Delighted to discover story I shot on Kolkata last year just won Gold at the US based Content Marketing Awards . The winning entry – Best use of Photography – was for the Thai Airways Magazine Sawasdee for whom I wrote and photographed Kolkata’s iconic Coffee House (the tear sheet is here). Here’s an image from the set.
A dozen years ago I made a trip to Iraq in the company of writer Jonathan Glancey for a cover story for the Guardian Magazine. I’ve worked there a few times, but on this occasion we were trying to record the layers of civilisation, preserved as if in aspic under Saddam, that were about to be destroyed by the onslaught of NeoCon wars. By sheer luck we managed to travel the length and breadth of the country (albeit with very nervous security) from Basra in the South to Mosul up north. That is where I photographed (all too briefly) a nervous Yezidi community – a living link to a much earlier Assyrian culture religiously linked to Zoroastrianism. It seems so much that I photographed on that trip has now been destroyed or brutalised. Baghdad, Babylon, Basra, Shia shrines, the ziggurat at Ur, the mosque at Samarra – the list goes on. All broken in the name of a privatised campaign of Imperial plunder. The more I look, the more the work becomes an historical vault of how things were and, like a glance back to the past in a cracked mirror, how they will never be again. Which brings me back to the last remnants of the peaceful Yezidi community exposed and dying on a mountain surrounded by Gulf-backed, anti-Shia jihadis dreaming their fantasies of an empire of blood and slaughtering their way back to a new age of darkness. This Caliphate now ‘rules’ over at least six million people and is consolidating its positions, not imploding despite the West’s best hopes. As I wrote in 2010 about the US ‘withdrawl’ from Baghdad, “The war, born of a lie, born of greed and evil has been a disaster for America and for the world”. Not that the architects of that Crusade will care of course, neither will they spare a thought to the inevitable carnage on Mount Shingal.
I’m quite a traditional photographer. To the surprise of many who see me working, I still expose my digital images the way I shot transparency film: carefully and with a hand-held meter. In this way, I’ve always had a problem with photographers that shoot real life and then work on their files afterwards to create a different, almost hyper reality. For photojournalists I find this very difficult to deal with and, as I’ve said before, I believe it can create a serious problem of authenticity and voracity. I find myself however at a stage of my career where I want to learn new things. I also find myself increasingly shooting personal projects with an eye to more commercial markets. Recently I’ve been trying to learn how to create a look that I feel happy with and that I can manipulate for a new project (that’s under wraps for now). After some deliberation and a lot of help from my friends – I have something I’m happy with. This may not be a very big step for some – very old hat to some people – but for me it’s an enormous one.
And it’s always good to learn something new. When was the last time we can honestly say that we have?
I won’t be shooting anything serious like this (in the sense of documentary work) but I may change and evolve a new process to reinvigorate things a bit on another front. Old dog/new tricks. Here’s one I made earlier.
What do you think?
Britain has a housing crisis. The Queen’s speech yesterday underlined the current government’s commitment to develop Ebbsfleet as a Garden City – an idea ironically propounded in the early twentieth century by the Socialist-leaning Ebenezer Howard in Letchworth.
A year or so ago, I wrote a piece for a special edition of the German Magazine, Brand Eins (Brand Eins Wissen) where I traced the history of the British planned communities from the earliest industrial worker’s housing to Prince Charles’ architectural monstrosity, Poundbury. The piece, The Strange Death of the British Utopia (or how Britain lives in her own past) can be found on the writing section of my website here.
What a shame. It seems that production of the Ambassador, the first car to be made in India, has been halted. Hindustan Motors said it had suspended work at its plant outside the city of Kolkata, blaming weak demand and financing problems. There was always something reassuringly sturdy about bouncing along Indian roads in one. Never the most comfortable of cars but you could always reckon that a roadside mechanic would be able to bash, bend or replace something that had broken… Here’s a frame of a garland hanging from a mirror in one I hired in Tamil Nadu a few years ago…
I’m delighted that the V&A in London will be hosting a new show of MF Husain’s work this Summer.
I photographed Husain many years ago in his Bombay studio (I’ve previously written about him here and here) and he was as charming as he was prolific. How awful then that his work, a mixture of European Modernism and Indian imagery, is unlikely to be seen again anytime soon in his home country. He had to flee India in 2006 as Hindu militants put a bounty on his head, charging him with “offending religious sentiment”. The London show is, in a sense, a farewell to Husain but perhaps moreover, potentially to the ideas to which his art spoke: of a secular, tolerant India. As India rushes headlong into the clutches of corporations and those that seek to divide it’s people against one another (rigidly defining those who are and who aren’t an ‘acceptable’ Indian), it ironically may take the legacy of an elderly millionaire painter to act as a metaphor for the freedoms that ordinary Indians – indeed perhaps the idea of India itself – are in danger of losing.