrugated iron. I was guided to this area after seeing the Clash and the Sex Pistols. I was very taken with the Clash, partly because their North Kensington manor was so close to mine. Songs like “How Can I Understand The Flies” and “London’s Burning” reflected their environment with precision and passion. London was very poor in the late seventies. The Clash and the Sex Pistols – the guttersnipes and the flowers in the dustbin – spoke of the human cost. This focus on the forgotten parts of the city was part of the social realism that would soon swallow punk. There was, however, something futuristic in this desolate landscape. The landscape that had been cleared to allow the Westway’s serpentine path opened up a gap that allowed imaginative and physical space. By 1976, the ideas contained in J.G.Ballard’s “Crash” and “High Rise” were like spores in the wind.

Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)
Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)

Like the dub reggae that saturated parts of West London, early Clash songs like ‘How Can I Understand The Flies’, with their instrumental drop-out, incorporated these gaps into their very fabric. The hyper-speed velocity of the Clash’s early live shows were, in part, an indication of the energy that came from seeing London’s dereliction as an opportunity: the forgotten city as playground. These areas are unrecognisable today. There are dwellings, theme pubs, smart media offices, cars, a new leisure centre. This regeneration is better, surely, than the blasted landscape of 30 years ago. But there was a kind of freedom in London’s spaces: before it became trapped in mass media definitions and music industry marketing, Punk offered a way of envisioning the metropolis anew, of redrawing its mental and physical map, that is now impossible.
Jon Savage

Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)
Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)

The aesthetic and sentiment of the punk era has found it ways into many psychogeographic publications of the post punk era, whether in the work of Tom Vague’s Vague, later Vague: Psychic Terrorism Annual. Arguably the best of the early eighties post punk scenes, Vague was a major work.

London Psychogeography: Rachman Riots and Rillington Place, Vague (1988)
London Psychogeography: Rachman Riots and Rillington Place, Vague (1988)

It was thick, well bound and full of massive sprawling articles on pre fame Adam And The Ants, the proto Goth scene, squatting, anarchism, Apocolpyse Now and long road stories, it felt radical and editor Tom Vague was bang in the middle of an emerging subculture that would soon be mislabeled Goth, he was there at a time when it was radical and thrilling and reflected it in his superb writing. It would later include a heavy psychogeographic element with important issues such as ‘Rachman Riots and Rillington Place’, an episodic treatment of certain key moment in the recent history of Nothing Hill.

On the face of it Vague’s treatment of history is conventional to the point of barbaric idiocy: his use of a timeline to structure the narrative can hardly be called sophisticated and his refusal to interpret events or people psychologically or sociologically would be below most hystoriographers.

Almost all history is written by dinosaurs but Vague is of the 1-2-3-GO! school and the result, raw and elementary, creates a lot of space for your own associations, relevant knowledge and mental garbage to fill the gaps. In the context of psychogeography Vague is moving in the opposite direction of most psychogeo writers. Instead of writing about a spatial entity from the perspective of the individual (place and space presented as malformed after a rollercoaster ride through the maelstrom of the personal madness and deep emotions of a very special person (as, you are aware, all writers (boring fucks) are)). If you read carefully – the last page gives the biggest clue – Vague presents this almost as the autobiography of Nothing Hill with him as the inspired mouthpiece, his own biography mixed with that of the subject. He is the place.
Cryptoforestry Inner City Reforestation in Utrecht and the G/Local Amazon; Psychogeography is involved. (2011)

I first came across the work of Laura Oldfield Ford in the sterile pages of Blueprint, just like Savage’s work finding a new home in the gallery setting, it was neutered of it’s original intentions and it was difficult to think of her as more than an interloper in other peoples lives. The gallery is now her primary method of dissemination, but her intentions of the work remain the same, “psychogeography has become a depolitical bourgeois activity, thanks to Will Self and cohorts, I want to return it to a Situationist perspective, a stringent urban critique, a method of geopolitical interrogation.”

Wapping, Laura Oldfield Ford
Wapping, Laura Oldfield Ford
Brutalist Estate, Laura Oldfield Ford
Brutalist Estate, Laura Oldfield Ford

Born in Halifax as the textiles industry was being ripped apart by Conservative Britain, she became involved in the early 90s squatting and rave scene, of the kind depicted by Tom Hunter in Le Crowbar (2013), far removed from the hysteria I remember growing up in the M25 belt, depicted luridly in the local news.

The Total Resistance soundsystem, Tom Hunter, Le Crowbar (2013)
The Total Resistance soundsystem, Tom Hunter, Le Crowbar (2013)

It would be in the Pages of her zine Savage Messiah (2005-09) that she would find an outlet for her anger at London’s gentrification and community alienation. Each issue would focus on a different London postcode.

Savage Messiah cover, Laura Oldfield Ford
Savage Messiah cover, Laura Oldfield Ford

In 2008 Owen Hatherley named Savage Messiah 10: Abandoned London as one of his “books of the year”, describing it as “an oneiric vision of a depopulated, post-catastrophe capital, pieced together from snatched conversations and reminiscences, set in a landscape of the labyrinthine ruins of 1960s architecture and today’s negative-equity banlieue. (French suburb, or increasingly American style housing ‘Project’”In 2011, Hari Kunzru listed Verso Books’s publication of Savage Messiah in book form as a “book of the year” and described it as “a wake-up call to anyone who can only see modern cities through the lens of gentrification.” In a 2013 review for the American Book Review, Sukhdev Sandhu described the Verso publication as an example of “invisible literature” and “avant-pulp psychogeography” able “to rekindle erased histories of popular dissent from the 1970s to the 1990s”, and one relevant to “a new and possibly endless age of austerity”

Savage Messiah detail, Laura Oldfield Ford
Savage Messiah detail, Laura Oldfield Ford
Savage Messiah detail, Laura Oldfield Ford
Savage Messiah detail, Laura Oldfield Ford

Laura Oldfield Ford’s samizdat pamphlets, recording moody expeditions, pub crawls, mooches through the kingdom of the dead that is liminal London. Even the author’s name seemed like a serendipitous marriage of Blake’s Old Ford and the poet Charles Olson’s notion of open-field poetics (the contrary of the current fetish for enclosures). The original Savage Messiah “zines” are serial diaries of ranting and posing among ruins. Ford delivers the prose equivalent of a photo-romance in quest of a savage messiah with attitude, cheekbones and wolverine eyes. A feral, leather-jacketed manifestation of place.

Collided into a great block, the catalogue of urban rambles takes on a new identity as a fractured novel of the city. Slim pamphlets, now curated and glossily repackaged, have an awkward relationship with their guerrilla source. With a formal introduction and a cover price a penny short of £20, it is difficult to sustain the swagger of the throwaway form, strategically manipulated to look like dirty sheets on which you can smell the ink, glue, semen and toxic mud. The structure depends on a steady drip-feed of quotes from JG Ballard, Italo Calvino, Guy Debord, Walter Benjamin. White men all, festering in elective suburbs of hell, where they labour to finesse a paradise park of language.

Bristol Zine, Laura Oldfield Ford (reminiscent of Jon Savage)
Bristol Zine, Laura Oldfield Ford (reminiscent of Jon Savage)
Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)
Uninhabited London, Jon Savage (1977-2008)

Moving beyond this relentless Xeroxing of the entire genealogy of protest from Blast to Sniffin’ Glue, by way of Situationism and psychogeography, Oldfield Ford displays authentic gifts as a recorder and mapper of terrain. She is a necessary kind of writer, smart enough to bring document and poetry together in a scissors-and-paste, post-authorial form. Like so many before her, psychotic or inspired, she trudges far enough to dissolve ego and to identify with the non-spaces into which she is voyaging. “This unknown territory has become my biography.” Her story is eroticised by the prospect of riot, anecdotes teased from smouldering industrial relics. The “euphoric levitation” of brutalist tower blocks. Post-coital reveries from “an ugly night on ketamine in a New Cross squat”.
Savage Messiah by Laura Oldfield Ford – review, An inspired collection of urban rambles, The Guardian (2011)

Technology has moved us away from the cut and paste photocopy zine of punk and post punk eras. The development of digital offset printing as seen a resurgence in indie publishing, in a myriad of forms. Once again the medium has been liberated from the bourgeois and is been used by the everyday to tell their own stories. A new generation is combining digital technology with the traditional craft of the artist’s book as a means to produce mass produced publications. Old technologies, such as Risographs, originally designed as a cheap duplicator for churches, schools and prisons, and vintage printing presses, have been re-appropriated from second hand sales, leading to re-embracing of the arts and craft studio, pioneered by Morris, Burne-Jones and Ruskin.

