Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

January 06 2012

The month in photography – audio slideshow

Our guide to the month's best photo exhibitions and books – featuring Pieter Hugo, Eve Arnold, William Eggleston, Don McCullin and Annie Leibovitz

December 09 2011

The month in photography – audio slideshow

Our guide to the month's best photo exhibitions and books – featuring Andreas Gursky, Pieter Hugo, Rinko Kawauchi, Bruce Davidson and Terry Richardson

Sponsored post

December 12 2010

Photography books 2010

Sean O'Hagan picks the year's best, including 50 years of rock photography, the war images of Don McCullin and Larry Sultan's strange take on his adopted home state

Best music book

A Star is Born: Photography and Rock Since Elvis (Steidl £26)

A provocative, and seldom seen, portrait of the young Patti Smith – taken by Lynn Goldsmith in 1976 during a protest by Iranian students against America's support of the soon-to-be-deposed Shah – is just one of many extraordinary images in A Star is Born, a chronological record of photography's reflection of, and impact upon, the culture of rock. Smith (below right), as her T-shirt shows, is also protesting – against the arrest of Keith Richards on drug charges in Canada.

"There is something about the static image that imprints on the mass psyche," notes Mick Rock, whose defining images of David Bowie at his most androgynous are included here. There are several rare photographs of rock greats but also images from fan magazines, seminal periodicals and classic album sleeves. Photographers include Dezo Hoffman and Astrid Kirchner (each of whom styled the Beatles in their own image – wacky and moody respectively), Gered Mankowitz (who famously photographed the Stones stoned on Primrose Hill), Stephen Shore (who shot the Velvet Underground at Warhol's Factory in the late 1960s), and Charles Peterson (who chronicled the nascent grunge scene in Seattle).

A series of illuminating essays also traces the trajectory of rock photography from its glossy showbiz roots to the rise of lo-fi digital photographs taken by amateurs and posted on the internet.

Best genre book

Street Photography Now by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren (Thames & Hudson £29.95)

Street photography made the news earlier in the year when several practitioners were stopped, questioned and, in some cases, held under the Terrorism Act. Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren's book is not an exhaustive study of the form or its trajectory from the halcyon days in the early 70s when pioneers such as Gary Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz roamed the same New York turf. It does, though, provide invaluable insight into contemporary practice as well as collecting some great on-the-ground anecdotes. The 46 contemporary photographers selected highlight the range of styles and approaches that make it such an intriguing – and often provocative – genre. The best images are often the most iconoclastic, as illustrated by Trent Parke's technically breathtaking shots of Sydney and Mimi Mollica's street scenes from Dakar.

Best fashion book

UFO by Albert Watson (Hardie Grant Books £55)

For the seriously style conscious, this big sumptuous book looks back over Albert Watson's 40 years as a fashion photographer. Watson has notched up more than 250 Vogue covers and is the master of clean, clear portraits of the beautiful and the famous, both in moody black and white and pristine colour. There are few surprises here, bar the odd evocative landscape, but Watson can shoot even the most over-exposed model or celebrity and tease out something new in their sculpted features. His portrait of the young Kate Moss is a case in point: he covered her face in a torn lace veil that somehow accentuates her girlish beauty. Oh, and UFO stands for Unified Fashion Objectives – though Objects might have been more accurate.

Best compilation

A Year in Photography: Magnum Archive (Prestel £22.50)

The title is misleading. This is not so much a year in photography as a seasonal compilation that contains 365 images from the vast archive of the Magnum agency – one for every day of the year. As such, it is the perfect gift for anyone interested in the trajectory of photography over the past 60 years. All the big names are here, including Abbas, Capa, Cartier-Bresson and Eve Arnold as well as younger Magnum members such as Alec Soth and Martin Parr. Co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson memorably said the agency should reflect "a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually". That, against all the odds in this digital age of image overload, just about remains the case.

Best war book

Shaped by War by Don McCullin (Jonathan Cape £25)

War photography as it used to be by the greatest living exponent of the genre. This is, essentially, a visual narrative of McCullin's life on the front lines in Belfast, Beirut, Biafra, Vietnam, Palestine and El Salvador. It is also an elegy for the golden age of reportage, containing several powerful spreads from McCullin's time at the Observer in the 1960s and the Sunday Times in the 70s as well as personal documents, mementos and souvenirs. Among the latter is a close-up of McCullin's Nikon F camera after it had been smashed by a sniper's bullet in Cambodia in 1970. In an age where photographers are embedded with troops, this is a reminder of the objective power of great war photography and a testament to 30-odd years of living – and seeing – dangerously.

