Curating Sound

Cheryl Tipp is the Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds at The British Library. I spoke to her in the sound archive office and then we went down into the stores to look at some items in the collection. It turns out that wildlife sound recording and photography, although they had developed in similar ways, had paid little attention to one another. You are either one or the other apparently. Nevertheless, there are constant echoes across the disciplines, be it the role of amateur societies, or the strategies used by field recordists to record their lives in ways that will be meaningful, that I think will be of interest to photographers.

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A 15 second recording of the Lesser Hornero

Ludwig Koch's Sound-Book of British Bird Song

Ludwig Koch's Sound-Book of British Bird Song

An album of sonograms of bat sounds

A Russian LP of fish recordings

A Russian LP of fish recordings

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Wildlife in Sound and Pictures

Thrush, David Tipling

Song Thrush, David Tipling

I went for a walk with the field recordist Peter Toll and the Wildlife photographer David Tipling. While we walked, we talked about how they both approach their subjects. This is an excerpt from our conversation (a textual edit of the interview appears in the current issue), it will sound better listened to with headphones.


Here are some of the recordings Peter mentions in the interview.

 

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Walking Around London

One theme of new Source is the comparison between photography and sound recording. We thought it would be illuminating to introduce a field recordist and a photographer and see what they had in common. The photographer Laura Pannack has an ongoing series called The Walks of pictures made on undirected trips in the vicinity of London. Ian Rawes runs the website The London Sound Survey and makes sound recordings around the city, also made on foot, although he seems more inclined to be guided by maps.

In the event the way they describe their work has similarities and differences. They both talked about how they wanted their work to draw the listener or viewer into the scene they were depicting, but Laura placed more emphasis on an emotional engagement with her subject and Ian talked more about representing the places he made his recordings and the experience of being there. In a way Ian's recordings are more like a photographer recording a streetscape – they make me think of Humphrey Spender – while Laura is making environmental portraits.

Pannack-Walks

Either way I can't help thinking that many photographers are doing similar things to many field recordists and there would be a benefit to both if they knew more about one another's work.

 

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Jon Wozencroft

I spoke to Jon Wozencroft about how he decided what photographs should appear on album covers, about the role photography had in introducing people to music and about how he prized certain kinds of 'straight' photography.

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Stepping into the Dark by Chris Watson (1996), photograph and design by Jon Wozencroft

 

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The Photographic Score

The new Source includes a portfolio by Jez riley French. He describes his works as 'scores for listening' and they consist of one or more photographs, often abstract in appearance, and some text that guide your way of looking and listening. In this film he explains what he is looking for in a sound recording or photograph and why he puts them together.

You can hear or see more of his work on his website where you will also see that he makes his own specialist microphones. If you want to record reeds or newts for yourself then this would be a good way to do it. He has also undertaken a number of commissions like this recording of office ambiance at The Wire magazine or the resonance of Tate Modern.

Angus Carlyle has co-authored a book of interviews with field recordists called 'In the Field' which is a good place to start if you want to further explore his idea that certain types of field recording resemble certain types of photography. Dawn Wilson thinks it is more productive to compare photography to music than to painting which she will expand in her forthcoming book on the Aesthetics of Photography.

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Why is the Media Museum Giving its Photographs to the V&A?

In the new issue of Source we have an extended report on the plan to transfer a large part of the National Media Museum's photography collection to the V&A. To prepare this article I spoke to Martin Barnes, the Curator of Photographs at the V&A and Michael Terwey, the Head of Collections at the Media Museum. You will get the full story in the magazine but here are a couple of excerpts that give their view of what has happened and why.

 

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Solas Prize Winners

Michel Le Belhomme

Tonight, at the Gallery of Photography Solas Awards Exhibition, the winners of this year's prize were announced. The are: First Prize, Michel Le Belhomme; Second Prize, Dara McGrath and Third Prize, Mervyn Arthur. They will receive cash awards of respectively $10,000, $1,000 and $500.