Risograph Printer, Ditto Press
Risograph Printer, Ditto Press

One of these new breed of studios and publishing imprints is Ditto, speaking here in the British Journal Of Photography about the formation of their business.

The duo spent the next two months sourcing equipment, much of which was bought second-hand. Central to there plan was the Risograph – a high-speed digital printing system that was launched by the Riso Kagaku Corporation in 1986, but at the time gained little traction in the photography or creative industries.

We were the first company in the country to use it. There was a company in Holland printing on them for about 15 years, a company in Switzerland using them to print their own books, and a guy in America who was a fan, but when we started, if you Googled Risograph you wouldn’t find much.

We came upon it at the right time – the credit crunch meant paper companies shut down; printing companies shut down and budgets disappeared. If someone did a graduation show, the budget for the catalogue used to be £15,000 and people would sponsor it. Suddenly because of the electronic printing revolution, the economic slowdown and the printing industry dying, budgets were more like £3000-4000. Students and galleries don’t have huge amounts of money to spend on printing collateral any more.

Enter this print process, where you can print fluorescent pink on beautiful paper for £50, and suddenly everyone wanted to use it because there were no options, other than digital that looks kind of soulless…

Herschel Telescope, Ditto Press
Herschel Telescope, Ditto Press

It obviously doesn’t suit everything, if you want photos to look crystal clear, then digital or offset printing is the best way to do it. Where it works best is when people think, ‘OK, this is how the process looks, I’ll design a book to make the most of that process.’

If you where to now Google Risograph you would find a multitude of Studios/Collective/Imprints/Presses using the technology, Hato, Two Press, Bolt, Victory Press, etc.

At the other end of the craft spectrum are collectives, buying up and reusing moveable type. The London Centre for Book Arts (LCBA) is an open-access educational and resource centre dedicated to book arts. Based in what was once the heart of London’s print industry in Fish Island, close to Hackney Wick in east London, LCBA fosters and promotes artists working in book form and self-publishing. They offer access to specialist printing and binding facilities, and run workshops on a variety of subjects related to book arts. As well as encourage collaboration and dialogue, and running an exhibition programme highlighting work being done regionally and beyond.

While these facilities have been available for years at our specialist art colleges, London College of Communication, Camberwell College of Art, UCA Farnham’s BookRoom Cluster and the University of West England’s Book Arts at the Centre for Fine Print Research. This is the first major resource that anybody can access on a membership basis.

The BookRoom space
The BookRoom space

Some people travel the US to see the sights and bright lights, to maybe lose themselves in the kitsch of Vegas or Hollywood’s craziness. Simon Goode, on the other hand, roamed the country to explore the joys of papermaking, typesetting and bookbinding.

“The trip was like a holy grail,” he said, rhapsodising over three months travelling from New York to Los Angeles on a mission that has helped result in Britain’s first ever centre for a craft that is in danger of disappearing: book arts.

That term may be a mystery to some. “It is a difficult one to define and still, to this day, a lot of people don’t know exactly how to define it,” admits Goode.

Essentially, it is creating art in book form. “Then you’ve got the question, what is a book?” he added. “My experiences define it as using traditional techniques, like bookbinding and letterpress making – but not wholly, and not exclusively – for artists to produce their own works.”

If that’s still fuzzy, then Goode hopes people might just come along to his centre to explore an art form whose practitioners have included Richard Long, David Hockney and Ed Ruscha, whose first artist’s book was Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations, which featured 26 photographs of just that. In the UK, the largest number of artists’ books is held by the V&A, while Tate has about 5,500.

Goode said it was something of an anomaly in the UK that while there has been no centre until now, there are plenty of artists’ book fairs and shops where the books are sold.

That’s not the case in the US, where the first book arts centre opened in New York 38 years ago, with others following in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Goode said his trip to the US “visiting these incredible institutions” was a complete eye-opener and that it was these experiences which led him to create the London Centre for Book Arts in a 365-square metre space in Fish Island, Hackney, which has been funded by membership fees and benefactors.

Clive Phillpot, a former director of the Museum of Modern Art’s library in New York, said it was “remarkable that a capital city such as London has not previously had a specific centre for book arts”.

Goode’s mission has been driven by his experiences when he graduated from his book arts course – now earmarked for closure (since closed)– at the London College of Communication (formerly the London College of Printing) in 2006.

“I soon found out there was nowhere for me to use all these bits of specialised equipment that I’d learned. I spent three years learning all these bookbinding and printmaking techniques, it was amazing and I had a brilliant time and I wanted to carry on, but there was simply no access,” he said.

“Unless you can afford to buy all your own equipment, and you’ve got a living room with reinforced floors, there’s no way of doing it.”

It took two weeks to move in the specialist equipment that Goode had been accumulating and storing in garages over the years, including an impressively intimidating Victorian guillotine once owned by Ted Hughes, who used it for his own small press publications. That has been donated by the University of the West of England in Bristol, while a wooden press from 1897 comes from a former printer in Birmingham who sold it ridiculously cheap so it went to a good home.

“It is a little bit dangerous, which is why it’s chained up at the moment,” said Goode. “It’s not for use by anyone other than myself really. It looks nice though – and it does work.”

Simon Goodge, London Centre for Book Arts
Simon Goodge, London Centre for Book Arts

Goode opens the centre later this month and hopes to have about 2,000 people through the doors in its first year.

The opening has been welcomed by people in the book arts world. Sarah Bodman, senior research fellow for artists’ books at the University of the West of England’s centre for fine print research, said the UK needed to establish something similar to the American example.
“The UK needs a model like this to open and support the creative economy and help artists to produce book works, build upon their skills and network with their peers,” she said.
New chapter opens with Britain’s first centre for book arts, The Guardian (2013)

Last Days of W, Alec Soth (2008)
Last Days of W, Alec Soth (2008)

Another sector of the indie print industry that is flourishing is newsprint, used for several years by photographers like Alec Soth, Last Days of W, (2008) and his series LBM Dispatch, which is now embarking on its final journey through the state of Georgia USA. Since it’s inception in 2012 with Ohio.

LBM Dispatch #4: Three Valleys, Alec Soth and Brad Zellar (2013)
LBM Dispatch #4: Three Valleys, Alec Soth and Brad Zellar (2013)
LBM Dispatch, Alec Soth and Brad Zellar (2013)
LBM Dispatch, Alec Soth and Brad Zellar (2013)

The LBM Dispatch is an irregularly published newspaper of the North American ramblings of photographer Alec Soth and writer Brad Zellar. Over the course of one week in May 2012, Alec Soth & Brad Zellar visited a dozen towns and cities throughout Ohio in search of community life, and along the way recorded the faces and voices of people longing to connect with their neighbors. This newspaper was published one week after Soth & Zellar returned from Ohio.

LBM Dispatch, Alec Soth and Brad Zellar (2013)
LBM Dispatch, Alec Soth and Brad Zellar (2013)

I didn’t want a big book so I decided to self publish it as a newspaper. It was a goof, and I ended up having a lot of fun with it. LBM (Little Brown Mushroom) is a lemonade stand and, with each project, I want to keep that in mind. If it gets too serious, if it becomes a business or a job, then I want to back off. My goal is not to get too serious – to break even, not to grow, not to make money.
Alec Soth

The UK company Newspaper Club has created a business that allows people to easily produce newspapers in arrange of sizes and page numbers. A quick look at their blog shows how readily the creative industries have taken to the throw away medium.

