‘Coming Clean’ by Graham MacIndoe at the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

I saunter down Cockburn Street in Edinburgh, that steep, twisted descent resembling a wide stairway to some lower plane, populated by architecture-ogling tourists with DSLR’s bouncing on their girths. Marching past Waverley Station in the enveloping mist, and an emaciated youth runs past, sweat dripping on his glistening pale forehead. On his heels are two plump police officers in fluorescent jackets, well-wrapped for a Scottish Autumnal climate but showing difficulty in athletic prowess, like watching two foil wrapped kebabs with extras attempt to do the sack race. It is Renton from Trainspotting, that perfect-toothed heroin-addict that everyone likes, the ill-constructed and boyish mainstream representation of an affliction that affects hundreds of thousands in the UK today.

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As I cross Princes street in the direction of the National Portrait Gallery, Renton fades into the mist and I witness the real thing. A hooded character with heavy grey eyes, shivering in a doorway prompts me for spare change. It doesn’t take much effort to see inconsistencies between the real affliction and Irvine Welsh and Danny Boyle’s depiction. There is no Iggy Pop growl or Underworld thump-thump soundtracking their lives, or moustached loveable rogues we’d jump to shake hands with. There is a shivering, silent and desperate yellow ghost waiting for his next fix.

A successful Scottish editorial photographer with a career based in the United States in the 1990s, Graham MacIndoe developed a debilitating crack and heroin addiction lasting almost a decade. Unable to continue with his professional life due to a heavy and dependent habit, MacIndoe withdrew from a business that was rapidly changing. Editorial photography was becoming less lucrative, and digital technology in photography was changing the game of commercial photography completely.

While under the throes of addiction, the innate photographer and documentarian in MacIndoe sought a way of dealing with his addiction and created a series of self portraits in his vulnerable and dependent condition, feeling compelled to record his life at a point when he felt “isolation, loneliness and pain” and any injection could be his last.  Using a basic digital camera (he had sold most of his equipment to fund his addiction), he photographed himself injecting, or in otherwise internment-like scenarios in his small and cramped apartment. Although the photographs in this series were made during the years 2004 and 2010 while MacIndoe was a heavy heroin user, he saw the value in the work when he rediscovered them in 2015 and after some deliberation, resolved to publish them. They were subsequently published by New York magazine and The Guardian, and have since been acquired by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Untitled (1), a typical but striking picture from the series shows MacIndoe in a domestic setting in what appears to be a kitchen, standing in front of a bright daylit window. To his sides, fluorescent-lit yellow-green walls frame him, an ironing board and mop duly stand at each corner, while MacIndoe appears to be in the act of falling or slipping. His hands are held half clasped at his chest, holding an object that resembles a syringe. A trickle of scarlet blood runs down his forearm, and with his head tilted upwards with eyes closed he wears an expression of ecstasy or impending martyrdom. The searing light from outwith the building burns through the image of MacIndoe due to overexposure, lopping his head from his shoulder and torsos, his mind separated from his body, already unaware or unconcerned about the camera capturing his image. Resting idly on a unit in front of the window, his body appears slack, in the process of falling. The burn of the outside light, apart from separating his head from his body forms the shape of blinding, glowing  wings behind his shoulders. What goes on in the outside world beyond his window has been obliterated into a sea of whiteness, a blanket of nothingness brought on by a single injection.

MacIndoe made many of these images using the same technique, resting the camera on a shelf or otherwise sturdy surface and setting the camera to take pictures at regular intervals, allowing him to compose the photographs and go about his daily life while the camera  captured his routines, placing himself within the camera’s view when necessary. Printed at 10 by 12 inches, window-mounted and framed, the prints suggest a documentary approach as opposed to a fine art experience, largely due to the limits of the inexpensive digital camera. We are able to peer through the windows into the private life of an addict, to witness what goes on behind closed doors when heroin users are temporarily no longer required to wander the streets. The act of photographing himself while he was in such a vulnerable state became an act of transcending the image-making process of photography and became a form of redemption in itself. Being ultimately comfortable with his photographic subject (himself) he continuously captured the daily life of an addict, bypassing the ethical struggles of photographing other junkies.