Best book for families

Where Children Sleep by James Mollison (Chris Boot £20)

A collection of photographs of children in their bedrooms, this book is essentially a clever visual essay on global inequality. Its range is wide: the life of four-year-old Kaya in her toy-packed bedroom in Tokyo is contrasted with that of another (anonymous) four-year-old who lives in a makeshift encampment on the outskirts of Rome, sharing a dirty single mattress with his family. It's a heartrending book that is pitched at adult and child readers alike – the accompanying texts are designed to be understood by nine-year-olds. "I hope this book will help children think about inequality, within and between societies around the world," says Mollison in his introduction, "and perhaps start to figure out how, in their own lives, they may respond." A tall order, but a book that will certainly make you – and your children – think.

Best posthumous book

Katherine Avenue by Larry Sultan (Steidl £45)

Larry Sultan, who died, aged 63, in December 2009, was a mischievous chronicler of the American Dream, whether in his oftenstaged photographs of his immediate family or his unreal-looking images from the manicured hinterlands of suburban California. Sultan's best photographs capture or – to be more precise – re-create the abiding unreality of his adopted Californian homeland. A fitting testament to a playfully serious pioneer.

For more of Sean O'Hagan's 2010 choices read his blog © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 05 2010

The 10 best photographic portraits

Penetrating profiles, from early-20th-century masterchefs to full-on modern celebrities

David Bailey: The Kray twins (1965)

The photographic guv'nor from east London. People have written him off so often but he is still shooting and as irascible as ever. I spotted him underneath a baseball cap recently and asked him how it was all going. "Nobody's using me, but the art world have discovered me!" he said. This picture of the Kray twins, whose gang ran a protection racket in London in the 60s, is classic Bailey: pure white background, no arms or hands, strong shape and form. I'm scared just looking at them.

Jane Bown: Sinéad O'Connor (1992)

I was lucky enough to work alongside Jane for nearly 15 years. This portrait of Sinéad O'Connor really stunned me when she took it and I have it on my wall. Her photographs are always simple and powerful and I love the defiance in this one, where, unusually, the subject isn't looking at the camera. Always preferring to work in black and white, Bown has dominated portraiture for 50 years. Respect.

August Sander: Baker (1928)

This is the forerunner for all those trendy chefs being photographed with meat cleavers and dead fish for today's food magazines. Baker, taken in 1928, was part of a mammoth series called People of the 20th Century. Sander wanted to take photographs of the entire German nation. He fell out with the Nazis and had his book Face of Our Time seized and the plates and negatives destroyed. Most of the rest of his work was looted after a bombing raid on his studio. Click here to see the image.

Chris Smith: Muhammad Ali (1971)

Chris Smith, who worked on this newspaper in the late 60s and early 70s, was my hero. His sports photographs won many awards and when I was lucky enough to get his job here on the Observer I was always worried about what he was going to produce in his new role at the Sunday Times. This photograph of Muhammad Ali in his prime, taken in the 5th Street Gym Miami Beach before the Frazier fight in 1971, was printed with a piece from Hugh McIlvanney. The Sunday Times let him go far too early. What a waste.

Murdo Macleod: Roy Keane (2002)

The best photographer working in Britain today. He doesn't take photographs so much as constructs them. A great ideas man who can light a Scottish glen. This photograph of Roy Keane was done in five minutes while Keane had a cab waiting in Manchester. Murdo had found the dead bird a few days before and he did a deal with Keane. "Hold this for a minute and you can go." What it means I don't know, but it is stunning and he uses it on the cover of his recent book Gnùis which means Genius… which he is!

Eve Arnold: Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits (1960)

This photograph, shot in Reno, Nevada in 1960 has an incredible sense of place and of Monroe's vulnerability. She and Arnold first worked together on a shoot for Esquire magazine in 1952 and, as Arnold says: "She trusted me, and the bond between us was photography." Magnum had sent nine photographers to cover the making of The Misfits, surely the most ever, but it was Arnold's work that really stood out. This was a looser, more intimate look than Hollywood had ever shown before in its publicity stills. Click here to see the image.

Anton Corbijn: John Lee Hooker's hand (1994)

Anton Corbijn is 6ft 7in tall – a great advantage when you are photographing rock bands playing live. Born in Holland, he went on to be the official photographer for U2. Now a great film-maker, he made the Joy Division biopic Control and The American, released last weekend. He got bored covering bands at gigs and became a portrait photographer, taking many risks with his hand-held Hasselblad camera. This portrait of John Lee Hooker, the blues guitarist, has no face but says so much about the hard life Hooker had.

