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HISTORY IN THE IMAGE-MAKING
The special edition of the RPS Journal celebrating the Society’s awards is always the most challenging and exciting issue of the year. This one, though, has for me been the most memorable of them all.
From the moment the RPS shared its list of 2022 awards recipients, I knew this would be a visually striking edition, offering some wonderful stories from those being honoured. Once the interview requests were in, we looked forward to creating something special for RPS members –provided that some of the world’s most accomplished image-makers responsed with that magical ‘yes’.
Then, during the afternoon of 8 September 2022, it was announced that Queen Elizabeth II had died at her beloved Balmoral estate in Deeside, Scotland. That evening, we mulled over how we might honour the UK’s longest-serving monarch –and Patron of the RPS from 1952-2019. As many blinked in disbelief that this Elizabethan age was over, we conceived a visual tribute involving portraits of The Queen by RPS Honorary Fellows including Cecil Beaton, Rankin and Eve Arnold, along with other landmark images.
The results show how the image of Queen Elizabeth evolved over more than seven decades – from beautifully constructed symbols of regality such as Beaton’s 1953 coronation portrait to the cheeky portrait by Rankin HonFRPS released as part of the Golden Jubilee 2002 portfolio. What is almost certain, though, is that whichever esteemed photographer was creating her portrait, there was one person in charge.
Besides honouring Queen Elizabeth, this issue also celebrates innovative image-makers working in genres from science to art and documentary to film. Our cover is by Nadine Ijewere, who receives the RPS Award for Editorial, Advertising and Fashion Photography. The first Black woman photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue, Ijewere is changing the way beauty is defined.
Babak Tafreshi receives the RPS Award for Scientific Imaging with stunning nightscape pictures that pay particular attention to light pollution. And the RPS Vic Odden recipient Carly Clarke gives a moving insight into surviving Hodgkin lymphoma.
We hope you enjoy the feast of talent this issue. You can meet more of the RPS Awards recipients in our pages during 2023.KATHLEEN MORGAN Editor
‘The Queen and the two princesses at Windsor’, c 1943, by Cecil Beaton HonFRPS/Royal Collection Trust/ His Majesty King Charles III, 2022
WITH THE RPS
The RPS Awards 2022 issue
598 HOOD MEDAL
Hoda Afshar stretches the borders of the documentary form with her latest series Speak the Wind, exploring a little-known culture and how humanity interacts with place in spiritual and historical ways
A visual tribute to Her Majesty The Queen, whose 70-year reign was captured in images by some of the greats, including RPS Honorary Fellows Cecil Beaton, Rankin, Patrick Lichfield and Martin Parr
As the world rediscovers the work of Ming Smith, the Honorary Fellow selects the work that make her most proud from a back catalogue of beautiful, tender images of everyday Black life and cultural icons
An Indigenous Australian photographer and artist, Destiny Deacon HonFRPS explains why she satirises racist stereotypes and explores political issues in work that blends autobiography and fiction
AWARD FOR SCIENTIFIC IMAGING National Geographic photojournalist Babak Tafreshi bridges the gap between art and science with images that explore global nightscapes and expose light pollution
640 VIC ODDEN AWARD
Documentary photographer Carly Clarke was focusing on other people’s lives when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2012. Her response was to turn the camera on herself. She shares her journey of fear and hope
AWARD FOR EDITORIAL, ADVERTISING AND FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY
She was the first Black woman photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue. Nadine Ijewere explains why she challenges mainstream concepts of beauty
THE ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY
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10,604 (Jan-Dec 2020) ABC ISSN: 1468-8670
November / December 2022 Vol 162 / No 6
Published on behalf of The Royal Photographic Society by Think, 20 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JW thinkpublishing.co.uk
© 2022 The Royal Photographic Society. All rights reserved.
The ‘RPS’ logo is a registered and protected trademark.
Every reasonable endeavour has been made to find and contact the copyright owners of the works included in this publication. However, if you believe a copyright work has been included without your permission, please contact the publisher. Views of contributors and advertisers do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Royal Photographic Society or those of the publisher. All material correct at time of going to press.
Padley is an editor, journalist and author whose clients include Getty Images and Magnum Photos. Her latest book is New Photography of the Bird (Hoxton Mini Press)
Clifford is a photographer who has written on photography and current affairs for sites and publications including huck and British Journal of Photography
An award-winning journalist based in Scotland, Teddy Jamieson was born in Germany and raised in Northern Ireland. He is the author of Whose Side Are You On? (Yellow Jersey)
Sylvester MitteeBY EAMONN McCABE/ GUARDIAN/EYEVINE
On 2 October 2022 the photography community lost a formidable force. Eamonn McCabe, who died suddenly aged 74, was a celebrated photographer and picture editor, while his influence as a mentor was also felt by many.
Joining the Observer newspaper in 1976, McCabe discovered his first passion –sports photography. Writing in the Guardian in 2009 about his life in pictures, he chose the image here as one of his all-time favourites. The hands are those of Sylvester ‘The Master Blaster’ Mittee – a big name in British boxing during the 1970s and 1980s. McCabe met Mittee in a cramped gym near King's Cross, London, in 1984, and the closeup was captured as the boxer was preparing to spar.
McCabe later commented that other people’s attempts to recreate the image had been let down by too much preparation or production: the magic lay in the rough and readiness of the original.
In 1988 McCabe became head of photography for the Guardian. He was to be named picture editor of the year a record six times before returning to photography and focusing mainly on portraiture for the Guardian and Observer. There are 29 examples of his work in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
McCabe was able to share his lifelong passion for photography in the 2017 BBC series Britain in Focus.
RPS BURSARIES AWARDED
Bullfighting, fishing and Franco’s legacy – this is the varied territory to be explored by Owen Harvey, Tessa Bunney and Jordi Jon Pardo, recipients of this year’s RPS bursaries.