Dara McGrath, RAF-Yatesbury-2015

Also announced are the winners of the Solas Ireland award: Ciarán Óg Arnold, Enda Bowe, Eamonn Doyle, Emer Gillespie, Shane Lynam, Dara McGrath and Yvette Monahan. The Prize is a partnership between Source and the Gallery of Photography and work from all the winners are on show in the Gallery until 10 January. The Solas Prize is also partnering with Fotohof and the Irish winners’ work will be exhibited in Salzburg in April 2016.

Mervyn Arthur, Slipshod(05)a

The standard of submissions to the prize was high and we would like to thank all the photographers who took time to make a submission. We would also like to thank the international judges who worked with us on the prize: Natasha Egan of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Frits Gierstberg of the Nederlands Fotomuseum, Herman Seidl from Fotohof and Tanya Kiang of the Gallery of Photography.

Portfolios by the three winning photographers are published in the new issue of Source which is available now. We hope you enjoy the issue and that you will be able to see the Solas exhibition in Dublin.

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Photography and Openness

Natasha Caruana

The artist Natasha Caruana has just started a residency at the Open Data Institute. I went along to the launch, curious to find out why a photographer would be a good person to have around in an organisation that aims to 'catalyse the evolution of open data culture'. Caruana had just finished a residency (funded by BMW) at the Musée Nicéphore Niépce and had an exhibition at Arles so I might also get some tips on how to get on in the photography world.

I also spoke to Hannah Redler who used to be the curator at the Science Museum and had invited Caruana. She had some interesting things to say about considering photography alongside data. Caruana is in some ways an old fashioned photographer: she uses film and found photographs and her approach is often quasi-anthropological, yet many of her projects would be unimaginable without the internet.

We Divorced 2011

Her work Fairytale for Sale apparently describes a brief moment when women felt able to sell their wedding dresses online but were sufficiently concerned about what their wedding pictures disclosed to erase their own faces from the pictures. A couple of years later (and with people used to disclosing everything about themselves on Facebook) the same pictures appear online with the faces visible. The project shows that we can't live with technology without it changing us. In six months time we will have to see what Caruana makes of 'open data'.

 

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Keep it straightforward and to the point

John Duncan

John Duncan is a co-editor of Source and one of the co-organisers and judges for the Solas Prize. To help anyone submitting work for the prize get an idea how it works he has conducted short interviews with fellow judge Natasha Egan and runner up in last year's award Andrea Gruetzner. But it's only fair that he answer the questions as well so here, in a sort of auto-interview, he has answered some of the questions he has put to the other judges.

What got you interested in photography?

I studied photography at college and university, I thought I wanted to be a photojournalist so I went to Newport to study with David Hurn from Magnum who was course leader. Once there I was introduced to a whole range of other work by other tutors like Paul Reas, Peter Fraser, Ian Walker, Ron McCormick and Keith Arnatt. Peter Fraser had just come back from assisting William Eggleston and switched me on to that work. American Images was remaindered at the local Bargin Books and it was a focal point for late night discussions in my student flat. After that I went to Glasgow School of Art to study with Thomas Cooper and again got exposed to other work through tutors like Roger Palmer.

Book-JD

And what kind of photography interests you now?

We get a lot of books sent to the Source office for review. I guess I tend to take home the more critical theory or histories of photography publications I enjoy the overview and the broader trends they examine. Outside of that and in my role as co-editor of Source I am always on the look out for new work. It's the bread and butter of my job. Although it often feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. When I look at new work I am subconsciously cross-referencing it against all the other work I have seen. If it’s too close to something I have seen before it’s of less interest. I am drawn in by work that is visually interesting. Although there has to be something to engage me critically as well. I do still take my own pictures so I bring that experience with me.

Are there particular themes that have consistently been of interest to you?

At Source we always say we are a ‘broad church’ meaning that we try to remain open to as wide a range of photography as possible.

What advice would you give artists on accompanying text?

