June 28, 2013

Friday Round Up - 28 June

This week Friday Round Up features an interview with Australian photographer Max Pam about his book "Atlas Monographs" and the exhibition 'mOther Armenia'. Also please check out the images on Tim Page Unpublished where legendary photojournalist Tim Page shares unseen photographs from his extensive archive. Have a great weekend.

(c) Nazik Armenakyan from mOther Armenia

Max Pam's Unique Journey
Alison Stieven-Taylor

As a young boy Max Pam dreamed of traveling to exotic places. At school he’d open the atlas, pick a destination, and let his imagination take him wandering through Thailand, Tibet, or China, countries that were ostensibly light years from the narrow-minded cultural confines of his 1950’s upbringing in Australia.

When he was in his late teens he turned his dreams into reality. He traveled the hippie trail to Katmandu and hitchhiked from London to India, a seemingly impossible feat, but Pam managed to do it and live to tell the tale. And along the way he amassed an extraordinary collection of photographs, journals and memories.

In his award-winning book Atlas Monographs Pam shares his journeys through Zanzibar, China, South India, Yemen, Madagascar, Karakoram and the South China Sea. The weighty tome features photographs from his nascent years in the early 1970’s to images taken as recently as 2006.

The vast majority of pictures in Atlas Monographs have not been published before with Pam “plundering” his archives and reacquainting himself with images he hasn’t seen for decades.

Pam is now in his sixties, but as he warms to recounting the tale of putting together Atlas Monographs I get the distinct impression that the young man who left behind the shores of his birth for adventure and sex in a fusion of Asian cultures is still very much alive under the surface of time.

I ask him how he arrived at the collection of images that are in Atlas Monographs and he laughs. “This is draft number forty…it was very exciting for me to go through my negatives and select the images and to re-read my journals and then to recast and recast until I had what I wanted.” Pam is extremely pleased with the outcome which compresses decades of photographs and multiple journals into one book. 

Atlas Monographs takes the reader through a series of journeys across the Asian continent and beyond. Pam has toured many times over the years to this part of the world and his fascination with Asia, he says, is “built into my DNA. From an early age I had that sensibility I was going to be very attracted to Asia. When I stepped off the plane at the age of twenty and plunged into the Singapore of then it was obvious that this was what had been missing in my life. I found it very exciting, powerful and that feeling endured for a very long time”.

In his introduction to Atlas Monographs he writes about his time in Asia during this period. “My main function as a person was to be there, to travel, to comprehend and join in the osmosis with the many and unique cultures I passed through. I had no formal notion of myself as a photographer. There were no assignments. The printed media and I had no relationship. As for my pictures I considered them to be part of a big work, a series of photographs that would take a lifetime to execute and collate. To understand the power and enormity of the Asian cultures I was involved with needed years of commitment to field work, to my visual anthropology.” Atlas Monographs most certainly pays homage to that ethic.

The book not only contains photographs spanning four decades, but also excerpts from the journals Pam kept on his travels. These books are filled with sketches, paintings, postcards and mementos. Some are hand written, others tapped out on an old ribbon typewriter. They not only served to document his experiences, but also helped Pam to retain his sanity and to fill the void of long days and nights spent on his own.

Of his journals Pam says, “With each successive journey I’d take a different tack on how I created my journal. They are reflective of my mindset at the time, and the reality that from one journey to the next I was a different person.”

As much as he is a photographer, Pam is also a storyteller. As I read, each journal entry transports me to another place in time encasing me in that moment. I can almost feel the relentless humidity of a Bangkok afternoon and smell the Tom Yum that wafts up the stairwell to the bedrooms of a run down Thai hotel. I squirm at the thought of sleeping in cockroach-infested rooms skimming quickly across Pam’s description of these ancient bugs crawling into all sorts of human orifices, my hair standing on end. And I rejoice at the sense of freedom he so clearly conveys.

I ask him what it was like to be able to do whatever he wanted, to go wherever he chose with no agenda. He laughs in reply. “To wake up in the morning, walk down to the docks, find out what ship is going to which island and get on it, to be a straw being blown in the wind, is a beautiful and free feeling.”

Of course to believe that all of his travels were wondrous and great fun would be to ignore the truth of traveling on your own. On one hand it can be fantastic and liberating and at the same time incredibly lonely and hard.