The Joan Wakelin Bursary, run in partnership with the Guardian, is awarded to documentary photographer Owen Harvey. His project, Death in the Afternoon in Seville Spain, follows contemporary matadors in training,
examining the significance of bullfighting to their identity. Aljohara Jeje, Lungisani Mjaji and Marissa Roth FRPS were shortlisted for the bursary.
“I was looking for projects I felt really embodied the subjects I am interested in.
A lot of my work explores family, heritage and notions of masculinity,” says Harvey, who has also photographed mod, punk and skinhead subcultures, young fathers with their children, and the British seaside.
“The financial support helps with the production of the project but equally importantly is the guidance from top picture editors. Having the support of the RPS and the Guardian is a huge help and will allow me to present the work to a wider audience.”
Tessa Bunney, a UK-based photographer who has chronicled rural life for 25 years, receives the RPS/TPA Environmental Bursary to expand the work she has been doing for four years with English fishing communities.
Photographers emerging and established are invited to submit their images to this themed award run by 1854 Media. The contest offers a platform to have your work shown internationally – previous editions have been exhibited at the Galerie Huit Arles, France. Deadline is 31 January 2023. 1854.photography/awards/ openwalls
WOMAN SCIENCE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
A new competition from the RPS Women in Photography Group, aimed at female-identifying image-makers of all levels. Open call is 1 November to 15 December 2022, with top submissions exhibited at RPS Gallery in March 2023. rps.org/wip
WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
This prestigious annual prize is for anyone specialising in wildlife and nature photography, whether professional or amateur. Categories include Plants and Fungi, Animal Portraits and Under Water, among many others. Closes on 8 December. nhm.ac.uk/wpy/competition
“I’m fascinated by location-specific fishing techniques, stories and traditions, the lives of fishing families past and present and the landscape in which they work,” she says.
In May 2022, fishermen from Teesside and the Yorkshire coast staged a protest against dredging, which they argue unearths toxins that kill the crabs and lobsters on which their livelihoods depend. Bunney’s project, Save Our Seas, will explore this story in depth.
Ecological crisis is also at the heart of Jordi Jon Pardo’s Postgraduate Bursary-winning project Eroding Franco. It looks at the
desertification currently unfolding in Spain and, through photographic documentation and archival research, links this to scientific findings that were released but ignored in the 20th century under Franco’s regime.
“Today we know that 80% of Spain will become a desert by the end of the 21st century,” says the Barcelona-based journalist and documentary photographer. “The project’s objective is to raise awareness about the environmental risks and problems that collectively implicate us as human beings.” owen-harvey.com tessabunney.co.uk jordijon.com
‘The gods will not be blamed’ by Christopher Iduma, Single Image winner, OpenWalls 2021
‘Margaret Owen, haaf netting, Lancashire, 2018’ from the series Going to the Sand by Tessa Bunney
‘Barcelona, October 2016’ from the series Eroding Franco by Jordi Jon Pardo
‘Finn and Liz’ from the series Skins and Suedes by Owen Harvey
NATURE TTL PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
An image by American wildlife photographer Dennis Stogsdill of a rarely seen caracal carrying a flamingo in its jaws beat more than 8,000 entries to take the title of Nature TTL Photographer of the Year and win £1,500 prize money. The competition reopens for entries in January 2023. naturettl.com
The Folio Society has released the first illustrated edition of Susan Sontag’s hugely influential book On Photography, originally published in 1977 and a mainstay of every photography degree syllabus. The pictures include images by Edward Steichen, Dorothea Lange and Diane Arbus. foliosociety.com
NORTHERN PHOTOGRAPHY PRIZE
Founded by author L J Ross, the Northern Photography Prize celebrates the finest amateur photography depicting the ‘heart’ and ‘spirit’ of the north of England. The shortlist and winners are now available to view at the link below, along with more information on the prize. ljrossauthor.com/philanthropy/ northern-photography-prize/
RPS INTRODUCES AMBASSADORS
Frederic Aranda FRPS and Carolyn Mendelsohn will blaze a trail in the inaugural programme
The RPS has launched an ambassadors programme with photographers Frederic Aranda FRPS and Carolyn Mendelsohn at the helm. Tracy Marshall-Grant, development director of the RPS, says, “We have so many talented and inspiring members in RPS and so many who have such amazing stories to tell about their photography journeys with us. Frederic and Carolyn have generously agreed to be the 2022/2023 ambassadors, and to share their experiences and their work with us throughout the year.”
Aranda, who is self-taught, creates editorial and commercial portraiture for clients such as Harper’s Bazaar and the Royal Ballet. He sees this as an opportunity to give something back to a photographic community that helped him grow creatively.
“I have met some wonderful people through RPS and some very inspiring photographers, who have been very kind and supportive from day one,” he says. Remembering the early days when
he was yet to connect with the industry network, he adds: “My journey as a photographer would have been a lot smoother had I known others I could turn to in those tricky times.”
Renowned for her commercial and documentary portraiture – in particular the book and exhibition Being Inbetween which focused on girls aged 10-12 –Mendelsohn also looks forward to sharing her experiences through the ambassador role.
“I didn’t have a straightforward journey into photography, but when I picked up a camera and started using it, it transformed my life at what was quite a challenging time,” explains the IPE 159 Gold Medal winner who is enthused about the Society’s work with younger people from all backgrounds.
“The RPS is an extraordinary organisation, with a forward-facing commitment to encourage, celebrate and nurture all photographers –from absolute beginners to seasoned professionals. I am proud to be part of it.”