Keep it straightforward and to the point. Don’t be afraid to include some basic information about the subject you are addressing, including who and where and why?

What is your view of the general standard of contemporary photography?

If I look hard enough I can still find work that's fresh.

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Surprise Me!

FOTOHOF

Herman Seidl from Fotohof in Salzburg is one of the judges for the Solas Prize. Tanya Kiang spoke to him about his background in photography and what he would like to see from this year's submissions.

Tanya Kiang: What first got you interested in photography?

Herman Seidl: You could say that I got into photography in a very unusual way. My father was a policeman and my mother a midwife so both were working. From the time I was six years old, my father used to take me with him to the police station. It was quite boring except for when I would get to see the police photo archive.

My father had to document all the crimes going on – burglaries, suicides, car accidents – they were small b/w prints, stored in a box. I frequently went through this box. Some of the photos were really shocking but my father never prohibited me from going through it. I saw photos that most ordinary people wouldn’t ever see in their lives – people hanging from rafters, a skull divided in two, homes trashed after burglaries, car accidents – I think it has influenced me and my photo work to this day.

My grandfather was an avid photographer and from when I was 16 years old I always carried a camera. It was after taking a course in photojournalistic photography at university that I really got hooked, it introduced me to all the greats – Eugene Smith, Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa – all the traditional masters.

Are there particular subject matter or themes that you have consistently been interested in?

After doing workshops with Juan Fontcuberta, Thomas Cooper and Dieter Appelt at Salzburg College University I saw that there was not just this photojournalistic, passive approach to photography; I saw there was the possibility for more conceptualizing and constructing the image. I had more friends in the art scene than in photography and my interests shifted from being a passive onlooker on society to these more artistic approaches. I am very interested now in how photography is used as a conceptual tool more than regular photographic approaches. For example, John Baldessari – an artist who uses his own images but also uses appropriated images – that’s a very interesting way of working with photography in my opinion.

Appropriation can be infringing copyright…

Of course it’s a no-go to just steal another’s images. But for example when Richard Prince used the Marlboro Man image, there was a reason for it – it was making a personal statement. Now, with the internet, we need to be sincere with what we do – there are a lot of artists who use images from Flickr and produce a new form of work out of it by bringing them into a new context. This should still be allowed – it is part of artistic freedom.

Fotohof Library

What advice would you give to people submitting work for The Solas Prize or for other online competitions?

Look around at what has been done in photography and ask yourself if your photos are really a new way of telling a story, or if the story that you are dealing with is an untold story. Be sincere about your work. For example, if the photos are staged, that’s fine but you must declare it. And avoid submitting single images with no connection to each other. I’m looking for the story behind the images or a coherent artistic concept informing the work.

And advice about writing a short text to accompany the images?

Just say why you have made the work and please, just tell it simply.

What projects are you working on now?

Right now I’m curating a show of 15 photoprojects, with a publication, that will open at the Cortona Photo Festival in Italy. I’m also enjoying curating a show for Fotohof of Marion Kalter, a French-Austrian photographer based in Paris. She has been working for 40 years – but its not the usual kind of ‘retrospective exhibition’ – it is really fresh photography.

fotohof gallery

Fotohof will be presenting and exhibition of the winners of The Solas Ireland Awards – what’s the background to that?

Fotohof has developed an exhibition format that has focused on artists of a single country – in the past, we have curated shows of Italian, Polish, Dutch, Belgian, French photographers, for example. In our more and more globalized world this concept is intriguingly problematic – but still, I think photographers from Lithuania are different from those of the US – though it is of course very diverse, I think there are characteristics specific to each, and the question of a visual language coming through particular cultures is very interesting to me.

What kind of work do you hope to see in judging The Solas Prize?

Surprise me! Show me images that I’ve never seen before! This isn’t to do with the work’s exhibition history, and it doesn’t rule out older work – so long as there is something new, technically, conceptually, or in the photographer’s approach – so long as it is fresh!

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