Photographers are choosing newsprint for a number of reasons, Soth spoke of liking the non archival quality of the newsprint. “In 40 years from now, I want to pull out an old yellow copy and show it to my grandchildren and say, ‘I published this at the end of George Bush’s presidency’.” Jason larkin chose it for the unfinished feel, and to complement the Subject of Cairo Divided, a city in a state of flux. The decision was also born out of the frustration of how the main stream press were treating photo journalism, a two year project would be condensed to six pages.

Cairo Divided, Jason Larkin (2011)
Cairo Divided, Jason Larkin (2011)

“It’s a reality of the marketplace, but I was very interested in expanding the project in terms of the number of pages, and also the size of these pages. I wanted to be able to print the landscapes big. When you open up a newspaper you realise there’s quite a lot of space there.”
Jason Larkin

Rob Hornstra of The Sochi Project talks of the versatility and audience that a newspaper can encompass.

It was a very small story, so it just didn’t feel right to print it in a photobook. We wanted to be able to distribute this newspaper in different places across Europe and for different purposes. Sometimes the newspaper would act as a catalogue for the exhibition, other times we would just distribute it to people on the streets, and in some cases it acted as the exhibition itself, pinned to the wall. So the designers and myself made the decision to create assort of multifunctional newspaper…

On the Other Side of the Mountain, Rob Hornstra (2010)
On the Other Side of the Mountain, Rob Hornstra (2010)
On the Other Side of the Mountain, Rob Hornstra (2010)
On the Other Side of the Mountain, Rob Hornstra (2010)

Printing newspaper is a brilliant way to get a story out. If you use newsprint you can give it away for free. Of course you can charge for it, but that’s really stupid…

If you do a photobook, your story won’t be seen by many people. With Newspaper, you can spread it round…

On the Other Side of the Mountain, Rob Hornstra (2010)
On the Other Side of the Mountain, Rob Hornstra (2010)

In Japan, they are producing some really beautiful newspapers that are really different from what we expect newspapers to look like. That’s the problem we’re facing, people are still thinking about the idea of it being an actual newspaper. You shouldn’t. You should think about it as a series of pages with which you can do whatever you want. Most newspapers I’ve seen are still fairly conservative. But you can turn it in all directions; readers can create their own layout and sequence. You can fold it in two or in four. You can print across several spreads to make a poster. We can learn a lot about it from the Japanese market. I think it will be very interesting to see how it’s used in the future.
Rob Hornstra

On the Other Side of the Mountain, Rob Hornstra (2010)
On the Other Side of the Mountain, Rob Hornstra (2010)

The importance of the Japanese photobook cannot be underplayed, for many this was a closed community, little known outside of it’s country of origin or very specialist collectors. It wasn’t unit Badger and Parr dedicated a chapter of their seminal History of the Photobook Vol 1 (2004) that the art community as a whole was able to get their introduction to it. It is unsurprising that a culture that holds craft in such reverie that craftsman can be certified as Living National Treasures by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, should embrace that photobook as the primary medium of displaying work.

Japan in the 1960s and early 70s marks a highpoint in the history of the photobook, another of those briefs periods, like Russia in the 1930s, when photographic book publishing was at the forefront of the cultural renaissance that touched all the arts. The iconoclastic photo-magazine Provoke had a vital influence on Japanese photography and all the Japanese photobook. It was an influence that one might contend, that was out of all proportions to the mere three issues published during its short, hectic existence.
History of the Photobook Vol 1, Badger & Parr (2004)


Provoke (Purovōku) was an experimental magazine founded by photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Takuma Nakahira, critic Koji Taki, and writer Takahiko Okada in 1968. The magazine’s subtitle read as: shisō no tame no chōhatsuteki shiryō (Provocative documents for the sake of thought). Photographer Daido Moriyama is most often associated with the publication, but Moriyama did not join the magazine until the second issue. Provoke lasted only three issues with a small print run, but remains an important cultural artifact of the postwar era.

Provoke 3
Provoke 3

The magazine sought to be, in accordance with its namesake, a provocation to Japanese society and specifically its photographic culture, at the time mostly relegated to staid, European-style photojournalism and straightforward commercial photography. They sought to awaken and refresh the aesthetics of existing photography and question the increasingly commercial visual language of Japanese society following the havoc wreaked by war. Considering Provoke. Artist Dan Graham once saying of his conceptual magazine works, “I love magazines because they are like pop songs, easily disposable, dealing with momentary pleasures.”

Indeed, a strength of the magazine as medium is its very ephemerality and serial nature. It has the ability to capture the artist’s pure reaction and burning mood, and in the case of Provoke, a sort of subdued anti-commerciality following national tragedy. Magazines are rarely difficult to produce or consume and can be more widely circulated than other kinds of artwork. And because they are often produced in editions, the weight of a single issue isn’t as highly estimated in the artist or audience’s mind as a singular painting or sculpture might be. While Provoke is far from being considered disposable (now rare and highly collectible), it’s useful to consider these rudiments of magazine as conceptual medium in the case of Provoke and its legacy.

Provoke, page detail
Provoke, page detail

One book by Daido Moriyama has gone down as a pinnacle in book making and takes the style that dominated the pages of Provoke to its logical conclusion. The aesthetic that came to define post-war Japanese art photography: saturated to the point of looking wet, content savagely abstracted, and forms leaden or hallucinatory. This are-bure-boke photographic style and the dark portrayal of post-war Japanese society lay in sharp contrast to the existing public imagery of the era.

In 1971 Moriyama tagged along with his friend Tadanori Yokoo on a trip to New York. This was Moryama’s first trip outside Japan, and the use of the images would lead to an improvised masterpiece of photobook making. Hiring a Tokyo shop/gallery in 1974, Moriyama would spend 14 days hand making a book Another Country in New York (1974) for people while they waited. In lieu of mounting photographic prints on the walls of the gallery, Moriyama brought in a photocopy machine and silk screen printing station. Using this equipment, he generated an ad hoc photobook composed of photocopied sheets staple-bound inside a silkscreen cover. Every day Moriyama would alter the books sequence depending on his mood.

Another Country in New York, Daido Moriyama (1974)
Another Country in New York, Daido Moriyama (1974)

Since 74, Moriyama has restaged the show Printing Show (1974) twice. Once at the aperture gallery in 2011, entitled Printing Show – TKY,

Cover, Daido TKY, Daido Moriyami (2011)
Cover, Daido TKY, Daido Moriyami (2011)
Page detail, Daido TKY, Daido Moriyami (2011)
Page detail, Daido TKY, Daido Moriyami (2011)
Page detail, Daido TKY, Daido Moriyami (2011)
Page detail, Daido TKY, Daido Moriyami (2011)
Screen printing the cover, Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)
Screen printing the cover, Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)
Page selection,Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)
Page selection,Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)
Selecting page edit, Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)
Selecting page edit, Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)
Covers, Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)
Covers, Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)
Stapling individual publications, Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)
Stapling individual publications, Printing Show, Daido Moriyama, New York (2011)

And most recently at the Tate Modern in 2012 for the show William Klein + Daido Moriyama, working with the imprint GOLIGA that produces, edits, and publishes limited editions, experimental book works, and photography-based events. Goliga’s principal objective is to experiment with innovative ways of disseminating and engaging with photography. The resulting book was entitled Menu.

GOLIGA’s founder Ivan Vartanian describes the thought process around Printing Show. ‘I think the question of what a publisher is very interesting. Usually it’s about taking a body of work and putting it in a traditional book format for distribution. That is uninteresting for me. Im looking for that place where we can take the publishing process and make it as much as possible a clear reflection of the photographer’s empirical involvement with the book/object/thing/experience/dynamic/installation/moment as a work in itself – while simultaneously incorporating a distribution and sales model.