What to see
WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
National History Museum, London
Until 2 July 2023
The latest edition of the prestigious competition is on show, with 100 extraordinary photographs of nature and wildlife. This year, the space has been reimagined with video and scientific insights interwoven with the imagery to encourage viewers to consider the urgent actions humanity must take to protect nature. nhm.ac.uk
ABSTRACT RHYTHM AND BLUE NOTES
The Horsebridge Arts Centre, Whitstable
Until 28 November
JOHNY PITTS: HOME IS NOT A PLACE
Graves Gallery, Sheffield
Until 24 December
“For me home is somewhere that you take with you,” says Sheffield-born Johny Pitts. This project is the result of a journey taken by Pitts and the poet Roger Robinson around the British coastline in search of contemporary Black Britain. Shots of shops, streets and parks act as a meditation on community life. museums-sheffield. org.uk
JERWOOD PHOTOWORKS AWARDS
Jerwood Space, London
Until 10 December
An exhibition of new commissions produced by winners Heather Agyepong and Joanne Coates. Deepening her interest in performance and the self, Agyepong’s ego death is inspired by Carl Jung’s notion of the shadow. In The Lie of the Land, Coates investigates the rural landscape of north-east England through the prism of gender and class. jerwoodspace.co.uk
A celebration of abstract and expressionist tendencies in contemporary photography, this group show brings together work by Valda Bailey, Doug Chinnery and 12 photographers from the UK, Europe and North America, among them many RPS members. A programme of talks accompanies workshops and the show. arbnexhibition.co.uk
KAVI PUJARA: THE GOLDEN MILE
The Martin Parr Foundation
Until 18 December
5 in Leicester there’s a predominantly South Asian area known as ‘The Golden Mile’. Pujara grew up nearby but left for London at 18 before returning as an adult. Taking these images helped him reconnect with his past. martinparrfoundation. org
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FIVE HEAD TURNERS TO WATCH
PHOTOGRAPHER AND DIRECTOR
The Magnum Fellow’s work on Latin America has appeared in TIME, Le Monde and the New York Times. She is the 2022 recipient of the 12th Carmignac Photojournalism Award, given by Fondation Carmignac to support Ferrero’s study of her home country, Venezuela. fabiolaferrero.com
Christian’s work is a celebration of their queer identity, focused on the communities to which they belong. The Cape Townbased artist is a finalist in this year’s Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize; an exhibition runs at Cromwell Place arts hub, London, until 18 December. cromwellplace.com
Baqué is one of two photographers to be awarded a 2022 Getty Images and Dove #ShowUs grant. Madridbased Baqué will receive $5,000 to create new work on the theme ‘Beauty has no age limit’, focusing on women in their 50s to 70s. instagram.com/ irenebaque IRENE BAQUÉ BY GABBY LAURENT; FABIOLA FERRERO BY STEFAN POZZEBON
The title of Bird Photographer of the Year 2022 has gone to this Norwegian nature photographer whose winning image features a rock ptarmigan cruising over the mountains above Tysfjord, Norway. Haarberg also won a Gold Award in the category Birds in the Environment. haarbergphoto.com
ARTIST AND PHOTOGRAPHER
While interning at a studio in Atlanta, the Morrocan-Dutch photographer started working on a project about dancers at the strip club Magic City. Benjida’s series has now won the BJP International Photography Award – previous winners include Jack Latham and Vic Odden recipient Juno Calypso. 1854.photography
AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Every generation rewrites history according to their own experience. The cultural and social landscape in which we find ourselves provides us with the lens through which we understand the past.
Here we have a new photographic history from Phillip Prodger, former head of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, now executive director at Curatorial Exhibitions in LA. Since 2010 Prodger and his colleague Graham Howe have discussed the prospect of a survey that “capitalised on the incredible research performed in recent
decades by scholars around the world, featuring women, people of colour, and the rich variety of underappreciated traditions worldwide.” It would look “anew at already famous artists, engaging not just their most famous bodies of work but other, equally powerful projects.”
To this end, the pair began building the remarkable Solander Collection – vintage prints spanning nearly 100 years from the late 19th century onwards that underline the inclusivity of the medium.
An Alternative History of Photography takes readers on a journey through the close readings of images, from pioneers such as William Henry Fox Talbot or Hippolyte Bayard, early women photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Augusta Mostyn, through to the feminist photographic performance art of Austrian VALIE EXPORT HonFRPS, who poses as the Madonna
cradling a vacuum cleaner in her 1976 image, ‘Expectation’.
Along the way we discover photographers from West Africa to South Asia, through monochrome studio portraiture by Cameroonian Michel Kameni and handcoloured gelatin silver prints by Indian Ram Chand, as well as images by Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and others.
An accompanying exhibition of the same name and curated by Prodger is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 19 February 2023. Rachel Segal Hamilton
Above ‘Expectation (Erwartung)’ by VALIE EXPORT HonFRPS
‘Miles Davis’ by Lee Friedlander
Richard Mosse HonFRPS
Loose Joints (£49)
From Infra (2011) to Incoming (2017), Irish artist Richard Mosse HonFRPS has always enlisted unusual photographic technology in his efforts to explore the big questions of our age, including conflict and migration. His latest body of work focuses on the ecological devastation of the Amazon rainforest using multiple techniques including microscopy and multispectral imaging.
BIG FENCE/ PITCAIRN ISLAND
Blow Up Press (£95)
Pitcairn Island in the Pacific Ocean is a tiny British Overseas Territory renowned as the site of a mutiny that took place aboard the HMS Bounty in 1789. More recently, in 2004, the island was rocked by claims of sexual abuse. Rhiannon Adam’s haunting artist’s book is the result of a strange and alienating three months spent among a community still wary of outsiders.
Palgrave Macmillan (£109.99)
Ecology emerged from botany, the study of how plants thrive as communities. From day one it was bound up with visual culture. In this enlightening book, scholar Damian Hughes reveals the role played by photography in the development of an approach to understanding the world that is ever more relevant, as we confront global warming and biodiversity loss on an unprecedented scale.
A HIS'li PHO'Ji
My placeBy Simon Roberts HonFRPS HAVANA
When Simon Roberts HonFRPS arrived in Havana for the first time in 2019 he was struck by how much it conformed to the visual stereotypes familiar to outsiders.“It seemed almost as if the city had become a stageset for us foreign visitors,” he says.