Steve Pyke: Jerry Lewis (2000)

When Richard Avedon died, Steve Pyke was invited to take over the greatest portrait job in journalism: staff photographer on the New Yorker. A former music photographer and a man of many personal projects, this photograph of the comedian Jerry Lewis was one of the first portraits Pyke took for the magazine. Still working with his Rolleiflex camera and a close-up lens bought from a camera shop in Edinburgh, Pyke made his name with very tight portraits of everybody from philosophers to film stars.

Neil Libbert Subway, New York (1984)

I have never been any good at street photography – I have never had the nerve – but one man who does is Neil Libbert, who has used his Leica camera in some very difficult situations over the years. This photograph was taken on the subway in New York in 1984, when it was a very tough place to work. The woman would have never seen the camera and the Wall Street sign locates it in New York so well. Libbert also took the great exclusive photograph of nail-bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, London in 1999, which made the front page of the Guardian.

Don McCullin US marine (1968)

This photograph of a shell-shocked US marine in Hue, Vietnam in 1968 could be a self-portrait of McCullin himself. He too has seen too much while covering the major war zones around the world. He now lives in Somerset with his "ghosts", as he calls the negatives stored in his filing cabinets. His work has been compared to Goya's most terrifying imagery, which allows us to glimpse the unbearable. Born 10 years before me in Finsbury Park, north London, his first pictures were of a gang of teddy boys who had killed a policeman – one of the photographs appeared on the front page of this newspaper and launched his career. Click here to see the image.

Decade, a history of the past 10 years told in photographs, by Eamonn McCabe and Dr Terence McNamee is out now . To order for £19.96 with free UK P&P call 0330 333 6847 or go to © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 07 2010

The month in photography

Our monthly guide to the 20 best photographic exhibitions and books

May 21 2010

Shots of war

I saw 800 children dropping down dead in front of me. That turned me away from the gung-ho image of the war photographer

A few years ago Don McCullin, inevitably on assignment in a geopolitical hotspot, found himself hors de combat in a dusty and ill-equipped local hospital. He had a broken rib and a collapsed lung and woke up, the morning after sustaining his injuries, to be confronted "through a haze of pain and medication" by the sight of ministry of the interior policemen standing at the foot of his bed. "And of course they wanted my passport," he recalls. "Which was, of course, full of some pretty exotic stamps. Here we go, I thought. This could be fun."

Had McCullin, the great war photographer, been felled by a Vietnamese bullet or Israeli shrapnel? By Congolese thugs or Belfast paramilitaries? In fact, none of the above. For although he was in Syria, he wasn't there to chase war or discord, or at least none that had occurred within the last couple of millennia. Instead, he had been photographing the Roman ruins at the Great Sanctuary of Bel in Palmyra as part of a wider project to document the frontiers of the Roman empire. And the now septuagenarian photographer had simply tripped over some fallen masonry.

"I came round in the hospital and a rather attractive translator from my hotel explained that the police weren't even really interested in me. They just wanted to know if anyone had given me a push so they could go out and crack someone's skull. That's the flip side of a police state," he laughs. "Sometimes they can have your interests at heart. And to be fair to them, I felt less under surveillance in Syria than I do in England. Every street in London has a camera, and if you ever travel up the M4 it feels as if George Orwell should be your chauffeur."

McCullin will be discussing the fruits of his work in Syria, as well as elsewhere in the Levant and the Maghreb, on Friday at one of the early events at this year's Guardian Hay festival. His latest book, Southern Frontiers marks the culmination of three years' work for a man better known for recording more contemporary imperial adventures. The project had its genesis in the 1970s when McCullin was on assignment with Bruce Chatwin to report on the harassment by French fascists of Algerian refugees in Marseilles. "One night we just got the ferry over to Algiers to follow it up and there I got my first glimpses of these remarkable structures which have stayed with me ever since." He has now returned in the spirit of the Victorian painters and early photographers of the late 19th century such as David Roberts and Francis Frith to capture the ruined temples, theatres, colonnades and statues that marked the far corners of Roman expansion.