In another untitled photograph (2), MacIndoe stands shirtless in his bathroom, his belted jeans hung slackly on his waist due to weight loss, exposing a scarred belly. One tattooed arm is held behind his back, while the other clasps his trouser belt as he stares blankly beyond the frame. The cold fluorescent light bathes him from above, casting heavy shadows over his eyes  while a haunting and dripping reflection of him peers towards us at the left from a misted mirror. The image is reminiscent of Caravaggio’s Doubting Thomas, MacIndoe depicting both one of the bewildered, balding apostles and simultaneously the bare-chested and wounded figure of Christ. The light falls in a similar fashion from an above, unidentified source. As well as gaining a Master’s Degree in Photography at the Royal College of Art London, MacIndoe studied painting at Edinburgh College of Art, and so was well schooled in lighting, composition and in particular making references to other paintings in his work.

The exhibition is a compelling testament to vulnerability and addiction, and offers a valuable insight into the harrowing routines of a dependent drug addict. It is impossible to consider them as merely documents or self portraits, due to the care and consideration that has been placed both at the time of taking the photos and of the sober selective process. MacIndoe has offered a window into a world that many of us never witness, or only see through the rose-tinted glasses of contemporary cinema. MacIndoe has shown us that heroin addiction is indeed, not an increased enjoyment of life “it is a way of life” (Burroughs, 1953). Thankfully he survived in order to tell the story.

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All images © Graham MacIndoe

The exhibition runs until November 5th at National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

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Having a word with… Les Monaghan

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Les Monaghan is a photographer based in Doncaster. His interest is in society, with a particular interest in those that are deprived and affected by recent changes in political policy. His current project, Relative Property is an investigation into a few of the more than a million people that are living in destitution in the UK today. His aim is to engage with and truthfully represent  a subject that is continuously misrepresented in mainstream media, in order to make the public aware of the struggles that millions more in poverty are moving closer to facing on a daily basis.

Where did you study photography?

I took photos as a kid and they all had camera shake. At Doncaster Art College studying graphic design I enjoyed the dark room and printing (I was mediocre), the teacher was uninspiring but he did get excited about an essay I wrote on Tim Page – the only interesting book I remember in the library. I didn’t go to Uni till much later, I studied on the fantastic (and now defunct) History of Film, Photography and Graphic Media. Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Benjamin’s Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Berger’s Ways of Seeing and Tagg’s The Burden of Representation were the core of the course. Two modules were with John Taylor, Uses of Photography I and II, it was awesome, he’d already published A Dream of England and we saw the research for Bodyhorror. John Taylor’s thinking has probably filtered into most of my work. I did a Practice module, we had tasters  and then I chose a couple of years worth of photography. We didn’t get anything like the help that you would expect – it was solely tutorials – but my tutor did note that I had ‘an eye’. I would take 3 to 4 monographs home a week; Paul Graham, Martin Parr, Chauncey Hare, Chris Killip, John Davies, Peter Fraser, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Bill Owens, Karen Knorr, John Kippin and Victor Burgin are who stuck in my head.

What inspires you to create your work?

Inspiration is from what I see and what bothers me, I got particularly aggrieved by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report on destitution published last Spring, and by the reaction it did and didn’t get. That anger sustains me even now, as the Relative Poverty project drags on.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the UK today?

The scene is what it is, the people who would get ahead in any other business or industry get ahead. A friend once said to me, “there are so many great photographers we haven’t heard about”, I think he’s right.

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What format do you like to shoot in and why?

Like most people my age I started in 35mm film, from press days I was always pushing film. I tried some medium format but I’ve been happy with the practical quality of DSLR since 2010, Nikons are pretty good in low light.

What is keeping you busy photographically these days?

Relative Poverty takes most of my time currently but its been a struggle to fund, so I continue to take community based work and I’m grateful that there still is some to be had. Today I spent an hour or so with one of my families shooting as we walked through town. Tomorrow I have some commissioned portraits to make. Wednesday I’ll spend the morning with one family and the afternoon with another.

Images from Relative Poverty and The Desire Project (2015-16).

You can follow Les on his blog here:

http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.co.uk

and follow and support Relative Poverty here:

http://www.relativepoverty.org/

 

Lewis Baltz with works by Carl Andre and Charlotte Posenenske

30th April until 9th July – Stills Gallery, Edinburgh

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Currently at Stills Gallery is a collection of photographs by Lewis Baltz, alongside works by Charlotte Posenenske and Carl Andre. The exhibition gives the viewer the opportunity to view photographic work (in a photographic gallery) alongside other disciplinaries. Sculptural pieces by Posenenske and Andre also occupy the gallery space, adding another dimension to what would otherwise be a wall-centred exhibition.