Roberts was there as part of a collaboration between the Universidad de las Artes in Havana and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, uniting four Cuban and four European photographers to make new work about contemporary Cuban society.
On his second day there, Roberts wandered into the Church of Santa Rita de Casia. “I was immediately taken by its beautifully preserved neocolonial features and great parabolic arches holding up a carved wooden roof,” he remembers.
“On further investigation I realised there were dozens of churches, cathedrals and other faith buildings dotted around the city representing all major religions – surprising given that Castro had enshrined atheism into the country’s constitution.
“I was drawn to the huge range of architectural forms, from the splendour of Havana’s Catholic cathedral through to the vibrant, makeshift spiritual spaces in corners, basements and appropriated buildings,” says Roberts.
And the most surprising location? “El Calvario Baptist Church, housed in Havana’s former circus building.”
Cathedrals Are Built In The Future by Simon Roberts HonFRPS is published by Another Place Press. anotherplacepress.bigcartel.com
With Anne McNeill HonFRPS, director of Impressions Gallery and recipient of the RPS Award for Curatorship
1 Tell us about an image that inspires you
A photograph from the Through Our Lens: Growing up with Covid-19 exhibition by Amy Lorrimer, then aged 16, taken during the first lockdown, a time of uncertainty and fear. Full of hope, it captures youthful joy, is testament to resilience and a reminder that things get better.
2 Which achievement makes you most proud?
I love that Impressions is a community. Without people, a gallery is just a room. Syd Shelton’s Rock Against Racism show opened on the day Jo Cox MP was murdered in nearby Batley. There was a deep feeling of disbelief and sadness and I thought about cancelling. Three constituents of Jo’s came, having decided to attend because they knew Impressions was a safe place where they wouldn’t feel alone.
What has been the toughest time in your career?
Saving Impressions Gallery from the threat of possible closure, and ensuring its future by closing the gallery in its York location in 2005 and reopening in a
purpose-built gallery in Bradford in 2007. Looking back, it was a bold, risky decision. At the time someone big told me, “You are committing professional suicide.” It’s the best professional decision I’ve ever made.
What would you most like to be working on right now?
The programme of exhibitions and the public art bringing photography to the streets of Bradford for 2025, when Bradford will be the UK City of Culture.
What’s next for photography?
The growing interest in environmentally aware approaches by, for example, Hannah Fletcher from the Sustainable Darkroom, Melanie King, Christina McBride and, closer to home, Lisa Holmes, who runs an eco darkroom in Keighley. Lisa and I plan to host an inaugural sustainable photography networking event at Impressions in spring next year.
“Putting the viewer in The Queen’s place is often an uncomfortable experience as hundreds of eyes stare back at us”
“I’m just going to take photographs of people who look like me and question why there’s only one type of beauty”
“Mainly I think that the doing of photography can be a healing instrument for yourself”
“The photos of the dolls are saying we’re still treated like children; we’re still trying to express ourselves”
“I’m a nightscape photographer, here to reveal the beauty of the night sky of this place”
“Migration is the most utopian act on the planet because if you don’t believe there’s a future you don’t move”
“There’s a picture of me looking out of the window in my mum’s bedroom. It reminds me of my darkest hour”
“I never romanticised photography as the only way to tell stories and I think that was helpful”
PORTRAIT OF A QUEEN
Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Patron of the RPS from 1952-2019, art historian Sophie Gordon looks back at her evolving royal image
Top left Princess Elizabeth with The Countess of Strathmore, 1927, by Frederick Thurston/ Royal Collection Trust/ His Majesty King Charles III 2022
Bottom left Queen Elizabeth II, for Golden Jubilee 2002 portfolio, 6 December 2001, by Rankin HonFRPS
Above The Queen on tour in Cheshire, UK, 1968, by Eve Arnold HonFRPS/ Magnum Photos
Top right The Queen laughing on board HMY Britannia, 1972, by Patrick Lichfield HonFRPS/Getty Images
Bottom right Queen Elizabeth II, 1952, by Dorothy Wilding/Royal Collection Trust/His Majesty King Charles III 2022
When I arrived at Windsor Castle in October 2005 to begin work as the new curator of photographs, I was immediately asked to work on an exhibition of portraits of The Queen to celebrate her 80th birthday in April 2006. This project opened up a side of the collection that had, surprisingly, been seen only rarely over the previous decades.
Even more of a surprise, at least to my more experienced colleagues who knew ‘how things were done’, was that The Queen decided she wanted to see the exhibition before it went on public display. So only a few months into the job, I found myself escorting The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh around a display of portraits of themselves. It was a truly extraordinary and somewhat surreal experience.
What had previously only been an intellectual exercise suddenly became a very real, emotional journey through a family’s history. The best part, though, was listening to what they said.
Almost the first photograph we stopped at was a work by Frederick Thurston, purporting to show the infant Princess Elizabeth with her grandmother in 1927. “That’s not me, it’s Margaret,” said The Queen. I was completely thrown and had no idea about the protocol of arguing with The Queen over whether she recognised herself or not. A senior colleague moved things along swiftly, while we whispered furiously to each other.
The next portrait we stopped at fortunately received only positive remarks. Cecil Beaton photographed Princess Elizabeth in 1942
to mark both her 16th birthday and her first official public engagement – inspecting the Grenadier Guards as their newlyappointed colonel-in-chief. The princess wears a military-influenced outfit with a brooch showing the Guards’ insignia.
For an official portrait taken during the war, the subject is presented in a strikingly relaxed manner. This in turn highlights the individuality and youth of the sitter, something that is often lost in a more traditional or formal approach. The photograph really raises several important questions for when photographers approach The Queen – should the photograph draw on the tradition of royal portraiture? Should the sitter represent a timeless, institutional role, or is she an individual?