He recounts moments when he despaired. “The worst times were when I was sick. One really powerful experience was having malaria in Sumatra. I was pinned to the bed, paralyzed and so helpless. When you are in that condition you have to have the locals on your side and that was a great thing for me. People who didn’t know me could see my predicament and helped. I’ve had lots of tough, tough trips traveling by myself, subject to the vagaries of depersonalization and powerful loneliness and paranoia. But then in the next week you can have the most spectacular experience and go somewhere so physically beautiful and spiritual that it cuts through what has transpired before and your journey into darkness is over like that”. 

Adventure is etched deep in Pam’s spirit and much of his work is autobiographical, his journal entries extremely intimate and at times sexually graphic. His writing conveys honesty, innocence and a wide-eyed enthusiasm for everything that life throws at him. There is no doubt Pam lives in the moment.

In Atlas Monographs you can see how he is drawn to the comic, the bizarre, the violent, the sexual, and the beautiful sides of human nature. A reflection of self steeped in a belief that “scratch the surface and human beings are all the same”.

He tells me his photographs “amplify the idea of an emotional connection to people. Quite a few of the photos (in this book) are from meetings with people that lasted ten minutes, others I spent weeks or a month with”.

As our interview winds to a close he tells me, “Photography is like a get out of jail free card in terms of not becoming part of the predictable set of circumstances that people adhere to in Western Culture – get a degree, get a job, become a functionary of the state. It is the really exciting card in the deck. You can be anything you want as a photographer”.

Atlas Monographs is published by T&G Publishing. Check here for more information.

Text (C) Alison Stieven-Taylor
All photos (C) Max Pam

mOther Armenia
In what is a landmark event for photography in Armenia, ten women photographers will co-exhibit to present their vision of life in Armenia from a decidedly female viewpoint. The photographs in the exhibition ‘mOther Armenia’ give voice to those marginalised within Armenian society raising questions around social injustice and the treatment of minorities as well as providing an insight into the life of women in modern-day Armenia.

(C) Anahit Hayrapetyan

(C) Nelli Shishmanyan

(C) Nelli Shishmanyan

(C) Piruza Khalapyan

(C) Sara Anjargolian

(C) Sara Anjargolian

(C) Anush Babajanyan

(C) Anush Babajanyan

(C) Hasmik Hayrapetyan

(C) Inna Mkhitaryan

(C) Knar Babayan

(C) Nazik Armenakyan

(C) Mery Aghakhanyan

Curated by FotoEvidence’s Svetlana Bachevanova, mOther Armenia is organized by 4 Plus Documentary Photography Center and supported by Open Society Foundations.

Svetlana said, “I had the privilege to curate this exhibit and was allowed to enter their world of mothers, professionals and social activists. Women in Armenia still battle to establish a career. Women are still expected to be fulltime mothers and housekeepers. But these ten documentarians broke the rules and found a way to pursue careers and create powerful bodies of work”.

The photographers involved in the exhibition are Mery Aghakhanyan, Sara Anjargolian, Nazik Armenakyan, Anush Babajanyan, Knar Babayan, Anahit Hayrapetyan, Hasmik Hayrapetyan, Piruza Khalapyan, Inna Mkhitaryan and Nelli Shishmanyan.

Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art in Yerevan
3 July – 17 August

June 21, 2013

Friday Round Up - 21 June

This week Friday Round Up features storm chasing photographer Nick Moir, new work from Claire Martin and a new gallery opens in Melbourne. Also please check out the images on Tim Page Unpublished where legendary photojournalist Tim Page shares more photographs from Cuba. Have a great weekend.

Due to technical issues with blogger, Friday Round Up will feature on the Home page of this blog for the moment.

Nick Moir - Confessions of a Storm Chaser

Few show the kind of fascination and enthusiasm for major climatic shifts that Sydney photographer Nick Moir does. This self-confessed storm chaser has been documenting the power of Mother Nature for the past 14 years watching with intent the development of super-cell storms and other weather-driven events like bushfires and locust plagues. His interest in all things meteorological stems back to his childhood - storms, cyclones, tornadoes, fires, he likes them all.

His desire to find storms that few witness has taken Moir across the world. He’s photographed Tornado Alley in the US, a strip of land that is fated as the point on the planet where the most tornadoes are likely to hit. And he’s travelled into the Australian outback to central New South Wales, where storms are dramatic in contrast; red earth; angry, dark sky; endless horizon.

On his ‘storm days’ he experiments with his camera, “trying to make mistakes,” he states. I encourage him to expand on that thought. “I like photographing storms or weather events in a bizarre way, such as using a really slow shutter speed during the day. Out there (outback) you tend to get amazing light and strange imagery. My aim is not so much to capture pretty pictures, but to reflect the atmosphere at that moment”.

