Orphan pictures: abandoned photographs, re-enacted memories and other historical mishaps

12 May, 2011

An exhibition about artistic strategies that explore historical methods in the work with photographic archives.

The works in the exhibition examine varied strategies to work with photographic archives, from performative re-enactments of historical events, to appropriations of the conventions of the archive and the performative restaging of the subject that result from a critical re-appraisal of concrete archival material.

A project by paula roush with Paul Richards, David Lewis, Chris Packham and the participants in the miniarchive project: William Thomas Ainsworth, Louise Bargus, Rebecca Prideaux, Brogan Watt, Ieashia Savannah Sealy-Jewiss, Sara Pintado, Valeria Gaeta, Laura-Sophie Voss, Louise Ann Stevens, Melissa Kasilian, Ida Maria Stigaard Nielsen, Daniella Fedele, Martyn Odell, Liam Mulligan, Bradley Chippington, Thomas Valentine, Alexia-Alkmini Michalos, Carlotta Paolieri, Joshua Murray, Amy Bolland.

May 16-23, 2011 (Monday–Friday, 11AM–6PM)
Reception: Monday, May 16, 4­7 PM
London South Bank University
Digital Art Gallery
103 Ground floor Borough Road
and Mezzanine Gallery
K1 Building Keyworth Street
London SE10AA

A seven weeks practice research project developed in response to a series of 3 lectures
1-photography and reenactment

2-found photographies and archives

3-artists responses to institutional archives


BA (Hons) Digital Photography

virtual storycubes

16 October, 2008

This week we adapted the StoryCubes methodology used by proboscis in their  face to face workshops, to work in Second Life

In Second Life we can use StoryCubes as poetic and playful devices for displaying snaps in three dimensions, allowing us to reveal different perspectives and make new connections and associations. We can use them as a group to build a collective photo-narrative out of our individual snapshots around second life, and can come to a shared narrative that allow us to see new perspectives.

Queen, lies and fly on the wall documentary

16 July, 2007


The photographer Annie Leibovitz is commissioned to make a photographic portrait of the queen. A BBC camera crew is making a documentary about the queen, and films the making of the portrait. A trailer of the documentary is assembled and shown to journalists. In the trailer Leibovitz asks the queen to remove her crown. The queen refuses. The next shoot shows the queen walking through a room accompanied by two attendants and saying with badly controlled vexation that she is not changing anything, she had enough.

The palace accused the BBC of lying, on the grounds that the two shoots created the impression that the queen stormed out of the photo–shoot following Leibovitz’s request to remove the crown. In reality, the second shoot preceded the first, which means that the queen was in a foul mood already before the meeting with the photographer. After much soul searching it was decided in the BBC that the at least some of the blame lies with the young, under trained, unscrupulous post production workers who assembled the trailer for maximum effect.

In the discussion about the ethical dilemmas of the fly on the wall documentary, it is conveniently forgotten that underneath all the layers of deception this is a story about the making of a photograph; The anger at the BBC for meddling with the truth is based on the assumption that the photographer at least, was there to record the truth. It is in contrast to this perceived monolith honesty of the photograph, that television appears as a unstable bricolage, open to manipulation and susceptible to lies.

In fact, the making of this photograph as it appears in the video clip, is a brain war between to experienced players: The queen is in the most vulnerable of social situations: not only she is been photographed, but she is also filmed by the television crew while photographed. The presence of the video camera exposes the delicate negotiations between the photographer and the model for what they really are: a ruthless gambit over the domination of the set; for the photographers aim is to break through the photographic face of the model into the aloneness and the fear experienced by one about to be immortalized. for the queen on the other hand, attrition is the most effective strategy – sooner or later the photographer will have to make a move, she only needs to wear the mask for the duration of the shoot.

To win this battle, Annie Leibovitz choose similar strategy to the one Yousuf Karsh famously employed while making a portrait of Churchill. Karsh snatched the cigar from Churchill’s fingers and pressed the shutter in time to capture Churchill’s anger.

Yousuf Karsh: Churchill

Karsh was Canadian, and the symbolic castration he performed on the war leader could be forgiven on the grounds of his commonwealth loyalty and professionalism: he was a studio photographer specializing in flattering portraits of politicians.