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The Baltz collection brings together Park City (1979), Candlestick Point (1989) and 10 silver gelatin prints from The Prototype Works (1967-76), a selection of his earlier work. The repetitive arrangement of silver gelatin and chromogenic prints in Candlestick Point is a topographic series made in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Drawing from Andre’s printed poetry nearby, Baltz’s photographs also take on a lyrical form, punctuated by segmented breaks in the display of the framed photographs.

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Andre’s work continues onto the floor of the adjoining room in Aluminium Sum Ten (2003) in the form of 55 units of aluminium arranged as tiles. Visitors are offered the opportunity to walk onto the sculpture, allowing them to have a physical connection to Andre’s work while simultaneously viewing Baltz’s prints. The sculptural element continues with Posenenske’s Vierkantrohre Serie D (1967-2014),  an interchangeable galvanised steel piece that can be reconstructed into different forms to reflect its current location, altering the space it occupies.

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Bathed in Californian and Western sunlight, Baltz’s topographic photographs reveal details of places he has explored over his long photographic career. He has witnessed and recorded an ever-changing American landscape of neglected wasteland and derelict buildings, an account of our ability as human beings to explore, construct, and move on (not unlike Posenenske’s continually reconstructed piece), seemingly unaware of the environment we leave behind.

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Having a word with… Stuart Pilkington

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Stuart Pilkington is an art photographer and curator based in the United Kingdom and a member of Documenting Britain.

Where did you study photography?

I’m one of those people who has learnt photography outside of a formal education.  I was clueless as to what I wanted to be when I was a youngster and so I ended up in stifling office jobs and feeling on a certain road to nowhere. So when I bought a 35mm SLR at the age of 27 I set about slowly teaching myself photography.  I attended a few night classes but my main education has come from reading books about image making, watching YouTube videos by people like Soth and Hido and asking questions of photographers whose work I love.

What inspires you to create your work?

I think it’s important to be on a path to somewhere in life and it doesn’t matter what that path is.  So I now finally, (it took me a long while to get going), do two things, I work on a long term photography project once a week and I try and go out with my digital camera every day to flex my muscles and make images for Instagram. I want to get better and better at photography and the only way to do that is go out regularly and shoot, shoot, shoot. It’s not only about play and enjoyment, it’s also about problem solving, asking yourself ‘why didn’t that work?’ or even the opposite question ‘why was that successful?’. It’s a never ending conveyor belt of learning but it’s not an experience similar to Sisyphus pushing the boulder up a hill it just means that you can keep at it well into your dotage and keep a twinkle in your eye.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the UK today?

I think it’s burgeoning like most other countries in the world.  Apparently there has been an upswing in people doing photography courses in colleges and universities. Through social media I have connections with a few pockets like Falmouth and Brighton but I know there’s stacks out there. And the quality of work by these students is phenomenal. As for emerging and emerged photographers there is a plethora of excellence out there too. Obviously London is where many gravitate to but there’s a wonderful bunch up in Scotland and also Wales. And then there are these wonderful event organisers like Miniclick, Photo Forum and Photographers Dining Club who put on talks and events. Document Scotland, Documenting Britain and A Fine Beginning are great examples of collectives too.  However, I suspect I have only scratched the surface – there’s a whole undercurrent that I’m not aware of.

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

I would love to shoot in large format, however, it’s too prohibitive for me cost wise so I use my medium format 6×6 camera instead. I bought my Wista and Hasselblad after emailing Erika Larsen and Kate Hutchinson and asking them what cameras they used. I just love film, the alchemy of light on film is still a marvel to me, even though I haven’t mastered it yet. I do go out with my digital SLR to do the Instagram work but I think I will always shoot in film with future long term projects. I like the challenge of the square format, it’s a whole new set of problems to solve when considering how to compose etc. Eventually, I would love to understand how photographers like Clare Hewitt and Laura Hynd play with a Vermeer light in their square format portraits. I have a long way to go before I’m a fraction of the way there.

What is keeping you busy photographically these days?