I also want to bring people together and have them actively engage with the work. I see the performance venue as a theatre, library, thinking space, communal area, and the province of the artist. That’s what these performances are about – being connected, being present. I see books as part archive, part documentation and part meta-process. The book itself has to be an outcome of the event process that it is documenting, but it is also a reflection of whatever we are making at the time. And that, I think, is ultimately what I’ve learnt from Japanese photobooks and Moriyama’s ‘Printing Show’. It is not a reproduction of something that happens somewhere at some point. The photobook in its reproduction and in its creation is an original. Even though there are 300 of them, each one is an original and is a reflection of the photography it contains. Everything that I’m doing now and everything that is embraced within printing show comes back to that one idea.

PRINTING SHOW, Tate (2012)
PRINTING SHOW, Tate (2012)
PRINTING SHOW, Tate (2012)
PRINTING SHOW, Tate (2012)

I wasn’t intelligent enough to attend Printing Show, at the time (and still a bit now) I don’t really enjoy are-bure-boke photography, and it seems cynical and perverse to buy a book you don’t like just for it’s design factors, it is too much of a move to fetishisation. However as a photographer I wish I could have experienced the audience’s reaction to the process. I

was able to recently experience the DIY book on a far smaller basis, in the form of the Norwich University of Arts, Illustration catalogue, which was presented as a self assembly station, with pre punched pages and simple binders. The students that I accompanied to the show thought I was mad, as I told them how great this was, but I enjoyed jostling with others to pick up the pages and assemble my edit, experience the work as a collective experience, instead of isolation.

photo 2(2) photo 1(2) photo 1(3) photo 2(3)

Once we go back to university in September I intend to discuss how we can incorporate elements of the ideas above into the work. I am really hopeful that I can find a way to transfer the blog and wider research into an analogue object, that the audience can take away. Something that is in keeping with the DIY aesthetic of the situations, and is informed by the print heritage of psychogeography. And above all that allows me to incorporate into it, the words and images of my peers, either through pre-existing materials or as a call for ideas/content. If you have any thoughts please get in contact with me.


Surveying The Terrain

One of the benefits of undertaking a PhD is the increased amount of time I spend looking at new photography and contextual sources. Having realised that I had arranged a supervision meeting for a Thursday at the end of June, I was able to attend the private views for the first photography week at Free Range for the first time since finishing my MA.

It will come, as no surprise that an awful lot of the work on display at degree shows is either very self indulgent, or carbon copies of whatever is the current photographic zeitgeist. I don’t want to spend too long exploring the reasons for this, but it firmly has something to do with the lack of funding in higher education leading to increased intake numbers, and digital technology meaning any university or college can now offer photography courses without needing the money or skill set to deal with traditional analogue methods.

I always feel it is unfair to judge third year work, as increasingly students spend 2 years playing with their craft, trying to fill in the weak points from A-level and foundation courses, and then spending a final year trying to hone their voice into a cohesive body of work. In many ways it would be fairer to run a 4 year program, either with a foundation year at the beginning to introduce the subject, or a final year leading straight to an MA. Three years is not enough time to understand your subject and find your voice. I can testify to this having dicked around for two and half years and then rolled straight into a two year MA program after my graduation as I felt that my BA project was the start of something, not the end. I am only just starting to reconcile my intentions from that point, and it is 9 years since I left Falmouth.

Looking through the online graduate showcases on Source or the walls of the Truman Gallery, normally confirms the fact that the best work consistently comes out of the universities with the strongest reputations, Brighton, Bournemouth, Newport, UAL. However in the last few years I have been gobsmacked at the work coming out of University College Suffolk based at Ipswich (reason enough to doubt it). Their output consistently outweighs their current reputation. Having taught A Level students for a number of years and had a large input into their UCAS applications they normally act very surprised when I recommend this small college. However its modest size allows it to keep its group sizes at the point they should be (30-35) unlike one university who proudly told me that had 600 enrolled in their photography degrees, sharing 5 studios and a colour darkroom for 12 people. The small size also means that they are able to curate a group that shares similar photographic interests, creating a cross pollination amongst students.

The work that normally speaks to me is the work I would describe as quiet poetic landscape, the large format shots informed by the New Topographic show, and the work of the American colour photographers of the 70s, or pyschogeography inspired bodies of work.

This years Free Range was very short of this kind of work, and I get the feeling it is slowly moving out of fashion again after years of carbon copy Alec Soth wannabes. It was still on display in the UCS show, and when done well still carries a huge amount of power.

The rest of my choices are either because I have an interest in the subject matter, (the Beeching Act, infrastructure, post industrial landscapes), or because they are areas I know, and in a couple of cases have photographed.

Three UCS students stood out for me, not to say their work was better than the rest, it just had more resonance to me.

Alastair Bartlett – Here We Are (2014)

Here We Are is set in the Cambridgeshire fenland. This is a place that, for most, is not a destination in itself. Rather, it is a place that is on the way. I like to drive around the unfamiliar and take photographs. Sometimes, certain places call to me. Other times, I have to look harder. Cambridgeshire is familiar enough so that I am comfortable in its presence, yet it is still foreign. I like the solitude. I just like to drive and take pictures.





Tom Owens – Edgelands (2014)

Owens has been fascinated by light, colour and his surroundings since childhood. The official labelling of designated areas of beauty has made him question what is beautiful in the countryside. Seeing the same places over and over again at either end of the day tugs chords within him and scenes bathed in morning or evening light take on a transformation from the dull and uncared for environment. Mankind has shaped the countryside for millennia yet nature will subsume our efforts to abuse it. These edgelands are a constant reminder of the tension between rural and urban environments where nature will eventually outwit us all.

Fly Tip

Sproughton post Flextight


Cattawade Edge 1

Cattawade Verbascum and Coke

Henry Huxtable – The Pits (2014)

An aspect of my photographic inquiry is the topographical documentation of the landscape. Much of my work focuses on how the landscape is transformed. The visual markers of this process, often overlooked or ignored, form the basis of my work. In particular, gravel pits fascinate me, and the tension between the visually compelling and the extraction process. This resource material is often used for development projects that also further eradicate and alter the landscape. When this process is finished the pits are left to flood or lie dormant. The place, slowly and over time, is reclaimed by nature eventually absorbing but never removing the remnants of our human presence.




The only other body of work that interested me, that I saw at Free range this year was from the University of Roehampton.

Mari Boman – Dry The River (2014)

Dry the River is a documentary landscape project exploring the complexity of a contested space, the Turia Gardens – referring to notions on space, representation, the truth and the everyday. The project tracks the development of a dry riverbed in Valencia, which has been turned into a park and recreation grounds. It follows the ongoing journey of local people from past to present and looks towards an uncertain future. Using own photographs mixed with found items, texts, archival materials and postcards, a complex collection of voices emerges in the book.

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Unfortunately I didn’t get down to the second week of shows which included many of the bigger names, so these are taken from the online galleries.

Ben Darby, University of Hereford – Withdrawn (2014)

Withdrawn explores the violent nature of the relationship between man and his environment. Quarrying is an inherently destructive activity, scarring the landscape, leaving it completely unrecognisable from its original form. This series acts as an emotional response to the violent nature of man on an environment that has no choice but to alter. They set out to capture the juxtaposition of a violently altered landscape which has since become a place of tranquillity and calm. All the images were captured in a single quarry in North Wales.

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Suzanna Davidson, University of South Wales, Newport- Genius Loci (2014)

‘The ruinous landscape can demonstrate something of the other, a different moment in time, lacunae, here and there strewn with ruins, can in a fragmentary way stir up something of the past, as a support to the memory of a city.’ Jan De Graaf. Wastelands are often looked at as inane eyesores. I have always been intrigued and enchanted by the museum like qualities they hold, every barren landscape has a history to tell. In wastelands across Britain, this work tells a story of these spaces before they were left to ruin. The most profound photograph for the previous function of each desolate place is found, and projected back into the landscape, creating a juxtaposition of the past and present.

