Your gaze hits the side of my face


Barbara Kruger – Untitled

Artist Barbara Kruger combines found images with pithy captions in a distinctive agitprop style. Her work Untitled from 1981 still packs a punch. A woman’s profile with eyes averted, her neck squared into a statue suggests a classical image of female perfection. But before we can explore this any further it is the alternating blocks of text, typeset in Kruger’s trademark Futura Bold Oblique, that strike us: Your gaze hits the side of my face. The words are unequivocal and accusatory, challenging us to consider our role in the transaction of the gaze, to question our position of privilege, or otherwise.

As with advertising, and in its subversions by activists Adbusters, we can’t escape the interaction of image and text. They jostle for our attention, until meaning arises at the point of their convergence.

“I think what I’m trying to do is create moments of recognition. To try to detonate some kind of feeling or understanding of lived experience.” B.K.

Kruger’s work is well worth (re) investigating – a Google image search is an invigorating starting point.


Photography as Resistance

Martin Dixon – Photography as Resistance

Martin Dixon – Photography as Resistance

In America, the state of Texas is currently attempting to pass Bill 2918, outlawing the taking of photographs within a 25-foot radius of a police officer. Here in England we are subject to a litany of places and people we are not allowed to photograph, and while we internalise the media’s rhetoric of the photographer as ‘no-good predator’, the state’s panoptic gaze scrutinises our every movement.

I took this photograph at the end of March for Homes, a demonstration against the proposed demolition of the Aylesbury Estate in south London. Taking photographs gave me something to do, but then I started to wonder – was it the best thing?  What did I hope my photographs might do, or say about what I saw happening?

A lot of people where taking photographs that afternoon.

A large section of the west of the Aylesbury Estate has already been emptied of tenants and leaseholders, but some remain, alongside housing activists squatting empty flats as protest. Southwark council has built a large fence around this part of the estate, effectively imprisoning the remaining residents, who now can only access their homes by asking permission from security guards at the one allowed gate. While the council claims this is to protect the remaining residents and “restrict entry to unauthorised persons”, it seems just as likely they want to minimise opposition, get the area cleared and sold off to private developers as quickly as possible. Like they did at the Heygate Estate, just up the road at the Elephant and Castle.

This is London in 2015.

As the demonstration reaches the gates in the fence some protestors manage to push past the security guards and onto the estate. Squads of police quickly arrive to guard the gates, while protestors harangue the police and security for their shameful behaviour.

It can seem hard to know where or how to begin documenting what is happening here. It is so huge – this monolithic ideology of self-perpetuating greed. An ideology which wants the whole of London sold off, bought up, cleansed and rebuilt as a giant mall, a citywide replication of the horror show that is the millennium dome. But, we see what you are doing. We understand what we have to loose and what you hope to gain. And we will record your actions, we will document you in every way we can – we will write and record and film and photograph.

We will resist.

Nine photographs I took that afternoon

Video of events that afternoon from meanutt– SOUTHWARK: Security and police deny access to The Aylesbury

Context from Southwark Notes – Southwark Council’s Siege Mentality: Fencing In Aylesbury Estate Residents




Incidents 005

Henry Wessel – Incidents 005

Henry Wessel – Incidents 005

In Incidents 005 a girl looks at us from the passenger window of a 1970s shooting-brake. With her hand to her head she holds an uncertain pose, a puzzlement of fashion affection and consternation. Henry Wessel’s title doesn’t give much away – an incident, something occurred, Wessel was there, he took a photograph and here it is. Now it’s down to us.

Wessel first came to prominence in William Jenkins’ seminal exhibition New Topographics in 1975, bringing together ten photographers chronicling the mundane landscapes of the suburban world. Wessel has continued photographing (Tri-X film on a Leica with a 28mm lens) the landscapes and people of California and the West Coast, walking the streets or from the window of his car. His soft, low contrast prints highlight the brilliant quality of the light in which everything can be seen, every surface described.

