Categories
Art Photography

Innis McAllister and the fate of photography

doginsnow
Dog in Snow ©Innis McAllister

I am in an early cups-of-coffee-and-exploring stage of a new project with my photographer pal Innis McAllister. Innis is most familiar for his work with models and in fashion. He also has a rich archive of other work in a huge variety of subjects.

It is a challenging time to be a photographer.  In 2019 it is likely there will be 2.7 billion smartphone users on the planet, all able to take photos. So what, if anything, distinguishes the photographs of ‘real’ photographers like Innis from those taken by the smartphone snappers? As a writer, one answer seems fairly obvious to me. Most people are able to write sentences in their native language, but very few will go on to be published writers.  Just because billions of people have a camera in their pockets, they will not necessarily become photographers.

Some photographers accumulate images by going to exotic places or challenging environments. I like looking at these photos as much as the next person, but I am also drawn to photography that can make me look at the strangeness and beauty of commonplace things.

There is something about time too. Taking a photograph is an act of seconds, but the skill of the photographer can takes years to accumulate. Photographers, if they want to eat must be able to skilfully produce consistently good imagery, not just get lucky.

But there is more. The eye of a true photographer is easy to spot. Take the image above,  The dog in snow has an absolute timelessness, as if the dog had just trotted out of The Hunters in the Snow by Bruegel, here the photographer has the confidence to be simple, to let the beauty and contrast of the dog’s form rejoice in its landscape.

While the image below is from early in Innis McAllister’s career. Here a man is waiting for a train. See the squareness of the lines and how they progressively depart from true, gently winding your eye into the object of attention. A man reading a paper with a lurid headline about drugs. I used to sit with people on tubes that looked like him all the time. Now he seems a vanished creature from another time.

The tidal wave of imagery will become a defining feature of the early 21st Century. But I think artists can stand outside time. One of the jobs of ‘proper’ photographers is to find the images that do just that.

Daily paper
Man waiting for train ©Innis McAllister

 

Categories
Blowing my own trumpet Photography

A portrait shot by Innis McAllister

The day before my 57th birthday last week, I had a photo session with the photographer  Innis McAllister. Well known for his photography of beautiful models, Innis occasionally can be tempted to photograph the more aesthetically challenged.

Frankly, I was rather pleased and amazed at his ability to turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse… Due to self-consciousness and vanity I tend to avoid being photographed or, when it is inevitable, my face falls into gurning idiot or serial killer mode. Luckily Innis managed to normalise the whole process, and it became a relaxed and collaborative, happens-every-day kind of thing instead.

001_9778

Categories
Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd. Photography Poetry Travel

Peter Caton’s Chad photos

5790.jpg

Some of Peter Caton’s photograph from our trip to Chad are here on the Guardian Online.

Pete’s shot of many of the people of the the village meeting under a good tree is typical of his excellent work. For the people he captures here, there is plenty to discuss: an appalling drought, extreme hunger that threatens the children. The fact that several crazy guys in a charity team had arrived and were busy flying a drone, taking photos, interviewing people and generally disrupting normal life was also quite a talking point.

Watching Peter Caton at work was fascinating. He is a man of perpetual motion, and always working.

I was very interested in how he would lean right into the faces of people he was taking, all the while smiling and engaging with his subjects. Asking him about this, he said that leaning in was actually less disconcerting for the person he was photographing that being aloof and pulling away. I’d never thought of it like that.

This publication happened at an interesting time for me, as only recently have I been able to start writing properly about what was for me an experience unlike any other I’d had. I find that there is a filtration process going on. That whatever experience I have it takes months (in this case about nine months) before I could write about it freely in the way I wanted. At last I’ve been gripped by a the sudden urge to write about Chad, and am already five poems into a sequence. Of course I hope I don’t block myself by mentioning it here…

I’m off now on holiday for a couple of weeks. Time to unwind, and of course write more poetry. To finish, here is a shot I took of Pete with a screen-lit face at night in the compound after another sweltering day. The large locust crawling in his hair just evaded photographic capture.

IMG_2244

Categories
A Guernsey Double a writer's life Guernsey Guernsey Literature Photography Richard Fleming

Home is where the hurt is

JasonWilde-Lower-ResFor someone who hates flying as much as I do, I seem to travel a lot. Countries as far apart as Mexico, Chad, and Japan have seen me emerge from the plane blinking in gratitude to the sky gods for my safe arrival, and ready to explore. But when I return to Guernsey I feel I am coming home. I turn inward to reboot and take a long hard look at myself and what I’ve been up to since my last visit.

Guernsey obsesses me. I want to back people into corners and tell them everything I know about it. Being exiled from the island hurt me into writing poetry when I was in my teens. I’ve written about it ever since, including in A Guernsey Double (2010) with Richard Fleming, and more published work since then.

Last week my wife and I took my mid-20s stepchildren and their partners there for the first time. But I soon realised what I chose to show them wasn’t just the island, it was a covert way of showing them myself. I began to wonder uncomfortably if I was actually seeing Guernsey at all, instead of something scripted by my imagination and my memory. Frankly it was all getting a bit ‘me-me-me’. It made me think how my writing about the island has been received with a suspicion – above and beyond the fact it was poetry – in some quarters. For example when A Guernsey Double was published, Richard and I were welcomed more than once onto BBC Guernsey, while Guernsey Press completely ignored its publication.  I can completely understand this however. It’s a bit like how I was tempted to blah-blah about the island, and show people around ‘my’ island. I fully understand that local people must be heartily sick of folks imposing a narrative on their home.

I couldn’t help note the irony that I was tripped into this realisation by an exhibition by London based photographer  Jason Wilde, whose exhibition Guerns, was running at the museum in Candie Gardens. Jason’s photos captured candid images of local people in their own homes. There was some piercing work in the exhibition, as you can see from the lovely spotty piece above. I loved the absence of sentimentality, nostalgia and how it didn’t over-egg its subject matter. The exhibition has an admirable clarity and truth about it.

This exhibition jabbed a sensitive spot on the island. Guernsey is a small place that was once dependent on tourism and its tomato industry. Guernsey Toms were familiar to shoppers in the sixties and seventies. But when the UK joined what was then called the Common Market, Guernsey Toms were undercut by cheaper Dutch tomatoes. The industry rapidly sank, and for a while this was replaced with flower growing but that withered too. The island that once glittered with greenhouses as you flew into it, is less sparkly now.*

Since that time the financial industry has been Guernsey’s mainstay. To keep it going it has imported lots of well paid folks from the UK and beyond, which is in danger of creating a two-tier society.  The gorgeous parish  I grew up in, St Martin’s, nearby houses were full of my relatives, who were ordinary local people. But the houses have now been gentrified. Now you just have to look at the cars parked in the gravelled front gardens to see how things have changed.

As Jason Monaghan, Director of Guernsey Museums said talking about the Guerns exhibition, “The contemporary photographic archive that is being built throughout this series is invaluable and is something for both current and future generations to enjoy”. I whole heartedly agree, and would add that Jason Wilde has photographed local people at what may feel like a vulnerable and uncertain time in their history.

I have recently finished a long poem about the island, imagining it as a kind of Atlantis sunk in time. It is the culmination of a long sequence of introspective poems that goes back to my teens, but this last one feels like the end of a chapter.

I am already planning my next visit. But next time I am going to go different places, and will speak to different people. There are new stories I’d like to hear told, and Jason Wilde’s exhibition has forcibly reminded me of this.

So it’s a big well done from me to Guernsey Arts and Guernsey Museums. Brilliant stuff.

* I took the snap below last week, there are several ruins of the tomato industry still to be seen.

P1010069