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Lottie Pugh, University of Brighton – Nieuw Land (2014)

My practice is primarily concerned with the relationship between photography, travel, landscape and architecture. When exploring the landscape, I particularly focus on the presence of infrastructure and man’s alteration of the environment. This project, Nieuw Land, is an exploration into the heavily constructed reclaimed land of the Netherlands. The photographs draw attention to the relationship and interaction between land and water, and how this is highlighted in the uses and functions of this manufactured space.


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Paul Gareth Sands, University of Plymouth – Of The Land (2014)

‘Of the Land’ offers an appreciation for Industry and Land within areas I am familiar with. It is to serve as a passive gaze. Looking at Industry and not questioning the impact it has, but showing the way Industry sits within and is part of the land. This has developed from wanting to question how land is used while also showing gratitude to the exhibition ‘New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape.’ Working with a large format camera and black and white film, I have begun a journey that I wish to continue long into my practice: looking, documenting and questioning the use of land.

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Dan Bellenger, Hereford College of Arts – Spaghetti Junction (2014)

Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction is best known to be one of the busiest junctions in Europe. By looking into this area, it creates a different atmosphere when all is quiet and empty. Using the light provided by street lights and flood lights which is reflected between the layers of the junction it creates an aesthetic that isn’t normally seen in this type of area.

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Emily Normansell, Sheffield Hallam University – End Of The Line (2014)

This project explores the idea of non places. These are places we travel through frequently, however we never stop to engage with them. I have explored this through documenting derelict railway lines that were once a non place, and to some extent still are. I am giving the viewer a chance to experience these places without the strict time constraints, they usually observe these places within. The body of work also features the idea of our landscape being a canvas for time, through the way in which it documents how man’s neglect effects the landscape.

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William Pitt, UCA Farnham – Quickmix (2014)

All concrete supplied by C+H Quickmix, my grandfathers business. In 1965 C+H Quickmix was formed after the joining together of R.G Carters Limited and W J Hall Extractors Limited. ‘Quickmix’ was produced with geographical restrictions with all of the structures based in my home town Great Yarmouth and closely surrounding areas, and for all of the concrete to be supplied by C+H Quickmix. The project questions the idea of the banal, exploring the subtle characteristics of concrete and its form but at the same time acts as a personal document and family history.





This is no means a definitive list of all the work, but it is the pieces that jumped out at me. Some of the artist’s statements highlight how early these students are in their own practise and many of them do emulate their contextual sources. This is to be expected at this stage in their careers, and just to stand out in the sea of images is good enough at this stage.

What is shocking is how few degree courses make it to Free Range, unfortunately regardless of what you think, London is still the creative epicentre of this country and unless students have the opportunity to show their work, it makes it very hard to break out of the provinces. Also students need to understand the importance of being represented on Source and Free Range, not uploading images is just lazy, the same as having a poorly designed website (tumblr is for cat images, food porn and digital pinboards, not for serious work you have slaved over for the best part of a year) or worst still, no website (apart from the blog, I still haven’t got round to building one).

Remember when you are at your private view, it isn’t an excuse top simply get pissed, I remember my mum telling me to go take the time to speak to people looking at my work, and several of them turned out to be very useful people to know. Your degree show is the culmination of 3 years of work, partying and sleeping, it is now time to take your career seriously (or start an MA), the myth of the student that is plucked from no where and thrust onto the art world is very rare. If you are going to make it as an artist it will take hard work and a lot of heart ache. Don’t follow trends, do what makes you happy and you will find an audience.


The Lower Lea Valley

This post follows on from Or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, and was originally written as one piece, however I have split it as I feel that while both posts have a linking thread, they deserve to be treated as there own entity. I do however suggest you read it first.

After a recent supervision meeting I found myself with time to kill at Stratford tube station. Normally I stop off there to split my long tube journey to Epping and enjoy a burrito at Wahaca. However this time I had already eaten earlier in the day. Instead I decided to go explore the newly reopened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to see what had actually changed in the 18 months since it had closed its gates. As I wandered round the newly landscaped site, I found myself needing to take photos.

With Jem’s conversation still ringing in my head I pulled out the only camera I had on me, my iPad mini. I was honestly surprised by what I could achieve with the iPad, it has no extra photography apps and the original (until ios8) camera software is almost as basic as point and shoot can be.

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Since I shot those original images I have continued to use the iPad, either when I am already in London for meetings and it is all I can carry in my bag, or as a tool to aid the development of a shoot while I’m out either with the Large format or RB67.

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HS1 Undercroft, West Thurrock

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West Ham Underground Station

What I’m going to say next is probably cause for me to have to hand over my left of centre/liberal card, but as you might have  guessed I don’t confirm to a left wing stereo type all the time.

‘I like the Olympic site’, there we go I’ve said it now. I know that this opinion is very unfashionable amongst my peers. I have read the numerous critiques of it by the likes of Hatherly and Sinclair, and agree that the money could have helped in other areas.

However I disagree with the opinion that this is wholesale gentrification.

The suggestion that working class areas don’t need facilities for the elitist Olympic sports, such as Hockey, Cycling, Tennis is ludicrous. If all the children that devoted their life to playing football with only the slightest chance that they will make the premier league, were encouraged and had access to good sports facilities, and we removed the connotations linked to other sports then we might actually stand a chance of seriously dominating on the world stage.

I need to point out that I have played hockey since I was ten years old, and I was lucky enough to grow up in a town that had a very good hockey team and junior system. Half of my school team went on to play National Premier League Hockey, would this have been the case if we had all been pushed into football due to society pressure? I should also point out that during the period that I played top flight hockey, that I was far from fit, so if I can do it!

Before anyone suggest that this was down to our backgrounds, we went to a bog standard state school. So I for one don’t see the destruction of some of the football pitches at Hackney Marshes as a huge loss. Certainly not as bigger loss of the Wilderness sports ground run by the Eton Manor Boys club in 1967.

'The Wilderness' Eton Manor Boys Club (1955)
‘The Wilderness’ Eton Manor Boys Club (1955)

The Eton Manor Boys club (EMBC) was established in 1909 by four ‘old Etonians’, Arthur Villiers, Gerald Wellesley, Alfred Wagg and Sir Edward Cadogan as a philanthropic endeavour to improve the lives of those living in the East End. No doubt it is the kind of endeavour that we would pour derision  on now as a grand social experiment.

Eton Manor before Olympic redevelopment (2006)
Eton Manor before Olympic redevelopment (2006)
Eton Manor (2014)
Eton Manor (2014)

On the fringes of London’s notoriously deprived East End, EMBC members were able to try out all kinds of sports and leisure activities. In comfortable surroundings, they enjoyed boxing, amateur dramatics, debating, drawing, first-aid, squash, tennis, football, cricket, rugby, billiards, table-tennis, photography, badminton, athletics and rifle-shooting.

Membership of EMBC gave boys from working class backgrounds the chance to enjoy a wide variety of sports and games in a safe, spacious and congenial environment. Because of the first rate facilities and the excellent instructors, Eton Manor had gained a reputation as an elite boys’ sporting club by the mid-20th century. However, the club was not primarily about sporting excellence – teamwork, character, helping others and making the most of yourself were most important. Some members were helped out with advice to assist them in their careers or encouraged to apply to university. A few members were offered interest-free loans to start businesses or supplied with low-rent accommodation to enable them to save money to buy their own homes. But most important of all, members were provided with an Eton Manor ‘family’: the friendships they struck up as boys during happy evenings at the clubhouse, or over sunny weekend afternoons on the Wilderness often lasted for a lifetime.

Roy “Chopper” Reeve, who joined in 1950, says of the club: “Virtually everybody was penniless. It was to give people half a chance in life, and East End people, given half a chance, would take it.”

Peter “Wiggy” Wilson can close his eyes and recall every piece of the Eton Manor club, every positioning of the seven football pitches, the swimming pool, squash and tennis courts, rugby and cricket grounds. The son of one of the managers of the boys’ club, he joined the club in 1959.

“You could only join when you were 13 years 11 months and you faced an interview at the club by boys your own age,” he remembers. “You entered into a probationary period to achieve a certain amount of points by attending some of the classes – it was all about desiring to attain membership and everyone wanted to be a member of this truly magnificent club.”