Leibovitz on the other hand offended royal sensitivities on several levels; her Jacobean remark: “I think it will look better without the crown”, is a beheading order issued by a red American jewess for whom the values of monarchy are as meaningless as they are alien. Without her crown the queen is dangerously close to crossing the threshold between the dignified and the ridiculous; her position depending on being able to take herself as seriously as others do. The queen is fully aware of course that Leibovitz is working in the shadow of two major figures of American culture – The photographer Diane Arbus, the patron saint of the freaks, and Suzan Sontag, who, in her book “on photography” celebrated Arbus’ great talent for making people look ridiculous in her photographs.

Diane Arbus. King and Queen of a Senior Citizens Dance
Diane Arbus: King and Queen of a Senior Citizens Dance

But even Arbus knew to draw a line between her most glaringly misanthropic personal work and the more agreeable magazine commissions for which she produced some of her most famous photographs. Arbus was not drawn to photographing the famous, preferring instead to concentrate on those for whom the chance meeting with a photographer was a momentous event full of magical promise. Leibovitz’s own photographic style is not as ruthless, she is the master of the flattering visual pun, the extravagant props, the carefully choreographed double take that never fails to reassure the viewer in his own cleverness and sensitivity. Her images are a win-win proposition even when she photographs a hotel maid with a steam iron in hand: it is grace and goodwill all over the shop.

The video clip that caused all this embarrassment for the BBC exposes the deep seated dilemma that the queen so patently failed to resolve. After all, there are any number of jobbing studio photographers out there who would make an excellent portrait of her majesty in the way she wishes to be portrayed. Buy agreeing to pose for Leibovitz the queen agrees to be subjected to the celebrity treatment commissioned by the Vanity Fair. And yet, the tiara stays. What we don’t know, and probably never will, is did Leibovitz press the shutter at this moment of royal anger, when the queen lost her nerve in front of the Lens. And if she did, did she look in this moment like someone from a photograph by Diane Arbus?

Train driver’s view

13 July, 2007


We are all diarists now, but all our diaries are different. Video clips of tube train journeys from the point of view of the driver posted on youtube, are more than a clever pun. In a culture that encourages exhibitionism through consumption, it is the private life that is expected to be paraded, while the work life required to be veiled in secrecy. Train driver’s view is a work diary that records the facts of making a living; what is on display here is not the banality of perversion but the depth of the ultra-ordinary. Unlike doctors, journalists and police detectives, train drivers don’t get a chance to see their work life docu–dramatised for the television, because unless there is an accident, their work is not considered news worthy or interesting. They therefore star in their own reality show, the reality of making ends meet by traveling from A to B.
The train driver reverses the idolizing gaze of the bystander by preempting the possessive excitement of the trainspotter, for whom the inaccessible mystery of his fetish is major part of the attraction. And for everyone else the train drivers view is a reminder of the cameraphone pictures of modern calamities: bombs on the train or man on the track.

Time Rain – vodafone TV advertisment

27 June, 2007


Since the teaching of philosophy was dropped from the school curriculum, it became the job of advertising campaigns of large industrial companies to provide free philosophical education. So a soft drinks manufacturer is promoting Love, a purveyor of sports apparel gives a lesson in logic (“impossible is nothing”), and a mobile phone company educates on the topic of Time. “You might say it is like striking oil in your garden or finding gold in the loft, except this commodity can’t be bought or sold”. The commodity is time, and the visual image that accompanies the narration is of watches raining from the sky. Time is indeed a commodity, or as Heidegger would say, time is a standing reserve, it is a resource of energy, just like the forest that provides the coal and fiber and the river that moves the turbines. Marx said that the proletariat had in his disposal its physical labor, which could be traded in the capitalist marketplace. In our time of outsourcing and offshoring labor is done by others, in far away places. There is no demand for our physical powers, our time is the one commodity we can still hope to sell. It matters little if you are good at your job, as long as you are on time every day. Time is the commodity of prisoners and slaves, i.e. of those who pay with their time, and the mobile phone company targets its audience with the precision of a Swiss watch: We are promised more time by the advertiser because from now on we can have access to the Internet on the mobile phone. Our joy at being given extra time is akin to the joy of the prisoner who is given extra time to serve behind bars.