He says 99 per cent of what he does is the “unsexy stuff”; the forecasting and driving. He’s tapped into numerous underground storm-watching sites. “When a storm breaks and you are the only one out there with your camera, that’s when the whole thing comes together,” as was the case in southwest Queensland in 2007.

“I was on a storm chase out near Cunnamulla. It was a big risk, as it was only a maybe it was going to happen. Sydney to Cunamulla is about a 12-hour drive flat out, so it’s a two-day return trip to get an hour’s worth of photos. I knew there would be weather, I just didn’t expect a storm of the quality I got”.

Leaving Sydney before daybreak Moir drove straight through stopping only for fuel. “I arrived just as this fantastic storm, a super cell thunderstorm, a very US style storm, erupted ahead”. He smiles at the memory.

At the time that area of Queensland was in the middle of one of the harshest droughts. The landscape was littered with the skeletons of kangaroos, emus and sheep. “I got a shot of the scattered remains of a kangaroo with a fantastic, photogenic storm in the background. It was super dry on the ground and the contrast of this with the storm was visually interesting. For me I guess it is about finding contrast”. 

From a photography perspective Moir seems to be in a niche of his own with very little competition, in Australia anyway. “There are lots of storm chasers and there are lots of photographers, but there are very few who do both things well. A lot of the people who photograph storms do so in a standard way with lightening behind their city’s icon, for example. But the pictures I am focused on, are the ones that haven’t been taken. I want to show how massive nature can be”.

Bushfires are another area of interest for Moir, but are a significantly more dangerous subject than thunderstorms. He recounts the time he was photographing bushfires around the country’s capital Canberra and was caught in the fire’s path. 

“You try and always avoid putting yourself in a position where you can’t pull yourself out or you don’t have a refuge, but there have been a couple of times when I’ve put myself in situations where I got lucky (read: escaped death). Near Canberra I came in behind a fire, which normally would be a smart thing to do as you are in burned out territory and only have to watch out for trees falling and other debris rather than actual fire. But on this day I unexpectedly found myself in an unburned area of grasslands. Fortunately I knew where I was, but the smoke got so thick I had to open the car door to watch the white lines go past. Suddenly a big glow came up on the right and I just went oh shit. I could feel the real pings of panic then”.

In his four-wheel drive he headed towards a field he remembered was on his left - luckily he’d been on this road previously. “I drove through a fence, and kept going. Eventually the smoke cleared and I was all right. But when you don’t know where you are in a fire, you are in deep shit. Even being in front of a fire, if you can see where it is you can place yourself so it can pass you. But if you don’t know your location and are stuck in smoke, you lose that sense of direction. A lot of people died in Victoria (Black Saturday) because they got lost”.

Moir has strong views about the way the Victorian bushfire was reported. He doesn’t believe there is an accurate photographic record of the catastrophic event, but concedes perhaps there can’t be. Conditions were deadly as the nation learned on that day in February 2009.

“Bushfires is a personal one for me because there are some amazing pictures to be captured. I still have not seen a single image of just how ferocious a bushfire can be. I rate some of my best pictures two out of ten, when I think about what you could get if you were lucky, and did it well.” He says in a situation like Black Saturday “you need to draw on all the knowledge and skills you have to actually keep it together on the day and stay calm. You really have to know what you are doing and know when to pull the pin and get out”. He likens photographing bushfires to combat environments; “you are never certain where the danger will come from”.

He ruminates about what it must have been like on Black Saturday and says it is clear why there are not more photographs depicting the ferocity of the firewall as there would have been massive, towering fire tornadoes 100 metres wide with 400 kph winds. “In that scenario you haven’t got a hope of surviving”.

(C) All photos Nick Moir. To view more of Nick's work visit his website here.

New Work: 
Claire Martin  

Australian photographer Claire Martin, who won the Inge Morath Award in 2010 for her photo essays depicting those who live on the margins of society – Downtown East Side Vancouver and Slab City California – has created a new work on the same theme in Nimbin, Australia forming a triptych collection.

“These three photo essays came together through looking at the culture of stigma and disadvantage in modern society,” says Martin who studied social work before turning her talents to documentary photography.

Nimbin, which is in the picturesque Summerland coastal area of New South Wales, Australia, is a village community that is founded on the counterculture that grew out of the sixties. Inhabitants here live in an environment where “drugs are not demonized, but seen as mind expanding, and not participating in the capitalist economy is viewed as positive. A lot of gay, lesbian and transsexual people who escaped the bigotry of the larger cities have made Nimbin their home since the seventies,” said Martin. “Stigma here is seen to be positive,” although Nimbin is not without its own societal problems either.