Peter says the club’s supportive atmosphere was critical during the war years. “Eton Manor boys, captive in prisoner of war camps, often said that in the back of their mind they thought of the club and the Wilderness sustained them because they knew they had something to come back to.”

The impact of the club on the area cannot be underestimated. Even now, 43 years since its closure, the old boys still meet several times a year, particularly on Remembrance Sunday to recall the Eton Manor boys who died in both world wars.

Aged 91, Fred Millard is still a regular at the gatherings. He laughingly recalls how someone once knocked at the door of his Hackney Wick house and asked his father if Fred lived there, only to be told: “No son, he sleeps here, he lives over at the Manor.”
London 2012 Olympics: renewal stirs the memories, The Telegraph, 25th July 2010

To celebrate the rebirth of Eton Manor for the 2012 Olympics, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy paid tribute to the history of the location, displayed on three steel and brass engraved sheets installed at the site.


The past is all around us, in the air,
the acres here were once ‘the Wilderness’-
“Blimey, it’s fit for a millionaire”-
where Eton Manor Boys Club came to train;
or, in the Clubhouse, (built 1913)
translated poverty to self-esteem,
camaraderie, and optimism
similed in smiles.

Hackney Wick-
fleas, flies, bin-lids, Clarnico’s Jam; the poor
enclosed by railway, marshland, factories, canal-
where Wellesley, Villiers, Wagg, Cadogan came,
philanthropists, to clear a glorious space;
connect the power of place to human hope,
through World War One, the Blitz, till 1967…
on this spot, functional, free, real- heaven.

This is legacy-
young lives respected, cherished, valued, helped
to sprint, swim, bowl, box, play, excel, belong;
believe community is self in multitude-
the way the past still dedicates to us
its distant, present light. The same high sky,
same East End moon, above this reclaimed wilderness,
where relay boys are raced by running ghosts.
Eton Manor, Carol Ann Duffey

The London Olympic organising committee (LOCOG) understood the importance of art within the site, and much of it tapped into the psychogeography of the area.

Ackroyd and Harvey: History Trees
If you’re looking for a way in to the Olympics then look out for a large tree with a metal ring around it’s branches. There will be 10 such History Trees planted to mark the new 500-acre Olympic Park – each a semi-mature specimen with a 500kg, 6-metre diameter bronze or stainless steel ring suspended within its canopy – although only three have been planted to take root in time for the Games. Over time, branches and ring will fuse together, while those who look more closely will also see that nine of the rings are engraved on the interior face with text capturing the history of its location. The tenth tree, an English Oak, holding one of the bronze rings, is inscribed with local resident’s recollections of the area. The ring’s shadow, captured at the time of the Olympics, will be commemorated by an inlay on the ground adding a further magical element (the Stratford solstice perhaps), whereby ring and shadow will momentarily align each year.





Lucy Harrison: Mapping your manor
In response to Ackroyd and Harvey’s History Trees, local artist Lucy Harrison worked with people who live or work near to the Olympic Park, and with a mobile recording unit, to make an audio soundtrack to be listened to in the vicinity of each marker tree. Guided walks have been planned with a local walking group and over 30 audio tracks are available to listen to including poems, songs, memories, ambient sounds and cookery sessions.

 Jo Shapcott: Wild Swimmer
‘Wild Swimmer’ comes from poet Jo Shapcott is written in four sections, to be read together of separately. It takes its readers through the rich social, industrial and natural history of the area including 8km of waterways in and around the Park (primarily north to south through the Park and finally connecting with the Thames), eventually emerging at Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre.


Open this box
dive in

you are mostly water
in your element

Surface in the Bow Back Rivers, quite at home
because you are small and tidal like them.
Here, the River Lea became a man-made mesh
of streams and channels to drain the marsh,
a maze for lightermen, of channels through
old waste, today’s liquid green corridors.
Count off rivers as you swim: Bow Creek, the Waterworks,
the Channelsea, the City Mill, Hennikers Ditch.
Swimming through time is rough: all swamp
and sewage until the Northern Outfall drain
where you don’t swim but give a grateful nod
as you plunge with kingfishers, otters, voles.

Backstroke through the past
and remember how Alfred the Great
dug the Channelsea to keep out Danes
and how the mill streams powered on
through centuries. Waterworks were King.
Swoop underwater through the Prescott Channel,
touching pieces of the lost Euston Arch as you go
and break surface among reeds, oak, willow, ash.
Shoot under the stadium itself,
where the little Pudding Mill River runs:
at last dive up into a building shaped like a wave
and swim your heart out, for you are all gold.
Wild Swimmer, Jo Shapcott

Linked to Shapcotts Wild Swimmer is Lynne Ramsey’s Swimmer, also commissioned for the 2012 games. Swimmer is a poetic journey through the waterways and coastline of the British Isles, following a lone swimmer through lakes, rivers and coves. The journey is framed by a soundtrack of seminal British music, combined with a sound tapestry of hydrophonic recordings and snippets of bankside conversations. The film aims to give a real feel for the diversity of landscape and people of Britain.

The Klassnik Corporation, Riitta Ikonen and We Made That: Fantasticology: Wildflower Meadows
Working in collaboration with the Park’s landscape architects and public realm team, the artists came up with a series of planting designs in the southeast corner of Stadium ‘Island’. The result is a floral celebration of the industrial heritage of the site, where the planting designs mirror the footprint of the industrial buildings that used to be there.

ODA client presentation_090330small.pdf

Basic CMYK


Sited between the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre the Meadows can be enjoyed at ground level as a vivid floral display and focus for discussion relating to the history of the site and the flora and fauna of the biodiversity that inhabit the Park now. When viewed from above, such as from the viewing platform of the adjacent ArcellorMittal Orbit, the distinctive graphic geometries of the planting will be revealed.




The development of the site itself has been documented by many photographers and artists, Photo Fusion’s show “Residual Traces” at Photofusion Gallery, Brixton is a group exhibition of 6 photographic projects concerned with the consequences of the London 2012 Olympic Games and the subsequent marginalisation of a community in one of London’s least known and contentious areas, the Lea Valley. A formerly overlooked and undeveloped enclave of urban neglect – pylons and graffiti, Tower blocks and abandoned sheds, compulsory land purchase orders and hipster regeneration – this polemical exhibition explores the hastily engaged transformation of one of London’s most loved hinterlands.

This secret pocket, loved by the locals but little known to the rest of London, was an untamed part of the East End where golfers and quad bikes played next to gasometers and scrap yards and where giant weeds dominated the river bank.

The hinterland of sprawling post-industrial wilderness, an enclave with an eclectic social mix of young artists, street gangs and run down council estates was characterised in 2007 as a “ragged hole in the city’s fabric” (Andy Beckett, The Guardian).

Five years on the area has been transformed and the hole has been partially filled. New housing developments, restored tow paths, cycle tracks and organic cafes are evidence of a new era in the valley, but the older traditional society is still in residence, perhaps more marginalised than ever.

LCC alumni Toby Smith produced a body of work that mapped the landscape of the area.

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Writing on his blog Shoot Unit, Toby said;

I moved to East London in 2007 and the Lea Valley offered a secret but welcoming garden of photographic exploration.  This landscape was explored poetically in the musings of Iian Sinclair who painted with words an overlooked and secret  “hinterland”.  That summer international media and fresh green plywood hoardings announced it to be on the cusp of  permanent change and global limelight. Earmarked for ‘total redevelopment’ for the 2012 Olympic Games its unkempt,  garages, foundries, fish-smokers and brownfield corners were being evacuated towards a  deadline of ODA possession,  demolition and repurposing.