"Yes, it's a departure", he acknowledges. "But there is also more of a link than you might think to my previous work. I was absolutely overjoyed to be in these remarkable spaces. You feel part of the great canvas of history. But it is difficult to avoid the vibrations of the cries of the people who built them more than 2,000 years ago. The energy it took to put them up would have cost thousands of lives, and people must have perished left, right and centre. They are huge statements and wonderful achievements. But achievement is one thing and cost is another."

The cost to ordinary people of decisions made by their rulers has been at the heart of McCullin's work since he made his name with photographs on the construction of the Berlin Wall before moving on to produce legendary images from the war zones of Indochina, Latin America and the Middle East. After seeing his work, Henri Cartier-Bresson said to McCullin: "I have one word to say to you: Goya." An admiring John le Carré, with whom McCullin visited Beirut, wrote in an introduction to McCullin's 1980 book, Hearts of Darkness: "He has known all forms of fear, he's an expert in it. He has come back from God knows how many brinks, all different. His experience in a Ugandan prison alone would be enough to unhinge another man – like myself, as a matter of fact – for good."

"I've seen my own blood and broken a few bones," says McCullin, "I've been hit, which isn't an entirely bad thing as at least you have a glimpse of the suffering endured by the people you are photographing. And in a sense, crumbling empires and war have been with me all my life. I'm from England, and like every other great empire who stole bits of the world, there is a price to pay. And I was born in 1935. So since I've been conscious of the world I've either been in, or been on the periphery of, a war zone."

McCullin was brought up in north London, where his severely asthmatic father was often out of work and the family were poor, even by the standards of prewar Finsbury Park. Years later, when photographing slums in Bradford and London's East End, McCullin says he was overwhelmed by memories of the "reek" of poverty. "Even though my mother did her best, that sense of having nothing just flooded back."

When war broke out McCullin and his younger sister were evacuated to Cambridge and then Somerset. While McCullin eventually returned to London, his sister had been "sort of given away by my mother to the family who looked after her in Somerset. They were quite wealthy, so she went to boarding school, and while I was languishing in Finsbury Park with yobbos and having an annual day out at Southend-on-Sea, she was going on a Mediterranean cruise every year." (He also has a younger brother who went on to have a long career in the French Foreign Legion.) McCullin was later evacuated to Lancashire, where he had a "hellish time. They didn't bath me for 17 weeks. Then they put me in a dustbin full of water, gave me a bit of a scrub and sent me back on a night train. I was nine years of age, but I suppose it was a bit of preparation for harshnesses to come."

As a "horribly dyslexic child", McCullin found school difficult, but was always good at painting and drawing. He won a scholarship to a junior art school, but when he was 14, his father died and Don was forced to leave and take a job. Delivering film around Soho allowed him to tell the RAF that he had photographic experience when he was called up for national service. "In fact I'd never picked up a camera, but my visual interest came out like a genie from a bottle, although I did fail my photographic exams in the RAF because my reading was still so poor."

He served in the Egyptian canal zone, where he watched French ships coming home from Indochina, in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising, and in Aden and Cyprus. In 1956, he returned to Finsbury Park, where he took a job as a darkroom assistant. And two years later his big break came when pictures he had taken of an Islington street gang associated with the murder of a policemen were bought by the Observer.

"It was like getting a passport to a new life. Where I was, no one was encouraged to do well for themselves. You were much more acclaimed for getting your collar felt by the police or battering someone. It was full of bigotry and it was like quicksand pulling me down to oblivion. And here was the Observer, a paper I'd never bought in my life – it had always been the News of the World in our house – not only putting my name under the pictures, but paying me 50 quid, which in 1958 was a king's ransom."

He quickly established himself on Fleet Street, but it was a self-funded trip to Berlin in 1960, to witness the construction of the wall, that made McCullin's international reputation. "There was an extraordinary atmosphere, real Le Carré-land, but strangely, I felt immediately at home. It was as if I was wearing the right clothes." His work there won him a British Press award, and he was soon undertaking large-scale photo essays in the UK, on such subjects as Hartlepool's steelworkers. His work covering the civil wars in Cyprus won a World Press award, and he went on to Congo, where he was disguised as a mercenary and, most famously Vietnam, where he made the first of 15 visits in 1965.

"But strangely," he says, "not many people in the UK knew what photojournalism really was, including myself. The Americans were a long way ahead of us, and I had to educate myself." In a junk shop he stumbled across a run of Photogram photography annuals from 1886-1926 featuring work by the likes of Alfred Stieglitz, Frederick Evans and Henry Peach Robinson. "I had young children then, and after putting them to bed I'd sit down and thumb through these books. I still find them compellingly important today."