Perhaps the most successful photographs of The Queen manage to combine all of these elements somehow. Beaton’s early images of the princesses and their mother rely on dramatic surroundings and theatrical lighting to imply status and role, yet the day dresses and positioning of the women shows them as mother and daughters.
In contrast to Beaton’s busy background, Dorothy Wilding chose to photograph The Queen in front of a stark white backdrop, with the sitter staring directly at the camera. The modernity of the 1947 engagement portrait is remarkable and, although it is rarely seen, it remains a hugely successful statement of the partnership between The Queen and The Duke, as he stands resolutely behind her, arms crossed. When viewing the 80th birthday exhibition, The Queen and The Duke stood for some time in front of this portrait
“I had no idea about the protocol of arguing with The Queen over whether she recognised herself or not”
facing themselves from 59 years earlier. “Do you remember this?”, The Queen asked The Duke. He turned, smiled and said, “Oh yes”.
It was a very touching moment.
Wilding went on to photograph The Queen again on several occasions: twice in 1952 and in 1956. She again used the minimal background and uncomplicated approach, and created the most famous and most reproduced images of The Queen. Her portraits became the images sent around the world to embassies, official buildings and military bases, and they were used for stamps, postcards and a wide selection of ephemeral souvenir items.
Beaton was asked to take the official coronation portraits in 1953. His approach was traditional, using a painted backdrop of Westminster Abbey, alongside the symbols of state. A similar style was adopted for an extensive series of portraits in 1955, although Beaton’s use of lighting and contrast was moving away from a softer approach. By 1968, Beaton had dispensed with a backdrop completely and presented The Queen in the Admiral’s Boat Cloak against a stark white background. No royal trappings are visible. Beaton himself famously stated he wanted to "try something different". It is his most striking portrait of The Queen, undoubtedly modern yet also recalling the direct approach of Wilding.
During the 1960s and 1970s, photographers sought out less formal, more natural portraits of the royal family. The aim to capture the individual partly arose from the public demand to gain
greater access to the royals through images and film. One way to manage this was to use photographers known to the family. In 1971 Patrick Lichfield, a cousin of The Queen, was invited to photograph the Royal Family on an official tour and then later at Balmoral to create images to mark the Silver Wedding Anniversary in November 1972. The results are well known, showing the family relaxed and happy. Most famous perhaps is the portrait of The Queen on board HMY Britannia, laughing at the photographer as he is ducked in the swimming pool (with his waterproof camera!).
Lichfield was also asked to participate as one of several photographers to create The Golden Jubilee portfolio in 2002. Ten UK and Commonwealth photographers were given short sittings with The Queen and the resulting portraits highlight the differing approaches seen at this time. For example, Rankin created two portraits of The Queen, closely framing her brightly lit face and looking up slightly. The portrait in the Royal Collection has the Ballroom at Buckingham Palace as the background, but the more widely known portrait has the Union Flag behind Her Majesty. The close focus on the face is unusual and somewhat uncomfortable, while ostensibly the portrait manages to be also appropriately patriotic.
Lichfield chose to create a formal double portrait of The Queen and The Duke in profile, facing right, recalling Yousuf Karsh’s striking double profile portrait from 1951, where the couple face left. Lichfield’s differing approaches perhaps depend on the personal
“‘Do you remember this?’, The Queen asked The Duke. He turned, smiled and said, ‘Oh yes’. It was a very touching moment”
‘The Queen visiting the Drapers’ Livery Hall, London, 2014’, by Martin Parr HonFRPS/ Magnum Photos
Below ‘Felicity: Platinum Queen, 2022’ by Rob Munday
nature of the wedding anniversary in contrast to the formal state occasion of a jubilee.
Photojournalists have presented a different image of The Queen, frequently seeking out differing viewpoints. Eve Arnold and Ian Berry have looked at the world from The Queen’s perspective, as well as showing us The Queen taking her own photographs and film. Putting the viewer in The Queen’s place is often an uncomfortable experience as hundreds of eyes stare back at us. It is also sometimes comical, as unique personalities stick out in the crowd. The Queen remains clearly distinguishable, both by her colour blocking outfits and the ever-present ring of empty space that separates her from the public like an aura. Martin Parr relies on the bright pastel blue of The Queen’s hat and dress for her to be identifiable.
The photographs that we have seen The Queen take currently remain private. Many of them have been compiled into albums prepared by the Royal Bindery at Windsor Castle. They will hopefully, in time, shed new light on the reign and the family of The Queen from her own perspective, as some of the recently released film footage has done.
More recently, increased formality seems to have returned to official portraits. John Swannell’s Diamond Jubilee portrait from 2012 was taken inside Buckingham Palace, with the Queen Victoria memorial visible beyond, highlighting the only other
British monarch to have reached the milestone. The Queen is dressed in recognisable jewels, including the Diamond Diadem as well as other royal insignia.
Similarly successful at catching The Queen in an informal moment within a formal setting are some of the portraits which have emerged from the 2003-2004 commission from the Jersey Heritage Trust. Rob Munday and Chris Levine worked together to create a holographic portrait of The Queen, and many of the photographs from the session have subsequently emerged as portraits in their own right.
One recent discovery was the portrait known as ‘Felicity’, which Munday issued for the Platinum Jubilee in 2022. The portrait captures the brief moment when The Queen relaxed and smiled at her dresser Angela Kelly, who had just entered the room. The portrait perhaps demonstrates the famous sense of humour and the twinkle in the eye, of which many have spoken in recent times. Munday’s portrait was widely used following the death of The Queen. It was even projected by the BBC onto the outside of Broadcasting House in London.
And in case you’re still wondering about that Thurston portrait in the exhibition? It remained on display.