(C) All photos Claire Martin

To see more of Claire Martin’s work visit the Oculi website.

New Gallery:
Strange Neighbour - Fitzroy

Strange Neighbour Gallery opens tonight in Melbourne’s Fitzroy with its inaugural exhibition Creep Show, featuring works by Polixeni Papapetrou, Pip Ryan, Heather B. Swann and Tony Woods. Strange Neighbour is a new venture by former Colour Factory Gallery curator Linsey Gosper. Creep Show “explores the strange and yet strangely familiar. The works engage in part reality, part fantasy, where recognizable childhood motifs are combined with surreal horror aesthetics. The characters in Creep Show are at once playful and dreamlike, however, just like our childhood memories there is an eerie, dark undertone of the uncanny”.

(C) Heather B Swann

(C) Pip Ryan

(C) Polixeni Papapetrou

(C) Troy Woods

Opens today and runs until 13th July

395–397 Gore St

June 14, 2013

Friday Round Up - 14 June

This week Friday Round Up features two legends - Rolling Stone magazine photographer Baron Wolman, the first on-staff photographer with the music industry bible, and photojournalist Tim Page with more unpublished photographs from Tim's visits to Cuba. 

Due to technical issues with blogger, Friday Round Up will feature on the Home page of this blog for the moment.

(C) Tim Page
Click on the Tim Page Unpublished link on this blog to view more Tim Page images.

Baron Wolman - Then and Now
Rock’n’Roll Photography through the Baron’s Eyes

In 1967 Baron Wolman had a chance meeting with Jann Wenner, who was at that very moment hatching a plan to launch Rolling Stone magazine. Talk about right place, right time. Already a veteran photojournalist at age 30, Wolman walked in on the birth of superlative rock’n’roll photography, becoming the first photographer to join the fledgling title. He was an old man compared to Wenner who at 21 was bursting with the hedonistic energy of the Sixties, but he was a professional and Wenner wanted to put out a serious publication, not a fan mag. He was looking for people with cred.

When Rolling Stone began, Wolman says, the public hadn’t seen pictures of the bands playing live very often. There’d been publicity studio shots used by the A&R people at the record companies, but no one had really tackled the kind of shots that Rolling Stone wanted to publish.

“There was no soul to the PR shots,” says Wolman pained at the memory. “When we started taking pictures we really tried to reflect who these people were because we believed our readers wanted to know what these musicians were like as people. I tried to capture a little bit of their soul and I think the musicians enjoyed that approach. There was a mutual trust, we didn’t try to exploit them, like tabloids exploit celebrities now, there was none of that. We tried really hard to do affectionate, respectful photographs.”

He concedes that the generosity of the bands in allowing the Rolling Stone journalists and photographers virtually free access was driven by the fact that the bands needed Rolling Stone as much as the magazine needed them. Wolman says it was “a win, win situation” which lasted until MTV hit the scene taking over as the number one media vehicle for music promotion. Of course today’s live music scene is a whole other ballgame with photographers restricted often to shooting only the first song of a concert, from a particular position within the venue and then not even being allowed to stay for the remainder of the show. 

Janis Joplin

Jeff Beck

Jim Morrison

Jimi Hendrix

Frank Zappa

Wolman says MTV presented a fantasy version of the artist and once bands discovered they could create a new version of themselves, they were less interested in “the kind of ‘real’ that we were offering”. He says Annie Liebovitz, who joined Rolling Stone after Wolman, went on to create her own rock’n’roll fantasy photography, but “that (style) wasn’t of interest to me because I wanted to reflect life as it is, as a photojournalist, you know”.

When Rolling Stone first hit the newsstands its only real competition in the US was Crawdaddy, which had begun the year before in New York. A year after Rolling Stone launched, Detroit rag Creem emerged, but neither Crawdaddy or Creem posed a great threat to Wenner and his team and Rolling Stone went from strength to strength.

“What we were doing was so professional from day one, how the magazine looked and the well-known accomplished journalists who contributed to it, really made Rolling Stone a great magazine. This was the world we were reporting and we wanted to be accurate. And for me being accurate meant getting the best picture I could. If I am going to do a picture of you it is the best picture of you I can possibly do.”