McCullin adopted quite early the methods he would stick to throughout his career, always bringing his own film home with him and processing it himself. "I never air freighted my work out which suited me in other ways in that I could come and go a bit. I always knew that if you hung around those war zones for long enough you would die. And many of my friends and colleagues did. "

He says his early motivations had little to do with changing people's perceptions. "Photography belongs to a fraternity of its own. I was young and enthusiastic and wanted to take good pictures to show the other photographers. That, and the professional pride of convincing an editor that I was the man to go somewhere, were the most important things to me." It wasn't until he was covering the Biafran war in 1969 that it occurred to him he "should have been making people think the images I was making were of things that should be unacceptable in our world. It came to me in a schoolroom being used as a hospital, and I saw 800 children literally dropping down dead in front of me. I had three young children of my own. That turned me away from the Hollywood gung-ho image of the war photographer. It converted me into another person."

But his globe-trotting continued, and he now says he thinks he's travelled more than David Attenborough. "Although he has been to the Galapagos and I haven't. Canada and New Zealand are the other places I haven't been to." And he has worked with some of the most distinguished writers, including Eric Newby and Norman Lewis, whom he "absolutely adored". Lewis said it was with McCullin that he wrote his best story, about the exploitation of Amazonian Indians, and for the rest of his life, whenever he heard that McCullin was in some far-flung part of the world he would wistfully think: "When he comes back I'd love to persuade him to go somewhere terrible with me."

The journalist Charles Glass met McCullin in 1975 in Sudan ("I remember he had Ready Brek with him, because it was the most reliable food you could have in the desert") when about to cross the border with the Eritrean Liberation Front. They have since worked together in Lebanon and Iraq and have become friends. "Don complained a lot, but I realised that was just his normal mode of speaking. He actually likes going to terrible places and is happy in miserable conditions. He works astoundingly well with people. On that trip, he had a way of charming the guerrillas and the sheepherding families on the desert fringes. And I like to think I could tell a McCullin photograph a mile off. The way he frames the subjects, the way the light broods, the way people are caught off guard, all classic McCullin."

Away from wars, McCullin had made his home in Somerset, "which never left my mind since I was evacuated there. I'm as happy as I can be down there. That's where my darkroom is and where I print all my own work." Not that his rural idyll has been accompanied by domestic bliss. He left his first wife in 1986 after 27 years of marriage, a decision he has described as "the most shameful thing I've done in my life". Tragically, just two years later, on their son's wedding day, she died after a long illness. A second marriage was "a disaster", but he says he has now landed on his feet with a happy third marriage to the travel journalist Catherine Fairweather, and he dotes on his fifth child, seven-year-old Max.

As well as his first divorce, the 1980s saw other important changes for McCullin. Sacked by the Sunday Times after 17 years by the incoming editor, Andrew Neil, who apparently thought his work too depressing, he began to move away from war zones – though he has returned several times since – and began landscape work, particularly winter scenes of his beloved Somerset Levels. Awards and retrospective shows have followed, including the current exhibition, Shaped by War which runs at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester until 13 June before moving to Bath and London.

McCullin suffered a minor stroke a couple of years ago and, "like every photographer I know" has got back and neck problems as well as "a bit of arthritis in my hands. But I'm up at six and in my darkroom by 6.30. If I can make 10 or 15 prints by the middle of the afternoon, even though I'll rip some of them up, I'm generally happy. Even though my body is having a hard time with all this battering and being turned over at airports, I know I haven't got that many years left, and I need to devote them to photography.

He marvels that "it's well over 50 years since I first dipped my hands in chemicals in a darkroom in the Canal Zone. So to produce this book now is something I'm very proud of. And while it's nice that there are no dead bodies in it, the fact that the people who built these wonderful buildings obviously suffered in their creation seems somehow appropriate.

"While I got huge pleasure in looking at the stones and putting together composition and so on, I also seem to deny myself that pleasure by remembering how these places were built. But I know deep in my heart that if there wasn't that confusion and tension then I would probably be too happy. And over the years, if I've learned anything about myself, it's that being too happy is the one thing that will never do." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 08 2010

April 03 2010

March 10 2010

War wounds

Don McCullin speaks about his 50-year career in war photography, and how shooting landscapes has finally granted him a sense of peace

March 06 2010

A month in photography

A guide to the 20 best photographic exhibitions and books, from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Don McCullin

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.
No Soup for you

Don't be the product, buy the product!

YES, I want to SOUP ●UP for ...