Sophie Gordon is an art historian and former head of photographs at the Royal Collection (UK)
“The Queen remains clearly distinguishable, both by her colour blocking outfits and the ever-present ring of empty space that separates her from the public like an aura”
Still from Mimesis: African Soldier (2018) by John Akomfrah
‘Tina Turner, What’s Love Got To Do With It’, 1984, by Ming Smith HonFRPS
The 2022 Royal Photographic Society Awards
Congratulations to this year’s recipients, from scientists to publishers, academics to artists
PROGRESS MEDAL AND HONORARY FELLOWSHIP
For scientific or technological advancement of photography Graham Hudson and Leonardo Chiariglione
CENTENARY MEDAL AND HONORARY FELLOWSHIP
For a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography Destiny Deacon
Awarded to distinguished individuals who have an intimate connection with the science or fine art – or application – of photography
Laia Abril, Ming Smith, Dafna Talmor, Victor Burgin, Dawoud Bey, Ajamu X, Craig Easton, Jo Ractliffe
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO PHOTOGRAPHY AND HONORARY FELLOWSHIP
For sustained, outstanding and influential advancement of photography Howard Greenberg
AWARD FOR CINEMATIC PRODUCTION
For outstanding achievement in the production, direction or development of film for cinema, television, online or new media Werner Herzog
For major achievement in the field of cinematography, video or animation
Dr John Akomfrah CBE RA
AWARD FOR CURATORSHIP
For excellence in the field of
Clockwise from top left From the series Speak the Wind, 2015-2020, by Hoda Afshar; from a successful Fellowship Documentary submission by Mark Phillips FRPS; ‘An astronomer’s night’, Canary Islands, 2015, by Babak Tafreshi; ‘Smile’, 2017, by Destiny Deacon HonFRPS
photographic curatorship, through exhibitions and associated events and publications
AWARD FOR EDITORIAL, ADVERTISING AND FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY
For outstanding achievement and excellence in these fields
AWARD FOR PHOTOGRAPHIC EDUCATION
For outstanding achievement or sustained contribution in photographic education Andrew Dewdney
For a body of work promoting or raising awareness of current issues
J DUDLEY JOHNSTON AWARD
For major achievement in photographic criticism or photographic history
Professor Emeritus Liz Wells
AWARD FOR PHOTOGRAPHIC PUBLISHING
For major achievement in the field of photographic publishing in its broadest sense Craig Atkinson
AWARD FOR SCIENTIFIC IMAGING
For a body of scientific imaging which promotes public knowledge and understanding
Recognising successful science-based imaging work
made by a researcher in the early stage of their career Edward Fry
VIC ODDEN AWARD
For achievement in the art of photography for those aged 35 or under Carly Clarke
MEMBERS’ AWARD AND HONORARY LIFE MEMBERSHIP
For extraordinary, sustained support of the RPS Mark Phillips FRPS
FENTON MEDAL AND HONORARY LIFE MEMBERSHIP
For outstanding contributions t o the work of the RPS Richard Brown FRPS, Sue Brown FRPS, Robert Gates ARPS, Janet Haines ARPS
When, in 2018, she became the first Black woman to shoot a cover for Vogue in the magazine’s 125-year history, Nadine Ijewere posted her reaction on Instagram. “I am so grateful for this opportunity I have been given to shoot for a publication where I once felt perhaps I did not measure up,” she wrote.
Her words about the shoot with pop star Dua Lipa for the Future Talent issue of British Vogue are telling. While growing up in south London,
Ijewere had immersed herself in the fantasy world pedalled by her mother’s fashion magazines. None of the faces, hair or body types she saw on their pages resembled her own – or resonated with her Nigerian-Jamaican heritage.
It was only when she began taking pictures at sixth form college, using her friends as models, that she realised she could challenge the mainstream definition of beauty. She would go on to study photography at UAL London College of Fashion,
using social media as a platform for her considerable talent – and was soon being commissioned by brands including i-D, Dior and Hermes. Now, she is to receive the RPS Award for Editorial, Advertising and Fashion Photography.
In an extract from her first photobook, Our Own Selves, Ijewere describes her fascination with ballgowns, her first trip to Jamaica, and how she swapped the road to medical school for a trailblazing journey into photography.
I went to study in sixth form and that was when I first started to dabble in photography. I was actually going to study medicine. My parents thought I should do something more academic. Well, it was more my dad – my mum was always like, “Do what you want to do.”
They had a darkroom so we could process the film ourselves. I just got this incredible rush of excitement of shooting a roll of film and not seeing it until you’d
processed it yourself, and being so excited to see the images come up on the negative. I loved the patience of really thinking about the image you were going to take and the limit on how many frames you have on a film roll.
I’d always loved looking through fashion magazines. My mum’s very into that. I think at that point, when I started exploring photography in the magazines I’d flick through, I would think to myself, “Well...” I never saw anyone that really looked like my friends or anyone I could
relate to in those images. If they were people of colour or Black women, they were all light-skinned and had European features. If they had curly hair, it was blow-dried straight to match the white women. None of my friends really looked like that.
When I was learning photography, we’d explore different techniques. We’d do still life, we’d do portraits, we’d do landscapes. I was drawn to photographing people the most, so I started shooting my friends.
We’d get suitcases full of clothes from our wardrobes and we’d drag them to the park, and we’d just take pictures and have fun. I became the designated photographer and I quickly realised I didn’t want to study medicine. I had to redo a year to be able to do art so I could study photography [at UAL London College of Fashion], but I never ever saw the possibility of photography as a career.
In the third year you got to explore as part of your dissertation. That was my point of thinking, “I’m just going to take photographs of people who look like me and
question why there’s only one type of beauty.”
From a young age I have always loved beautiful gowns and dresses, and dressing up to go to the ball and parties.
I have a nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s with the hair and the clothes. Me wishing I could dress in this way every day, ha ha! But growing up and looking at fashion imagery, I rarely saw Black women portrayed in these worlds and in this way, but it did exist, and throughout history as well – those images are so rare and were (back then) difficult to research and find.