I’m a lot busier these days making my own images but when I’m not doing that I’m curating my group project entitled The Swap. That should end two years after it started in August this year. I’m also busy trying to formulate a book of The Swap and speaking with printers and the like. Other than that I am administering the first Pilkington Prize which is a landscape photography competition this year and I’m setting up a photography agency with sixteen photographers on board. So it’s a combination of snapping the shutter, thinking time, curating and admin.

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Could you tell us about the photos you have shared with us?

I stopped the woman by the yellow door only to discover that she couldn’t speak English but we navigated through that and the image was taken. It was one of those moments where I saw her walking towards the yellow door and I thought “hmmm that green in her dress would go well”. I could have let the moment go but instead I grabbed it and was pleased to see afterwards that the door had a shadow on the floor in the form of a different shade of pavement.

The man with the hoodie by the green door was my attempt to slightly represent the fashions of today. There are a number of hipsters and hoodies in my images. I like the fact that the sunshine gave a different light quality to this one and he looks like he’s rising from the ground.

The four girls by the plinths were in Ellesmere Port. I hadn’t a clue what they were doing when I looked into the ground glass and when I pressed the shutter. It’s only when I got the image back from the lab that I was chuffed with their poses. The people in the images are probably more responsible for a successful image that I am – they often like to play about.

http://www.stuartpilkington.co.uk/

Stuart’s work is currently on show as part of Fèis presents Documenting Britain at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, Scotland from 25th April to 23rd May.

http://www.streetlevelphotoworks.org/event/feis_documenting_britain

Having a word with… Melanie Friend

-® Melanie Friend-courtesy Impressions Gallery. Tank rides, Abingdon, Oxon, 3 May 2009 RGB

Melanie Friend is an English photographer with a long professional history in the medium. Melanie initially worked in journalism and has worked on gallery orientated projects since the 1990s. A solo show, The Home Front is currently touring the UK with Impressions Gallery.

Where did you study photography?

I studied for a part-time BA Photography 1984-88 at the Polytechnic of Central London (which became University of Westminster) when I was already freelancing. In 1999-2000 I studied part-time again on the MA Photography run by Anne Williams at the London College of Printing (now LCC, part of University of the Arts London).

What inspires you to create your work?

Anger at injustice has been a strong inspiration over the years. In the 1990s I focused on the violence in Kosovo (when it was effectively a police state); then I moved on to look at immigration detention in the UK. Much of my work has focused on conflict in one way or another. I’m more interested nowadays in focusing on subjects closer to home, and themes have expanded. The ‘creative process’ is unnerving at times, but I like the intensity & fulfillment of letting my ideas develop over a long period of time, while maintaining overall focus and direction. I get inspired by on-the-ground encounters, experiences and observations, backed up by research & reading. I’m open to inspirations from different sources (e.g. a 19th century engraving, a thread from an earlier project, a news story, a film, a poem).

How do you feel about the photography scene in the UK today?

It’s incredibly vibrant but very tough financially for photographers & practitioners/artists these days. It wasn’t easy when I started out in the 1980s but there were fewer photographers trying to earn a living; we got much higher freelance day rates and reproduction fees for the ‘bread-and-butter’ work.  In 1986 I joined the photography agency Format, which was originally a cooperative and a very supportive network of women photographers. (I joined Panos later on, in addition). It’s great seeing new collectives or groups of photographers springing up now – sometimes friends who graduated from the same BA/MA course. I took on hourly paid teaching work in the 1990s and now I am a senior lecturer (part time) at University of Sussex. Right now it’s difficult to publish a book with a photography publisher or get a gallery show owing to the production costs, competition, pinched budgets & public sector austerity cuts affecting galleries/museums. On the positive side, today there are more festivals, grants, portfolio reviews & prizes out there, and opportunities to self-publish and to publish online. It feels like an entrepreneurial & inspiring scene, although much of it is dependent on enthusiastic volunteer labour!

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

I work with medium format film at the moment and I photographed The Home Front, on a Mamiya 7 II rangefinder. I used a Fuji 6cm x 9cm rangefinder for Border Country, the preceding project. After seeing the processed film, I get a small selection of negs scanned. I like the quality & design of the Mamiya particularly, and that in good light outside I can hand-hold it, and dispense with lugging around a tripod. The Mamiya is lighter (& cheaper) than a digital equivalent. Since my mid 30s I’ve had chronic back/neck stuff going on, and so it suits me better. It’s good to have both negatives & high res scans for my archive too.

