Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Tag Archives: Sean O’Hagen

Alec Soth: America’s most immaculate, intriguing photographer

You will either love or hate his pictures, they will speak to you or infuriate you with their pretensions, it is hard to think of another photographer so feted who is perhaps less understood. Sean O’Hagen in The Guardian makes a very good stab at explaining why Soth is thought to be ‘America’s most immaculate photographer’, it is worth reading even if you don’t like the pictures because the article will help you to understand why some photographers/artists are so lauded. The start point for this Soth love-in is a new retrospective exhibition at The Science Museum. I’m not sure what any of it has to do with science.


2008  from Alec Soth’s book Broken Manual and included in the exhibition Gathered Leaves. All images courtesy of the artist/Magnum


Melissa, 2005, from Niagara


Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2000, from Sleeping by the Mississippi


Two Towels, 2004, from Niagara


Bil. Sandusky, Ohio, 2014, from Songbook

O’Hagen says “Underpinning the series, and indeed all of his work, is Soth’s restless vision and relentless curiosity. In Niagara, he finds another location steeped in contradictions, a place of “spectacular suicides and affordable honeymoons,” as he puts it. Soth’s Niagara is both mundane and majestic, its mythology invested with so much hope that disappointment and despair are an inevitable consequence…..

The strange atmosphere of banality and heightened intimacy is sustained throughout, further evidence of Soth’s meticulous editing and his almost writerly understanding of how to sustain a mood…..

This article is a very useful insight into the world of contemporary photography, not photography as most people understand but one where “It isn’t what a picture is of,” the great American photography curator John Szarkowski once said. “It is what it is about.”

Understanding this type of photographic imagery involves using your mind more than your eyes because although what you might see as O’Hagen says “His results are beautiful, whatever their subject matter. Painstakingly composed on a large-format camera mounted on a tripod, his images can be breathtakingly stunning in their subtle range of muted colours.” it is what it speaks of that gives it value

The question is do you believe this is what photography is about? I don’t know, I am intrigued by what I see and I like to try to understand but more often than not I get the impression that artists such as Soth speak to other artists and to those in the art world that own the art version of the Rosetta Stone and the rest of us are diminished because ‘we just don’t get it’

Read the article follow the links look at the pictures make of it what you will. The exhibition information is here

Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth

Alec Soth is widely considered to be world’s foremost documentary photographer. Recently described by the Telegraph as the ‘greatest living photographer of America’s social and geographical landscape’, Soth is admired for his experimentation across exhibition, book, magazine and digital forms.

Like many great photographers and writers from the American canon – such as Robert Frank, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld – Soth takes the open road as his subject, but brings to it his own unique and modern twist.

Through haunting, intimate portraits, desolate landscapes and wide open wildernesses, his work captures a profound sense of what it is to be human. Tenderness, joy, disappointment, fear or pride – his striking portraits capture the rawness of human emotion and the tension between our conflicting desires for individualism and community.

This exhibition presents his four signature series – Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and the most recent, Songbook (2014) – and highlights his remarkable career and distinctive vision.

Gathered Leaves is Soth’s first major UK show and offers a unique opportunity to see the journey his photographs make from the printed page to the exhibition wall.

Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth

First major UK exhibition by award-winning American photographer Alec Soth
Floor: 2
Price: £8


On a final note I am reminded that I went to the Brighton Photography Biennial in 2010. Alex Soth was one of the main attractions, he had been contracted to produce an exhibition of his pictures of Brighton. When he arrived at Heathrow on a tourist visa it was evident he couldn’t work in the UK so was not allowed to photograph for the show so  So he handed over the reins of his latest exhibition to a new collaborator: his seven-year-old daughter The Guardian

It was so disappointing, why not let any local seven year old take the pictures….art, you have got to laugh

Nadav Kander Exhibition: Dust review – haunting and painterly

At the first talk in the Photography Oxford Festival series there were a panel who put forward the view that there was no outlet for serious writing on photography in the UK. They of course completely missed the point that as in all areas, music, art, literature etc. now the venue is the web. Bloggers do for nothing what the ‘critics’ want to be paid for. Bloggers might not always be professors or experts but their views are valid, the democratisation of comment is now the norm. Even though this is the case I always find  in the Guardian a good read and this review of a new Nadev Kander exhibition at Flowers Gallery, London by Sean is on the button, it is long by web standards but worth the time, a short extract..