Lower Lea ~Valley, before Olympic redevelopment (2006)
Lower Lea ~Valley, before Olympic redevelopment (2006)

The natural  perimeter was defined by nettle-lined footpaths, busy trunk roads and rail-links yet was impossibly criss-crossed by  a network of rivers and canals that quietly ferried algae, shopping trolleys and traffic cones towards the Thames.  The Lea Valley’s unique identity and atmosphere was heightened by  the diversity of  its residents and workers.  Initially forbidding, a rich palette of hues, textures, scrawled political messages and inhabitants became irresistible and I was seduced further by cheap wine and conversation in the warehouse’s of trapeze artists or sweet tea and rough jokes with grubby mechanics.

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The deadline for evacuation came and went quietly whilst the few remaining  business owners waited in desperation for sale of their machinery.   Thriving artist’s communities by default became squatters and  were left wandering darkened hallways, confused, orphaned and angry at a faceless landlord.  As bakeries, incinerators and printing houses lay silent the green corners  asserted themselves to damp further the sounds of the city. The smoking white transit vans  were replaced immediately by the summer growth of brambles, trees,  weeds and the noise of birdsong.  Like the calm before the development storm this expansive area of London felt abandoned as if a nuclear holocaust had descended. For the quick-witted and fleet-footed its now silent corners lay ever more accessible and every door left wide open.

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Early security efforts had only a futile grasp of the 11 mile blue fence and the perimeter had blind spots of responsibility.  Simply donning a hi-vis jacket afforded unchallenged vehicle access to complete ‘personal  topographic’ surveys.   Once frenetic businesses were left unsecured for the scrappies and opportunist scavengers to attack the architecture with crowbars and wire strippers. Gutting and recycling the now abandoned properties they scoured every cavity and switchboard for  valuable copper and iron.  Their entrance points marked by the piles of discarded cable insulation. Unregulated and on the cusp of poverty these magpies do surely dismember buildings more precisely than the rush of JCBs and concrete crushers that followed.  Once valuable, now unclaimed and abandoned car parts filled acres of contaminated land freshly hemmed in by 1000′s of fly tipped vehicle tyres.

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Lakes of vile coloured liquid separated expanses of dark brown earth too contaminated with decades of heavy oil and chemicals for even the hardiest weed.  The security fence eventually secured the wasteland with an 8 foot  blue band exchanging sweeping vistas with pixelated stock sports photography.  The nation’s access was restricted to rose-tinted  press releases or  an elevated sewer called The Greenway. By September 2007 the scrum of competing contractors began to nibble with earnest at buildings and scrape the ground back to its ancient contaminated foundations. My favourite and indeed final vantage point was a derelict cement silo that  afforded a view across the entire landscape until a pack of trained dobermans became residents .

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Over the last 5 years I gave only a cursory glance to my archive of unscanned negatives.  My interest in the rot and decay of the area became second best to the lure and shiny opportunity of the  ” Official Imaging Tenders” or “Artistic Opportunities” of 2012.  Like so many small businesses in the Olympic Boroughs I threw myself at the possibilities to engage and catch the wave.  Many years later reduced to a mere punter I bet 1000′s of pounds on tickets but empty handed I am now reduced to the endless torch procession and TV coverage.Today, 30 days before the opening ceremony, I have learnt to trade my researched cynicism of the Olympics to the excitement and pride that London will become such a world stage. 5 years later I have trawled the negatives of this extinct  landscape and it has now clearly, irreversibly and impossibly become the Olympic Park. Despite not setting foot in the area since 2007, Google Earth proved an invaluable resource to accurately place the original images and imagine what vision would occupy a 2012 viewfinder.

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A warehouse for galvanising steel has become the Olympic Stadium,  piles of scrap metal metamorphosed into the Aquatic Stadium, my cement silo no doubt shadowed by a twisted red roller coaster. The River Lea itself has been scoured, scrubbed, and populated with new wildlife that can no longer perch on the dozens of electricity pylons now buried in huge underground tunnels.I can only imagine when I  can legally return with camera and GPS in hand to repeat these same photographs. Unsuccessful in my bid for tickets we must all painfully wait until much later this year to evaluate this new landscape. I am in no doubt that the 2 week spectacle of sport and culture will impress audiences globally however, I sincerely hope  that the legacy  justifies the cost local residents and our economy has born.
The Lea alley Becomes the Olympic Park, Toby Smith (2012)

After the boys club closed in 1967, the running track and its surrounds decayed alongside the surrounding industrial wasteland. The images of the Wilderness captured in What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day? (2005) by Saint Étienne are both haunting and moving. The film explores the no mans land of the Lower Lea Valley, the area that is now covered by the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day?, Saint Etienne (2006)
What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day?, Saint Etienne (2006)

This stylised visual journey presents a nostalgic look at London’s Lower Lea Valley in the days before it was transformation from stagnant industrial wasteland into the now iconic Olympic Park. Set on Tuesday 7th July 2005, a day that saw a jubilant Britain, fresh from the capital’s victorious Olympic bid, quickly deflated and forever changed by the London Bombings, the film presents an uneasy paradox of celebration and devastation and its themes are mirrored in the film’s setting as local residents fondly recall the area’s industrial glory days. These thoughts are juxtaposed against a backdrop of images presenting a romanticised view of urban decay.

Revisiting the Lower Lea Valley in the wake of the Olympic splendour lends the film added poignancy. An area once populated by the pioneers of industry is presented here as an almost post-apocalyptic terrain, captured in the eerily unpopulated frames of a seemingly deserted community. Saint Etienne’s haunting soundtrack and disembodied vocals effectively anchor this depiction of an atmospheric ghost town. Kelly contradicts the widely reported notion of the area as an unloved stretch of wasteland in a series of tenderly framed images that serve to transform the dejected Valley into a striking work of art.

This cinematic flip-book brings mundane to life and sees abstraction in the ordinary. Seemingly inspired by cultural voyeur Martin Parr, Kelly’s discerning spectacle resembles a series of nostalgic picture postcards, offering a sentimental farewell to this endangered landscape. A fictional narrative meanders without urgency alongside this stylish visual feast in which curious young paperboy Mervyn acts as our tour-guide, cycling through the ravaged landscape with wistful, wide-eyed bewilderment.

Voiceovers from real-life residents recalling inadvertently humorous anecdotes about local mythology and a seemingly forgotten industrial legacy provide an informative accompaniment. Additional and somewhat needless narration comes in the form of local luminaries David Essex and Linda Robson who provide hammy colloquial soundbites and abstract, nonsensical cockney-isms. Attempts to add further depth to Mervyn’s story feel unnecessary and, perhaps intentionally, lead nowhere. Their inclusion distracts from the rich and until now, untold history of the Valley clearly in evidence.

One of the film’s closing frames sees Mervyn pondering the 02 Arena in the distance – its scale and design resembling a freshly landed spaceship, a world away from Lea Valley’s land that time forgot and a taste of things to come. Ultimately, the film presents a thought provoking and visually sumptuous critique that questions the concept of ‘regeneration’. Its presentation of a place forever remembered for ‘Two weeks of unprecedented sporting spectacle’ but now detached from its diverse history, seems an unjust and melancholy prospect.
Little White Lies (2012)

I feel that this is unjust as a notion and the site does have a strong connection with it’s history, however to get stuck in the sites past often over romanticises an area that while love by some, was for the most part, well in need of regeneration. Yes I am aware that this runs counter to my entire PhD argument, but I am a realist, many of the sites I love need to be reclaimed, but some need to be treasured. Not all regeneration is bad, and not all interstitial sites are worthy of protection. Enjoy them while we can, and then enjoy what comes next, don’t always live in the past.

I know I’m not the only sceptical (at first) pyschogeographer to become interested in the Olympic site, I recommend looking at John Roger’s blog The Lost Byway.


Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

During the Easter break I was invited down to Plymouth University to attend a symposium entitled ‘Patterns of Disclosure: The Narrative Document and the Photographic Book’, organised by David Chandler and Michael Mack. The symposium was excellent and explored the importance of the analogue book within contemporary photographic practice.

This however was not my main reason for making the exceptionally long drive from Norfolk to Plymouth. Over the Christmas period I had been corresponding with Jem Southam over twitter, discussing and exploring the ideas behind his twitter based bodies of work, St James’ Halt and it’s off shoot Still Life series.