I think that this is another element to my work. I love doing those beautiful stories and showing Black women in this way. I want to break these stereotypes of only certain types of women being able to exist in these worlds, if you like, but I guess I then make the images contemporary with the compositions.
This project for me was an important journey. I hadn’t really explored my Jamaican side until my late twenties. I suppose, as one gets older, you want to connect with your background some
more and so this felt like the time that I could do this.
Growing up, through the media I guess I would always come across negative connotations regarding Jamaican women and I wanted to go against that because it isn’t true, especially with the women I grew up around.
That trip was my first time in Jamaica and I collaborated with hairstylist Jawara Wauchope. I remember the first shoot we did together, he asked me if I was Jamaican and I thought that intriguing. He said there were some mannerisms I had that prompted him
to ask. So interesting when I had grown up in London. Anyway, we both wanted to work on a project that celebrated strong Jamaican women and the relationship with hair.
Hair is a huge topic within the Black community, so we are celebrating what is another type of beauty. It was honestly such a personal journey going there that I felt I had a connection which, I think, being in London I didn’t have.
There is a moment that sticks out to me where one woman we were photographing – her name was Janet – asked us after we had explained the
project where the images would go. She said she hoped they wouldn’t end up somewhere where there will be captions referring to us as “gorillas and loud angry women”. At that point I realised why projects like this are so important to do. Honestly, I’m so glad I was able to do this project and have the privilege of doing projects like these. I think it’s so important in terms of educating others.
This is an edited extract from the monograph Our Own Selves by Nadine Ijewere with contributions from Lynette Nylander, published by Prestel, £39.99. nadineijewere.co.uk
Iran-born and Australia-based artist Hoda Afshar is intrigued by tension. The RPS Hood Medal recipient explains why
WORDS: CIARAN SNEDDON IMAGES: HODA AFSHAR/MILANI GALLERY, BRISBANE
Tension. A word that is by nature uncomfortable, even off-putting. But here it is in all its glory: the tension between the oppressed and their oppressors, between people and their surroundings, between individuals and societies at large.
Hoda Afshar, the recipient of the RPS Hood Medal 2022, is at home in the tension. Not content merely with capturing beautiful photography infused in conflict, she finds satisfaction in exploiting the natural tensions between different forms of image-making.
This all leads back to the photographer’s first foray into the world of visual art. She was born in Tehran in 1983, with her childhood unfolding in the country’s immediate post-Islamic Revolution years. Her own life appeared to be at odds with the public image of this Iran, and it is here that her interest in photography began.
Afshar’s university days were at the University of Tehran where she studied fine art, with a particular focus on photography. By 2005 she was working as a full-time photographer. During this period she created a piece of work titled Scene which, while grainy and moody, offers a message with obvious clarity –Iran is not a monoculture.
Here are the underground parties that were held across Tehran: dancers, cigarettes in hand, embracing one another. The images walk a tightrope between documentary photography and visual art. Deliberately so, says Afshar. “I’ve always approached
photography as a visual art form, making works that combine documentary and non-documentary elements, and at the same time questioning the supposed line between these different modes,” she explains.
“I came to the view quite early in my career that the documentary photographer is no less than an artist, always in some way involved in framing and staging reality, and this led me to explore how such tensions inherent in the medium of photography might be used creatively. It is here I think that photographers and artists can learn from each other.”
And so it is that the tension creeps into her work.
Scene was never publicly displayed in Iran, nor shared on any platform. It couldn’t be. By 2007, the year after her graduation, Afshar was living in Australia. While the setting might have changed, the desire to portray people and places imbued with an emotional resonance did not. In a portfolio more than 15 years in the making – and with an impressively eclectic and varied aesthetic – the main throughline is that of portraying the unportrayed, the unseen, just like the secret parties of Tehran.
“In most of my works I have mainly been concerned with exploring issues to do with visibility and representation of the lives and experiences of marginalised groups within society,” Afshar says, adding: “Or bringing to light concerns that have been hidden from the public view.
“I came to the view quite early in my career that the documentary photographer is no less than an artist, always involved in framing and staging reality”
Boochani –Manus Island’ from the series Remain, 2018
“[I am drawn to] complex human stories, where struggle and triumph, suffering and resistance, beauty and ugliness coexist, in no hierarchy of order. I am also mostly only motivated to make work about subjects that I am emotionally drawn towards, and more often than not this tends to involve making work about specific groups engaged in social and political struggles. So I suppose I am motivated and guided by a compassionate approach. In my most recent work, Speak the Wind, I have been concerned with another aspect of the issue of visibility, namely, with the problem of how to capture certain realities that cannot be directly seen or recorded.”
Speak the Wind is a profile of a belief, held by the inhabitants on the islands of the Strait of Hormuz, off Iran’s southern coast, that winds can possess a person and make them ill. It’s a fascinating study of a little-known culture, and of the winds themselves. Afshar has previously written: “This project documents the history of these winds and the visible traces they have left on these islands and their inhabitants –a visible record of the invisible seen through the eye of the imagination.”
Part-landscape, part-portrait, partvisual art, as a standalone collection Speak the Wind could be the work of several photographers.
Another landmark in Afshar’s career is her series Remain, formed of a video and portraits, each documenting life on Australia’s infamous Manus Island detention centre. The pieces are a collaboration between Afshar and Kurdish-Iranian writer and journalist Behrouz Boochani, who was being held there at the time.
“Behrouz and I exchanged thousands of voice messages over many months on WhatsApp before I went to Manus,” Afshar explains. “We discussed the philosophy of the camps and what was happening there and mapped out a secret plan to get me to the island without alerting the authorities. It was a risky and dangerous trip.”
“The process of making the images was quite theatrical,” she adds. “I staged each portrait to symbolise the physical and psychological struggles of being a refugee. This was to avoid simplifying or idealising their narrative. Before taking their portraits, they’d shared with me the most painful stories of their life and time on Manus.