Looking for meaning in a photograph there is much we might consider: the photographed event, the photographer, title and text, but Wessel suggests that meaning arises from a different event – from the play between the appearance of the photograph and the viewer’s experiential knowledge and imagination.

Incidents 005
a girl looks from the passenger window of a 1970s shooting-brake

three time streams emanate from inside the car
the driver looking forward, waits for a gap in the traffic – the future
the children in the rear seat look backwards – the past
the girl in the centre looks straight at us – the present

as in a dream
the car is travelling backwards

behind the girl
another figure watches
time unfolds

Incidents 005 is currently on show at Tate Modern, London in Incidents, a series of 27 black and white prints by Henry Wessel.



Wolfgang Tillmans – Gedser

On a sunny afternoon in 2010 I went to Wolfgang Tillmans’ photography exhibition at Serpentine Gallery in London. Afterwards, as I walked through Hyde Park, it seemed as if his photographs had recalibrated my optic nerves – the colours and geometry of the park jostled with a new urgency to be noticed, to be photographed. Look – the edge of the rubbish bin against the dry grass, there under the trees, the Japanese tourists. An epiphany! My reconfigured vision gradually settled, but over the following weeks I had the odd moment of déjà vu – a bush growing up the side of a block of flats, a child in a baby-seat in the front of a car, a man talking on the phone on the deck of a ferryboat – I had seen them all before in a Tillmans’ photograph.

In Gedser (2004) a man stands on the deck of a ferryboat, wrapped in a mobile phone conversation, behind him the remains of another figure, badly photoshopped. Tillmans shows us what photographs (objects with a surface) can do, how they slip between truth and untruth. But while erasing people from photographs has been a standard tool for those rewriting history, maybe here it just looked better without the other figure.

How we see the world shapes what we think is important and Tillman’s attention to the everyday reminds us of events and places from our own lives, encouraging a broader vision, inclusive and accepting. It is that quality of being attentive, Tillmans suggests, which determines how we then act in the world, and by extrapolation, how society as a whole acts. His work subtly reclaims photography’s role in reflecting and creating the world, inviting us in, to both see, and create for ourselves. Tillmans’ Gedser was taken near the Danish, Baltic Sea port, while my déjà vu moment came on a boat leaving Swansea. Next time you find yourself on a ferry, step up onto the passenger deck and take a look.

In 2015 Wolfgang Tillmans was awarded the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography.

Crossing Paths

Crossing Paths Series - Niall McDiarmid

Niall McDiarmid – Crossing Paths Series

Niall McDiarmid’s book Crossing Paths starts from a simple premise: one quiet Sunday in the winter of 2011 he walks to the station, catches a train, and starts taking photographs of the people he meets. He carries on like this, criss-crossing Britain, for three years. On a damp, overcast day in Margate, he takes this photograph of twin sisters in identical outfits – a swirl of candyfloss against the grey.

Photographers seem irresistibly drawn to the subject of twins, one which can easily descend into cliche. Diane Arbus’ Identical Twins, a photograph of seven year old twin sisters can barely be mentioned without the words ‘uncanny’ or ‘spooky’, while Roger Balen’s Dresie and Casie presents mentally and physically handicapped twin brothers as outlandish and grotesque, (photojournalist Herman Verwey wrote a touching riposte here Two, kindly, jovial fellows).

However McDiamird’s portrait of the twin sisters is a much gentler affair. He has a sharp eye for colour and composition and it’s all the better for the double melancholy of a rainy day by the seaside. Photographic portraits invite us to stare much longer than might be comfortable in real life, and here it’s about noticing the slight differences, how they each stand and present to the camera, their expressions and positions – but ultimately it’s all about two sisters.

There are a multitude of people in McDiarmuid’s book Crossing Paths, and each portrait sets us off to puzzle over who they might be, who they remind us of and occasionally to wonder if we might even know them – it’s a delightful journey. Although Crossing Paths is currently sold out, McDiarmid’s new book Via Vauxhall is due to be launched in March 2015.