As shown in Nadav Kander’s new series, Dust, they possess a strange, sometimes eerie beauty that he captures in his signature style: large-format landscapes full of stillness and light that continue his visual exploration of what he calls “the aesthetics of destruction”……Kander thinks big. The size of his prints reflects his ambition as well as his acute understanding of scale and architectural eye for composition. In their beauty, though, they also accentuate the paradoxical nature of his approach: the rendering of the desolate sublime. In his catalogue essay, the novelist Will Self writes: “These images do not make beautiful what is not, they ask of us that we repurpose ourselves to accept a new order of both the beautiful and the real.” I am not entirely convinced by that claim. Digitally printed to a degree of verisimilitude that the darkroom could never produce, Kander’s images possess a hyper-real aspect that to me makes them seem oddly unreal...read it all here



try to get to London to see the exhibition, the website makes it all look very enticing

Nadav Kander: Dust is at the Flowers Gallery, London until until 11 October



Firecracker award goes to Nadia Sablin, for photographs full of intimate power

Firecracker :

Firecracker is an online platform dedicated to supporting european women photographers.

Despite many fantastic women working with photographic media, the industry continues to be dominated by male counterparts.

Firecracker assists the promotion of women photographers by showcasing their work in a series of monthly online gallery features.

Photographers are brought to our attention via a network of industry professionals and guest curator spots from high profile individuals.

In 2012 the annual Firecracker Photographic Grant was launched to assist a woman photographer born or residing in Europe with the completion of a documentary photographic project.

The annual award was won this year by Nadia Sablin, Sean O’Hagen reports in The Guardian, and as a judge for the competition should have insights

A stunning photographic portrait of Sablin’s two elderly aunts, living quietly in rural Russia, has won a documentary prize – and deservedly so

Nadia Sablin has won the 2013 Firecracker award, which provides funding for a female photographer to complete a documentary photographic project. She is the second recipient of the award; last yearJo Metson Scott took the prize for her series, The Grey Line.

Two Sisters, Nadia Sablin, Firecracker award 2013

Love and wonder … Sablin’s two aunts puzzle over a crossword

I am not sure the value of work should necessary be selected by the sex of the artist but I do think Firecracker are doing a good job, you should go and have a look at their rather minimal site, here is a link


American beauty: Vanessa Winship’s photos of still, small-town US life

Winship used her Henri-Cartier Bresson prize money well: to fund a book, She Dances on Jackson, in which she has captured the silence at the heart of a clamorous nation

Sean O’Hagen writes in The Guardian When I first wrote about Vanessa Winship in 2011, she had just become the first woman to win the Henri Cartier-Bresson award since its inception in 1988. Her new book, She Dances on Jackson, is the end result of a number of road trips she made across the States, funded by the €30,000 grant from the Cartier-Bresson foundation. It is a thing of still beauty that gives a glimpse of another America, both quotidian and luminous.

Vanessa Winship She Dances on Jackson

The first image sets the tone: an almost stationary river with concentric ripples at its centre, where a fish could just have broken the surface to catch a fly. Beyond the river lies a reeded bank, a row of dark trees and a sky as grey as the water. The stillness is palpable, yet you can almost hear the echo of a soft splash. Another image shows a flock of birds in flight around a leafless tree, as if they have been startled by the shutter click of her camera. Again, the silence of the image is somehow amplified by the suggestion of sound.

Vanessa Winship She Dances on Jackson

With the title She Dances on Jackson, Winship suggests both reverie and a fixed sense of place, as well as the fact that the US is a continent so vast that locality equals identity. To this end, her portraits also evince a small-town America where people tend to stay put. They are mainly straightforward, head-on shots of people who stare back at her lens without giving much away.

Vanessa Winship She Dances on JacksonOn the road … all pieces untitled, from Vanessa Winship’s She Dances on Jackson (2013). Photographs: Vanessa Winship, 2013 courtesy MACK



An exhibition of Winship’s work is currently on display at Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris until 28 July.


Andrea Gjestvang wins L’Iris d’Or at Sony world photography awards

Norwegian photographer, 32, holds off competition with poignant portraits of Anders Behring Breivik massacre survivors we read in The Guardian by Sean O’Hagen

Andrea Gjestvang has won the L’Iris d’Or at the 2013 Sony world photography awards.