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Jem’s previous bodies of work have all been marked by their rigorous aesthetic discipline. Using a 10”x8” field camera, Jem works with single locations over a period time, exploring changes within the landscape, both natural and man-altered. These images are then often presented as incredibly rich contact prints, forcing the viewer to engage with them on a very individual basis.

Taken from Rockfalls, Rivermouths, Ponds, by Jem Southam (2000)
Taken from Rockfalls, Rivermouths, Ponds, by Jem Southam (2000)
The Pond at Upton Pyne, Jem Southam (2001)
The Pond at Upton Pyne, Jem Southam (2001)
Painter's Pool, Jem Southam
Painter’s Pool, Jem Southam


For his most recent work he has embraced digital capture and has been working using an iPad to document the area around his house and allotment in the St James area of Exeter.

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While his work has always had a strong sense of place within the final images, the immediacy of the iPad and the adoption of the wandering flaneur has created a looseness within his interrogations. I would argue that it’s his most exciting image making since Raft of Carrots (1989).

Taken from Raft of Carrots, Jem Southam (1989)
Taken from Raft of Carrots, Jem Southam (1989)
Taken from Raft of Carrots, Jem Southam (1989)
Taken from Raft of Carrots, Jem Southam (1989)
Raft of Carrots, Jem Southam (1989)
Raft of Carrots, Jem Southam (1989)

Gazing on other people’s reality with curiosity, with detachment, with professionalism, the ubiquitous photographer operates as if that activity transcends class interests, as if its perspective is universal. In fact, photography first comes into its own as an extension of the eye of the middle-class flâneur, whose sensibility was so accurately charted by Baudelaire. The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitring, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes… The flâneur is not attracted to the city’s official realities but to its dark seamy corners, the neglected populations—an unofficial reality behind the façade of bourgeois life that the photographer ‘apprehends,’ as a detective apprehends a criminal.”

Susan Sontag, On Photography (1979)

I have sat in meetings with photographic academics that argue whether this quote is honest or satirical. The language Sontag chooses to use, often place her texts at first glance within the realms of satire, poring scorn on the over active egos of photographers who place their medium at the pinnacle of artistic endeavour. To the outside world, many of us are simply wandering around with a camera, seemingly taking images at random. Once you strip away extremes of her language and look at the quote from a perspective of the host of photographers work that have re-embraced the large format camera since New Topographics. Choosing to explore the built landscape in a more poetic manner, the quote takes on a more sincere voice. Certainly as a photographer I recognise within myself the character that Sontag is describing, though perhaps in a quieter manner.

As a photographer predominately, at least for now, still working in film using a large format field camera, I would describe the first time I picked it up as an epiphany. Up until that point I had struggled to find a voice within my work. Using a large format camera ruins you. You find yourself becoming obsessed with the image, and digital can’t quite make up for a missing feeling. Because of this I am not one of those photographers that always carries round a camera, I don’t even own a camera phone. It got to the point that I wouldn’t even take an image if I didn’t know its end point. One of the problem with photographers and filmmakers is we tend to fetishize equipment; I like many photographers have an intense personal connection to my kit. We spend years honing our collections and finding one that works for us. Moving to something new can be difficult. It is no surprise to me that for the last image in Rob Hornstra’s An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus (2013), he chose to use a photo of his camera kit in it’s rucksack.

The contents of Rob Hornstra's camera bag, taken from An Atlas of War and
The contents of Rob Hornstra’s camera bag, taken from An Atlas of War and

Mark Power recently wrote a piece on his blog about moving to a digital system;

UK. Sunderland. Nissan car plant. (From 'Open for Business') June 2013.
UK. Sunderland. Nissan car plant.
(From ‘Open for Business’)
June 2013.

Recently, while working on the Magnum group project ‘Open for Business’ I had something of an epiphany.

I’d borrowed a Phase One camera, a remarkable piece of kit and, as all who try one must surely do, I fell instantly in love and now hanker after one passionately (… here endeth the advertisement… assuredly not part of the loan deal, in case you’re wondering).

Anyway, I was in the Nissan plant in Sunderland, the biggest car factory in Europe and reminiscent of a sort of ‘cleaned-up’ Blade Runner…  Spectacular, in other words.

Every time I pushed the shutter of the Phase One and looked at the screen I was disappointed. Each picture failed to get even close to the experience of being there.  Josef Koudelka’s infamous remark that photographers always make their best work before turning 40 began to hang heavy; it seemed I was clearly past my sell-by date, and wasted no time in telling Murray, who was assisting me, exactly this.

Later, over a beer, we reached an interesting, though perhaps obvious, conclusion.  In the past­­­ (as well as in the forseeable future, since I sadly have no means of actually buying a Phase One) I’ve always worked with film.  This means there’s a delay between the push of the shutter on location and the collection of contact sheets from the lab.  Meanwhile, the memory fades a little and the pictures somehow take over and become the experience.

This is different when using a digital camera because we see the picture immediately and inevitably compare the flat image on the screen with the multi-dimensional experience happening right in front of us.  This discrepancy is exacerbated when working in a particularly spectacular space, as I was at Nissan.  Now, we all know it’s impossible to photograph noise or smell or danger or any of the myriad sensations I felt while standing on a gantry overlooking robots assembling cars, but I was finding it hard to be logical.  I was just disappointed in myself.

The following day, when I returned to the same factory, I stopped obsessing about the screen (the one on the Phase One is terrible anyway) and instead told myself I’d look later… several days later if possible.  And it worked… now that the experience has faded the pictures aren’t so bad.  Of course, they’re nothing like the real thing because they’re just pictures.  But they’ll do.

Which reminds me: I know a couple of photographers who will let months pass before processing their films, in order to let the reality fade even more, and to further distance the pictures from time and place.  They say this gestation period helps.  I used to think they were just kidding themselves, but perhaps they had a point.

I’ve been fortunate to visit a number of spectacular locations over the years, including several monumental industrial spaces.  As an example, in 2009 I went to a ferro-alloy plant in Zestaponi, in (former Soviet) Georgia.  In terms of spectacularity (if there is such a word… and if there isn’t there should be) this was a good one.  Molten metal swung in vats above our heads and the noise was little short of deafening.  I didn’t see those pictures, made with my trusty 5×4, for at least two weeks, and when I finally did I was ready to accept they would be a pale imitation of the reality of the experience.

A Life Off-Screen, Mark Power (2013)

This is a different experience from Jem’s,  about how he felt the iPad had freed him up to experiment, without the crippling costs of film etc. He also spoke how he felt it was a natural continuation of his 10”x8” ground glass screen. The screen presents you with a large representation of the world you are trying to capture. The device itself is somewhat difficult to hold and shoot with. He also spoke of the brilliant immediacy of the image, he could go for a walk, come home and upload the images to his Twitter account. His audience were able to experience his latest images almost as soon as he shot them, no editing, raw. To come back to the earlier point we all have to find a system that works for us, part of the reason I have held off on purchasing a better digital system. While it would definitely help with the project, it wouldn’t feel the same.

Jem’s new work, while being on a new medium and curated space still contains much of his personal interests and visaul language, be it an obsession with certain locations over a period of time.

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Or based on his local football team, Exeter City.

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he also uses the 140 character caption to small sequences of images, within the larger body of work. whether that is based on the weather,

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or the number of birds he has spotted or heard on his walk

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The above image from his kitchen window is a clear connection to previous bodies of work.

Taken from Landscape Stories, Jem Southam
Taken from Landscape Stories, Jem Southam

While Jem has created a series of rules for his work, as he told me, if they are yours, then you are free to break them, alter them as you see fit. Hence the detour to Boston during a teaching engagement.

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The visual style of the Still Life images has changed over the seasons.

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various images

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After a break for a few months, Jem started posted new work again last week to correspond with the one year anniversary of the start of the project. I am really intrigued to see how it progresses and whether it will cross over into a physical exhibition, if not then keep following him on twitter.