Garry Winogrand - Jeu de Paume

This isn’t a review but more of a scribble to share an experience I had earlier this year…

I have a relatively unusual job where I am sent to many different places, mainly in the UK & Europe (but sometimes further afield) in order to wow companies into buying software. Most of the time I am in fairly nondescript places, but occasionally I get to go somewhere nice. And so I found myself in Paris, way back on the 6th of January. Flight times meant I got an extra day to wander around, so I thought I would take some pictures and see some culture. Luck would have it that the Gary Winogrand retrospective was going to coincide with my visit (result). I was pretty excited. Gary Winogrand does not need an introduction from the likes of me, but safe to say he was one of the ‘masters’ I latched onto pretty quickly when educating myself in photography. To see his work printed and on the wall was something I was looking forward to. I love his no-nonsense, New Yorker approach to photography. 

“I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”

However, this trip to Paris was not like other times I have been. On my second day there, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi decided to walk into the offices of Charlie Hebdo and murder 11 employees. As you can imagine the whole city took on a strange mood. For the next two days there seemed to be a never ending convoy of unmarked police cars; sirens blazing, windows down with 4 or 5 black-clad, balaclava wearing swat team officers sneering out. They were attempting to hunt down the brothers and then deal with Amedy Coulibaly who decided to go on the rampage also. A deeply unpleasant and upsetting few days for the City of Light. 

So it was on a rain soaked day, in amongst the chaos that I went to the Jeu de Paume, plastered in Je Suis Charlie posters, to see the exhibition. Not to belittle the horrible events that were going on, but what an experience, what a way to distract my attention. Living in Northern Ireland I don’t have a huge amount of access (without considerable effort) to photographic exhibitions on this scale. I had seen Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ contact sheets at the Tate and some of Soth’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London, but this was a different kettle of fish. There were well over a hundred prints, showing his New York work through to when he travelled west in the later part of his career. Seeing a retrospective like this from such a photographer was profound. His ability to find beauty and interest in the most mundane moments on the street is breathtaking. Seeing the deep, textured, beautifully-crafted Silver Gelatin prints up close was incredible. Like Winogrand said, if a moment appears more dramatic in a picture than it did in reality, then it is a good picture; the exhibition contained many dramatic pictures. 

“There is a transformation, you see, when you just put four edges around it. That changes it. A new world is created.”

I have no idea where the exhibition will end up, but if you get the chance to go then do. If you don’t, then I highly recommend the accompanying book:

With that I went back into the rain, kept my head down and snapped a few frames to pass the time before my flight home. This Paris trip was a strange experience and awful to feel the city gripped by fear. I hope the next trip back isn’t as eventful. 

Some snapshots taken in Paris.

Book Review - Sohrab Hura: Life is Elsewhere

All images remain copyright of Sohrab Hura / Magnum Photos.

I first became aware of Sohrab Hura (without realising who he was) when I read an essay of his on Burn Magazine around 2010-11. I was attracted to how dark, grainy and emotive the pictures were and included in the set was an incredibly abstract, blurry portrait of a man which, like all good pictures, asked more questions than provided answers. Some while later I read more about him online when he was awarded a Magnum nomination to join the agency. There were a bunch of articles floating around from the likes of Invisible Photographer Asia and the British Journal of Photography and I really liked his humble nature in the interviews and approach to making pictures. It appeared he was working on many wide ranging topics simultaneously; from the economic climate in India, local Indian life and his personal experiences and family. A friend let me know he had a book coming out and I jumped at the chance to buy a copy (which was a smart move seeing as they are now completely sold out, with the last few copies selling at £220). 

Life is Elsewhere blew me away. It is a book I go back to time and again. I have been collecting and reading photo books for the last 3-4 years, so I am in no way an expert, but I have started to fine tune my choices over the last couple of years and this now sits at the top of the pile. The book is small and hardback bound with a printed paper cover wrapped in plastic. The pictures are on nice thick paper and the book has hand written descriptions and notes by Sohrab Hura in pencil - a nice touch. The images are all luscious, in high contrast Black & White that pop off the page. The book is sequenced using a mix of full page spreads, pairs and multi-image pages which help narrate the story and take the reader on a journey as it flows. 

I like books that tell a story. Some photographers are able to use pictures and sequencing to create a narrative much as a writer can. Photo books can take you on a journey, alluding to certain poignant moments and revolving emotional content from both photographer and subject along the way, Hura achieves this to great affect in his book.

Life is Elsewhere is a very personal look at Sohrab Hura’s relationship with his mother, her mental illness and Hura’s ability to handle and make sense of it. In the book, he portrays his feelings for her, both love and pain, in having to put up with such a difficult situation. Many times he illustrates his emotions using humour - which works incredibly well and has made me smile many times when picking up the book. Sohrab Hura’s ability to make dark, grainy, emotive and ambiguous pictures flow together to portray where his head was at at this point in his life is what makes the work so encapsulating and attractive. So many of the pictures are beautiful and have that crucial ‘what am I looking at’ / ‘how has this been done’ magic to them. The photographer effortlessly moves through landscapes, interiors, abstract nature pictures, portraits, small detail portrayals and dramatic, flash filled action shots to tell his story and provide the reader with emotional fuel. The book is a joy and now a heavy influence on me.

If you go to the Magnum Photos site and look for Sohrab Hura, you will see he has already completed the second chapter to follow up this work; Look, It’s Getting Sunny Outside! will also be made into a book - something to definitely keep an ear to the ground for. If you can find a copy of Life is Elsewhere I would recommend snapping up a copy!

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