The 32-year-old Norwegian photographer beat over 62,000 competitors from 170 countries in the professional competition with One Day in History, her poignant series of portraits of the young survivors of the massacre on the Norwegian island of Utøya on 22 July 2011.

On that day, 69 young people who were attending a summer camp organised by the ruling Norwegian Labour party were killed by a lone gunman, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old rightwing extremist. Around 500 young people survived the massacre.

The series was commended by the judges for its “dignity and beauty” and described as “a quiet, thoughtful and ultimately powerful voice for the children and survivors of the massacre in Norway

World Photography Awards

A picture from Andrea Gjestvang’s One Day in History, L’Iris d’Or winner at the Sony world photography awards 2013. Click to enlarge. Photo: Andrea Gjestvang/Momen

World Photography Awards

Adam Pretty, Australia
Category: Professional/Sport
Melissa Wu of Australia practices during a diving training session ahead of the London Olympic Games on 25 July 2012

World Photography Awards

Alice Caputo, Italy
Category: Professional/Lifestyle
Series: Summer Family
The images show the photographer’s family on a seaside holiday in Liguria in the summer of 2012

World Photography Awards

Klaus Thymann, Denmark
Category: Professional/Fashion and Beauty
Series: i-D Iceland
This shot was taken on the slowly moving edges of a glacier

See more images and read the Guardian article here

Barry Feinstein – Photographer

The photographer Barry Feinstein, who died last month shot some of the most enduring rock music images of the 1960s. His portrait of Janis Joplin taken the day before she died graced the cover of her album, Pearl, while his image of George Harrison sitting on a chair surrounded by garden statues appeared on the ex-Beatle’s solo album, All Things Must Pass. His best known work is probably the monochrome image of an unsmiling Bob Dylan on the 1964 album, The Times They Are A-Changin’. Feinstein began his career shooting portraits of film stars for Columbia but branched out taking more candid pictures of the stars outside the studio. After meeting Dylan, he became the singer’s official photographer on his 1966 tour and chronicled Dylan’s switch from acoustic to electric music. “Musicians are actually easier to photograph than movie stars,” he once said. “They’re just not as uptight.”

The American photographer Barry Feinstein, who has died aged 80, made his most famous series of images when he accompanied Bob Dylan and the Band on their controversial tour of Britain in 1966. On stage, Dylan was aloof to the point of imperious, a dandy in shades and a sharp suit, willing his new electric music on disgruntled audiences who wanted the familiar folk singer they knew and revered.

When Feinstein’s fly-on-the-wall photographs of the tour finally appeared in his book Real Moments, published in 2008, Dylan emerged as an even more complex figure. Often he looks gaunt and fragile, his eyes hidden behind ever-present shades, his body hunched against the cold British winds and the imploring eyes of his faithful. One such image of Dylan waiting for the Aust ferry to take him across the Severn was used as the poster for No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s epic 2005 documentary on Dylan.”...more of this obituary by Sean O’Hagen

Snapshot decisions: Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Polaroids

This very interesting article in The Guardian by the excellent writer on photography, Sean O’Hagen is an introduction to the work and exhibition of Philip-Lorca diCorcia

A new exhibition at Spruth Mager’s gallery in London is an entree to PLC’s work.

This is the beginning of the press release for the exhibition

“Sprüth Magers London is delighted to present ‘Roid’ by American artist Philip-Lorca diCorcia. In his first show at the London gallery diCorcia reveals a series of over 100 never-before-seen Polaroids. Displayed along a rail that traces the contours of the gallery walls, the Polaroids span the 30-year career of one of the most influential photographers of his generation. “.…..more

DiCorcia used hidden lighting to snap unwitting New Yorkers. Photograph: Untitled, n.d., Polaroid, courtesy of the artist, Sprüth Magers Berlin London and David Zwirner

This is the start of the article by Sean O’Hagen “I have always considered Philip-Lorca diCorcia one of the great postmodernists of contemporary photography. Having received an MA in Fine Arts Photography at Yale in 1979, his reputation rests to a great degree on his moody and meticulous restaging of scenes from everyday life. Initially, he photographed close friends and family members in low-key, intimate situations that often look both real and strangely heightened, like stills from one of Gus Van Sant’s dreamier films.”..….more

Photography so good it hurts Susie Linfield says modern writers dismiss images of suffering. But photojournalism forms a basis for our human rights debates