I assert you can’t work in rock’n’roll and not have some exposure to drugs, and Wolman agrees heartily, but says he never had much interest in getting wasted. “You know marijuana is great, it’s like having a beer or a scotch, but with the harder core drugs you give over your control to the experience. I like to feel as though I have some control over my life at every moment. So I didn’t have these moments of elucidation on acid. I coulda, maybe shoulda, woulda” he shrugs, ”But by the same token if I had been doing a lot of drugs I wouldn’t have been able to do the photography. I like total control of my cameras”. I suggest that perhaps if he’d taken the road of those he photographed - Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, all members of the infamous 27 Club - he wouldn’t still be breathing at 74. We talk about the fact that Keith Richards is still alive, and agree he’s a freak of nature. Then there’s Iggy Pop. We laugh acknowledging we could spend an afternoon talking about those rock’n’rollers who are leading charmed lives.

Jimi Hendrix was one of Wolman’s favourite subjects in the late Sixties. Wolman describes Hendrix as “visually magnetic. His presentation in every moment - how he dressed, how he moved on stage, how he held himself, how he was when he was being quiet - was photogenic for me. He was easy to photograph, it was enjoyable, and he was relaxed about it. He was a very gentle person”.

And clearly in ecstasy when he played, says Wolman, the photo on the cover of the book proof of that assertion. If Hendrix is his favourite male subject, Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin vie for his vote as favourite female. The shots in the book of Joni are relaxed, taken in a house on a day when Wolman had time and took shots in between cups of tea and chats with Joanie. Janis was another great model and Wolman says he never had any problems shooting her, wanting to “show the brighter side of a dark Janis Joplin. You know she really did battle with life in so many different ways, and she was never sure of herself, never”.

We talk about Janis’ very public claims that she was ugly, as she says in my book Rock Chicks. “I know she always said that, but boy when she was around me she looked pretty good. Just look at the pictures, she looks good right? Maybe it was me,” he laughs sounding like a cheeky twenty-something and it is obvious that humour is central to his character and a big part of his appeal.

The book also captures a glimpse of Jim Morrison; Wolman only photographed the Doors once admittedly to his regret, but he couldn’t be at every gig, he had “a life outside of rock’n’roll photography” and Rolling Stone didn’t pay in the early days, although the magazine picked up the tab for film and processing.

“Most of the time I would go to a concert because I had a specific purpose for being there, like we’re doing a story on Morrison, and I’d go and photograph for the story.” Wolman didn’t tend to hang out with artists because at the end of the day it was a job, just another facet of the work he was doing as a commercial photographer.

He says splitting himself between the world of rock’n’roll photography and his corporate gigs was “actually pretty neat because the people I worked with, who paid me for my work, knew what I was doing for Rolling Stone. It enhanced by reputation and they were more inclined to hire me because they knew I could bring stories about the rock’n’roll life”.

Wolman is the first to suggest that he wasn’t a lone pioneer in the rock’n’roll photography scene in the US at that time. “There was a group of us at that time”. For many, music was the only subject they were covering. “David Gahr, he died a couple of years ago, that’s all he ever did.” Gahr shot right up until the time he died in 2008 at 86 years. “He just loved music and musicians. Then there’s Jim Marshall same thing.” Marshall died in 2010 at 74. Conversely Wolman was out shooting sports, auto racing, aviation, and “all this other stuff as well as rock’n’roll. But in music photography there was this kind of fraternity. Together we were the benchmark”.

Wolman is retired now, but he still has a keen eye and interest in the world of photography. I ask him for his thoughts on the future of the profession. “The thing about photojournalism, when I was shooting, it was a window into a broader world and people could see things they had never seen before. But now everyone has pretty much seen everything, one way or another and nothing’s hidden anymore. There’s not much to reveal that will bring more information to help us understand what’s going on.”

He continues. “Now having said that, these guys that go into combat zones and show the horrors of war, that kind of photography will always be important, like Sebastian Salgado. But the problem is those pictures don’t stay around. Sure they might end up in a book, but unless you are an avid photo fan you don’t go and buy a Salgado book”.

Wolman believes the digital age has devalued the worth of the photograph in a news context. He cites the New York Times online as an example. “You get some great photos on there, but they are only up for fifteen minutes and then they’re gone. What does that say about the value of the image? People look at pictures to see what’s going on, but today they don’t look for pictures to really know what’s going on. It’s all about visual sound bites”. (C) All Images Baron Wolman

June 07, 2013

Friday Round Up - 7 June

This week's Friday Round Up features interviews with photojournalists David Burnett, Adam Ferguson, Andrew Quilty and Ed Giles, all of whom are involved in this year's Reportage documentary photography festival currently underway in Sydney. And don't forget to check out Tim Page Unseen where this legendary photojournalist shares his unpublished work exclusively with Photojournalism Now (see tab at top of blog).

(C) Andrew Quilty

(C) David Burnett

(C) Adam Ferguson

(C) Ed Giles

(C) Tim Page