David Hurn & MPF

A day with David Hurn

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Twenty of us met at a restaurant near the Martin Parr Foundation at 10.30 for a day with Magnum photographer David Hurn centred around an exhibition of his ‘Swaps’.  Another day when everybody who should have been there was!  After coffee and an animated reunion with fellow students and tutors, we set off for TMPF.

Tutor Matt White introduced David after we had all had a chance to see the exhibition and David started his address to the group which Matt’s assistant, Aaron, filmed  for those students who could not make it on the day.

My first impression of the exhibition was that it was much smaller than I had anticipated  – and that the space was quite small.

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In his talk David said that the exhibition was far smaller than the one which was in Cardiff which answered my question.  I liked the way it was curated in that it showed which work was swapped for David’s work:

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David’s talk centred around our practices as photographers and was reiterating much of what was on the blurb at the entrance to the exhibition:

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Except he did say that photographers need to have good shoes.  As in any form of expression, it is the amount of time you spend practising it that improved your proficiency at it.  “If you are not photographing 8 hours a day, why aren’t you?”

He also said: ‘You learn an enormous amount from your peers’ – – existence of our OCA SW group and concomitant study days are therefore justified.

Statements which resonated with me:

  • “There are doers and talkers: academics and photographers’  Where does this put the OCA?  We do both.
  • The subject matter is very important.
  • What is relevant is what you are passionate about.
  • What is in your photos is what you are passionate about.
  • It’s good to have someone you respect (in David’s case Sergio Larrain whose monograph is subtitled “Vagabond photographer’) endorse your images.
  • Look at images you like and don’t like and what it is that in your mind makes a good image. I suspect that this will help evolve your own voice.
  • Authorship is important – DH asked for specific images from the people he respected.
  • Thought process is most important.

The fourth part: the afternoon work share:

In the afternoon, having seen our work which varied from conventional (most of the men’s work) to abstract / conceptual/ destruction (most of the women’s work) he said:

  • Work in which he cannot see what it’s about does not interest him = most of the work the women presented was therefore dismissed.
  • He does not want to be told what’s behind the work , which seemed to nullify what he had said in the morning which was that the thought process is important in a work. = most of the work the women presented fell in this category.
  • In He quoted MP as saying something like ‘ you only need to write 2 sentences to describe your image’.  I guess he refers to labelling of the images?   OCA 5K word essays?
  • He could relate to the straight images which just required him to look without too much other information.
  • He likes context – I suspect that that is visual context in the image.

My rock and stretched pixels, therefore, hit rock bottom because they did not fit the traditional photo which DH & MP specialise in.  I guess it was the wrong context in which to show abstract images but I thought I would challenge conventional photography.

But, if I relate my images with what is important to DH about photographs:

  • I am passionate about rocks and I have photographed them in their thousands but I choose not to represent them as they are in their natural state because I want to create images from them.
  • I do spend 8 hours away + on my work – I manipulate what I have taken.
  • My subject mater is important to me – it is derivative.
  • My thought process is important – it’s just not the thought process that DH is used to.

I valued Matt White’s comment that I have too many ideas, that I need to simplify the concept.  Big question is HOW?  I think I will have to start by analysing the ideas that I have and then select one at a time and see how relevant each is to my extended body of work.  At Matt’s suggestion, I will have to re-read Joan Fontcuberta, my most inspiring writer on photography .

The third part: A tour of TMPF:

When I started  organising the day way back in January 2018, I thought that a tour of the venue could have been something and nothing.   It turned out to be arguably the  best part of the day for me because it told me so much more about MP and the possibilities to use the resources in the space available.

We had obviously seen the public space, the exhibition room.  The size of it lets me think that, in relation to the other spaces, it is not the main component of the venue as it is about a third of the volume / space available.

We were then taken to a store room – having 20 of us in this tiny space was an intimate but interesting experience : air-conditioned cupboards within cupboards, computers, humidity controlled spaces … quite an insight into what the whole foundation means to those in it.

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Our tour leader, Nathan Vidler with whom I have been corresponding since January, made the place come alive for me: he is so enthusiastic, engaging and knowledgeable about the contents of the collections that he kept everyone there until way past the time we were supposed to be at our lunch venue.

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The little book ‘Until Death Do Us Part‘ by Thomas Sauvin  and the book at the other end of the scale – “Pinups’ by David Bailey valued at £20k, had us all intrigued & lead us to talking about the ‘value’ of books and how they are presented.  Whereas we all wanted to handle the mini book, very few if any touched the precious Bailey book.  I was really surprised that Nathan was not handling it with white gloves!

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We then went to the hand made books section and were mesmerised by Chris Killip’s books “In flagrante” – the hand made mock-up and the commercially printed one and I personally loved the tones of the dark room printed images of the mock-up but could not understand why he cut them to spread over the 2 pages.  He has also printed ‘In flagrante 2’ which does not have the images cut up.

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We were then treated to compare the handmade book by Keith Arnatt and the printed version:

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I couldn’t help feeling that TMPF was a sort of mausoleum to greatness / self belief.

And then to lunch!  We were berated by the restaurant manager because we were 30 mins late and the food was ruined!!  It wasn’t.  My aubergines were divine!

After lunch we rearranged the restaurant, not without having had an exchange of opinions with the manager again who asked what she would do with all the other diners – there weren’t any!

I had a chance to catch up with Karen G whom I hadn’t seen for at least two years.  We started discussing our current projects and essay – oh dear!

All the day was caught on film by Aaron, Matt’s assistant & I look forward to seeing the outcome.

Many thanks to Karen Allen for giving the vote of thanks and for handing over the card and the bottles of wine to David to thank him for spending the day with us – who was to know that David does not drink and that he has a wall full of bottles of wine at home given to him in thanks?  We suggested a simple remedy to the situation but it was not taken up.

I thought the after-lunch session was education at its best: everyone’s perceptions were challenged in myriad ways and we all had to think – were we in fact being arrogant in explaining our work? had we lost the plot by not making mid-20th century-type images? if we are not making photographs with our cameras 8 hours a day but choose to spend that time manipulating images / pixels because that is our passion, are we not making images? is it no longer photography?  I will see if Fontcuberta has written something to support my work here.