Columbia Road


Johanna Neurath takes us to a flower market in Hackney where every weekend exotic blooms are brought in from around the world to transform a mundane city street.

It’s not so much the flowers for sale that draws Neurath’s attention, but the discarded leftovers when the market’s winding down, on the ground with everyday rubbish, coffee cups and plastic bags. Here are vivid colours, shapes and patterns, but dirty, wet and trodden. The detritus of the street becomes a series of found still lifes.

Empty takeaway food cartons filled with rainwater and fallen petals make miniature floating gardens. A drift of pink blossoms cover a car and the tarmac around it like a halo so the vehicle merges with the landscape.

The photographs stimulate a heightened sensitivity to bright colours where they appear in everyday items like clothes, shoes, and bags. A woman in a leopardskin coat stands next to tropical flowers for sale on a barrow.

As dusk falls a cafe window fills with reflections of trees and circles of light from inside and out. Colourful shapes float in shop windows against mirror images of hard edged terraced streets.

In contract to the riot of colour and the chaos of the street, the book’s layout is conservative, with most of the photos vertically centred, one to each page of a spread. Where there are double page full bleed spreads the work has more impact and becomes more immersive.


Alluring Hell


For this book Araki has gone back to a cache of old photos to smear, spatter and smudge blobs and swirls of paint in primary colours all over black and white nudes. 

Is this a way of bringing his past back to life? Of proving that even in old age his vigour remains undiminished? By transforming photos he took when much younger, he reasserts his virility as an artist. 

These cool, distanced black and white images are now distressed, almost obliterated. Araki’s wild, violent and out of control, making everything messier, therefore sexier. 

Sometimes the paint seems to come in response to the photograph, highlighting parts of the model’s body, but in other pictures it seems incidental and oblivious to any existing meaning, a rough juxtaposition of a random elements. 

There’s something ritualistic, pagan and primitive about these freshly-painted naked bodies. This new layer semi-obscures them. Araki’s covering up his nudes, but not to make them decent. By adding an overlay of action painting, another genre of visual culture, Araki insists on his status as an artist. These pictures are about him, not the women pictured. 

Now you have to view these nudes as if through
a curtain or veil, forcing you to look beyond art, snatching fleeting glimpses of what might have been a realistic scene. 


Unseen Festival

After the photo fair I had some time to see a bit more of the Unseen Festival around Amsterdam. 

On Sunday evening I went to Sophie Ebrard’s house for her It’s Just Love exhibition, which was gorgeous and sexy, behind the scenes at porn film shoots in glamorous locations around the world. Best of all, one of the photos was taken in Wrexham! 

On Monday I made what felt like a pilgrimage to Foam and saw an exhibition of Magnum contact sheets,  and Maldoror by Jean-Vincent Simonet, and bought the After Araki issue of Foam magazine.

Then I walked to the abandoned hospital Prinsengrachtziekenhuis where I saw The Iceberg by Giorgio Di Noto in the basement in the dark, the pictures visible only by ultraviolet light, The Promise by Celine Van den Boorn, who painted human presence out of a winter sports brochure, and a show by students from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie.

Unseen Exhibitions

Some highlights from the gallery dispays at the photo fair:

Awoiska Van Der Molen

Awoiska Van Der Molen

Tamas Deszo

Kim Boske

Elspeth Diederix

Martina Della Valle

Byung-Hun Min

Jasper de Beijer

Hideo Anze

Atsushi Okabe

Motohiro Takeda

Jean-Francoise Lepage

The Embarrassment Show:

Unseen Photo Fair

Last weekend I was in Amsterdam for Unseen. I spent most of my time at the photo fair site at Westergasfabriek, but eventually went further afield to see something of the wider festival.

The large circular Gashouder building hosted the innumerable displays of galleries from all over the world, while the Transformatorhuis showed the Unseen collection. There were so many pictures on display here it would have been impossible to take everything in on one day, which was my problem at Photo London earlier this year. At Unseen, though, it was easy to wander in and out of these spaces and come back later for a second look. The site was busy, but not overcrowded and everything was close enough to pop in and out so I never felt like I had to keep plodding around in order to get it all done. 

The book market was also easily accessible and again it was good to be able to make repeat visits and look again before deciding what to buy. Again, much more relaxed than Offprint London. 

I wanted to make the most of the talks and presentations in the Living Room. It was a varied programme over the three days, with a wide range of artists, curators, collectors, editors, writers and academics talking about their work, so it was a great opportunity to get a feel for the scope of the world of art photography and the roles of various people within it. I’m not always happy sitting on a hard chair listening to people talk, so the armchairs and sofas at the back of the room made it much more comfortable than Photobook Bristol where the auditorium was too hot and crowded. 

Here are a few random notes I made in the Living Room over the weekend: 

I can’t remember who asked the question: is photography in dissolution? Perhaps we need to re-learn what makes it specific. Analogue is a way of re-thinking and following through from photography’s origins. 

Gregory Halpern asked why not smile for the camera? We’ve got comfortable with poor people looking sombre, subdued and suffering, the Lewis Hine look. Be aware of what you’re excluding in a composition. 

Todd Hido showed an alternative way of thinking of a sequence photos, by making a layout of small images spread across one large sheet of paper so they can all be seen at once and correspondences can be drawn between them. 

Jim Casper of Lens Culture said everyone is a photographer now. Photography is a universal language. But later on Brad Feuerhelm from American Suburb X said photography is a medium, not a language. 

Casper explained how to use Lens Culture for exposure with: 

  • 6 annual awards; 
  • their Guide to how to make the most of photography competitions; 
  • Lens Culture Sessions - live workshops with 10 participants, peer to peer, in a social environment online. 

Suzanna Diamond introduced the Artsy website, which was new to me and seems a good platform for coverage of events (including an Unseen microsite) and writing about art history. You can set up a profile page and a folio to display work. 

Chris Littlewood from Flowers Gallery on looking for new talent advised photographers to find out about people first and present yourself to them on their own terms. This is an investment for the future so take the time to do it right. Don’t use the scatter technique. 

They run a 1 year mentorship programme with the London College of Communication to support new talent, not necessarily young. 

Emma Bowett, photo editor for the FT Weekend Magazine said to be clear about your goal and what you’d like to do. Why are you contacting this person at this time? 

Make a clean and well-organised website. Organise it by projects with a small amount of text to explain each. Variety is OK, but keep a tight edit on each project. Make contact easy, with an email address that you can copy and paste, not a contact form. Build up contacts and send out a newsletter when you’ve got enough things to say. 

How to get a show in a gallery? You can send pictures and make a pitch. How will it fit there? If your project is about a place there’s nothing wrong with going to that place to get it shown there. 

Show your photos on Facebook and Twitter. Here you can also see what editors are working on. Use these tools as tools. Present yourself as a professional and you’ll be treated as one. Think about how to curate work on social media. Issues of exclusity may arise. A couple of photos can raise interest, but don’t give the whole game away. 

Show work and get critical feedback. Set up a group to get together and show work. Who can help you edit?

Using Format