I like to work with as little equipment as possible and to focus on looking and waiting – for the right light, for what works. I am also a bit addicted to the mystery of not knowing exactly what I’m ‘getting’. I love going to the lab to collect my processed film: feeling that anticipation and uncertainty, being surprised sometimes by the results. Seeing immediately what you’ve got on the playback screen on the back of a digital camera just doesn’t have that edge; but digital cameras have a lot of flexibility and are more economic if you’re shooting large numbers of images. I use a Lumix for research photos & holidays, and my iPhone camera.

-® Melanie Friend, The Home Front, Red Arrows at Clacton, low res

An exhibition, The Home Front was shown at DLI (Durham Light Infantry) Museum & Art Gallery) following a show at Impressions Gallery in Bradford last year. Could you tell me a little about that? 

In autumn 2013 The Home Front exhibition, curated by Pippa Oldfield, opened at Impressions in Bradford as a solo show, and Impressions Gallery are now touring it. This autumn it was shown at DLI Museum & Art Gallery (Durham) and is showing at UH Galleries (Hertfordshire) 14 November 2014 – 31 January 2015.  The Home Front book was published in 2013 by Dewi Lewis Publishing in association with Impressions Gallery. It is an accompanying publication rather than a catalogue of the show, with essay by curator Pippa Oldfield, and foreword by Hilary Roberts of the Imperial War Museum.

Much of my earlier work used still images with sound; but The Home Front comprises still images only. It focuses on air shows and on the normalization of war in our culture. I took the photographs over four air show ‘seasons’ 2009-12. I’ve written about this on my website and am about to write about the work for a journal so I am keeping this brief. Here’s the URL for my website page on The Home Front and the link to the Impressions Gallery page:

http://www.melaniefriend.com/thehomefront/

http://www.impressions-gallery.com/exhibitions/exhibition.php?id=57

My next project, Standing By, is closer to home and focusing on my parents. I have shown it as work-in-progress at two conferences to date. It’s a sound-led installation piece I started way back in 2000, & uses still images taken from several sources: my Lumix, iPhone, 35mm and medium format photos, & scans from family albums. Another project is in the pipeline but is at the ideas stage right now.

www.melaniefriend.com

Images – Top: Tank rides at Abingdon Air and Country Show, Dalton Barracks, Oxfordshire, 3 May 2009. © Melanie Friend/courtesy Impressions Gallery.

Bottom: Hawk T1 military trainers (Red Arrows), Clacton Air Show, Essex, 26 August 2010. © Melanie Friend/courtesy Impressions Gallery.

 

Melanie’s book, The Home Front is available now from Dewi Lewis Publishing:
The Home Front cover for Alex

 

Ones to watch: Bethany Amy Crutchfield

 

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London-based photographer Bethany Amy Crutchfield is a recent graduate from Falmouth University. Her bold and minimalist photographic style caught the attention of editors of Source magazine’s photographic review this year and was selected by Lorenzo Fusi, Director of Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool.

The attention to detail (light, arrangement and colour) she employs in her still life work is remarkable. As a result, the vibrancy and variety of her photographs makes the visual experience similar to that of a child in a freshly stocked sweet shop.

Graphic Photography

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bethanyamyphotography.com

All images courtesy and copyright the artist

Mario Popham: Enduring Growth

19th June until 29th July – Cornerhouse, Manchester

Currently gracing the walls at the Cornerhouse café and bar in Manchester is an exhibition of photographs by Mario Popham.

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Born in Japan, Popham has lived in Manchester for the past decade and now considers the city his adopted home. The vision of Manchester he shares is both instantly recognisable – overgrown parking lots, viaducts, vandalised buildings – yet Popham manages to create a vision that is undeniably his own. In one photograph a tree bends dejectedly on the pavement, caught in the sunlight on a desolate street. The city and its relationship with the natural environment is a recurring theme in this series – ivy and weeds sprawl wildly over telegraph poles and neglected lots in what appears to be a constant battle between nature and concrete.

The denizens of Manchester also make a regular appearance in this collection, and are at home with the landscapes on display. Like the saplings in other photographs, we see youths and young adults attempting to find their place in an ever-changing city.

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Hulme Party

The large prints hang comfortably in this well-lit public space. Due to their size it is possible to view them all without having to interrupt anyone’s lunch; however, I recommend viewing them more closely if you get the chance, there is a lot of great work to see here.

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All images courtesy and copyright the artist