“We discussed the philosophy of the camps and mapped out a secret plan to get me to the island without alerting the authorities. It was a risky and dangerous trip”
“Then I would ask them to choose a natural element like water, or fire or birds – something that they felt would reflect their inner feelings most.
“Behrouz picked fire and we made his portrait on the last day, with many of the locals and the refugees involved in creating it — two men holding the backdrop, a couple making fire, one was holding the reflector and the other was making smoke. Looking at Behrouz’s portrait now, I see everything that went behind making it, and even what came after that. It’s all there in his gaze.”
First displayed in 2018 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, the piece was one of several made by Behrouz Boochani while on Manus. He has been living in New Zealand since November 2019, having first been detained in July 2013.
To single out any of Afshar’s work is to exclude, or sideline, the collective variety of her catalogue. What of Under Western Eyes, a Warholian take on Islamic identity? Or In the Exodus, I Love You More – a love letter, at least at times, to Iran and a document of Afshar’s separation from her homeland. Agonistes is another important entry in her oeuvre, with its depiction of the stifling culture of anti-whistleblowing measures in Australia.
“It is a decision,” Afshar says, of the wide-ranging nature of her work, “but only in the sense that I don’t believe in using a uniform approach or visual language for everything I make a work about. I’d rather allow the nature of the subject to determine the aesthetic and form of the project
instead. A lot of the decisions are made in the process of making, through the dialogues I have with the people I work with. Each project demands a language of its own.
“I don’t have a bucket list. I tend to focus entirely on the project that I am working on at any given time, and I never know what will be next. Each project I undertake emerges out of my encounters with the world and with people.”
What, then, lies ahead? Predictably unpredictable, it is an archive of images at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, in Paris.
“It’s the photographic archive of the French psychiatrist and photographer, Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault, who made more than 30,000 images of Islamic women in veils to explore his psychoanalytical ideas about covering and fantasy,” Afshar explains.
“I’m exploring how the medium of photography became and continues to serve as one of the central tools in the project of colonialism through its construction of fantasised representations of Islamic women, viewed at once as threatening and as desirable.”
The RPS Hood Medal is awarded in recognition of a body of photographic work which promotes or raises awareness of an aspect of public benefit or service. Fitting, then, that Afshar should continue to be such a pioneer of enriching and beneficial work, all done with such creativity and imagination.
“I don’t have a bucket list. I tend to focus entirely on the project I am working on at any given time, and I never know what will be next”
THE ROAD TO RECOGNITION
New York-based photographer Ming Smith came to prominence in the mid-1970s and has only recently begun to be celebrated again. As she is awarded an RPS Honorary Fellowship she selects some of the images that mean the most to her
West Indian parade, Brooklyn, New York, 1972
“This is an early photograph. I was interested in the dancing and the culture of the parade. We didn’t have anything like this in Columbus, Ohio. It was just an image I took – I liked the girl in the car. I don’t know who she is. It’s just street photography. My work was included in the exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 at the Brooklyn Museum, and curator Rujeko Hockley chose to have this photograph behind her when she spoke. I loved seeing it large.”
Below When you see me comin’ raise your window high, New York City, New York, 1972
“This photograph belongs to an early body of work I made in Harlem, New York. The mother is leaning out of a window and looking at a man below who I took to be her son in what I saw was a protective way. That’s how mothers in New York are – we worry about our children. We say, ‘Be careful’, to the daughters as well.”
When Ming Smith and her siblings were going through their mother’s belongings after she passed away, they discovered a yellow Kodak box with Smith’s name on it. “My brother handed it to me,” the artist recalls during a video call from her studio in New York. “‘I guess this is yours,’ he said.”
The box contained photographs Smith had taken on a school outing when she was around eight years old.
“I didn’t even remember,” she says. “When my mother was alive she would say, ‘What are you doing with your life? You’re still photographing?’ But when I opened the box and saw some of my belongings and photos, even some of the first photos I took when I was in college, it was amazing. She is gone, but sometimes I think she speaks to me more now than when she was alive.”
For Smith, who is receiving renewed attention and recognition in the art world, media and beyond, the acclaim is bittersweet. “I feel grateful, but I wish it had happened while my parents were alive. I’ve always had internal questions about what I’m doing, but I kept on photographing, and photographing helped me to continue. It’s been that way my entire life.”
Born in Detroit, Michigan, and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Smith had intended to go to medical school, but after studying microbiology and chemistry at Howard University decided it wasn’t for her. Instead, she moved to New York in the early 1970s.
Self portrait (total), 1986
“I like this image because that’s who I was – a mother and a photographer. And those were the two main loves of my life – I loved photography and raising my son, Mingus. It was a glorious moment. I felt very balanced. Many times, we go through life trying to keep our balance, trying to juggle things, and that was a very serene [time]. It is what women do – they work, they raise their children, and I come from that tradition. It’s a successful image for me.”
“When I told my father I wasn’t going to go to med school, he said, ‘Well, you could always be an artist,’” Smith recalls. Her father was a pharmacist, but he also took pictures. “I didn’t say yes straight away but it stuck with me. I didn’t want to claim it until I knew I could do something in it, or until I found it for myself. I didn’t tell anybody, but when I came to New York, that’s when I decided to be an artist.”
Working as a model to get by, Smith attended ‘go-sees’ –shoots with photographers who were building their portfolio. One occasion would leave a lasting impression.
“There was a partition in this loft space and I could hear two photographers debating whether photography was just nostalgia or if it really was an art form,” Smith remembers. “The studio had models and photographers coming in and out, and I started taking photos and hanging out.” Before long, Smith was invited by photographer Louis Draper to join the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers founded in 1963. She was the first woman to join the group. “Ever since then, photography was my chosen art form.”
Grace Jones ballerina, 1975
“There was a hairdressers in Manhattan on 57th Street called Cinandre. Andre, who ran it, did most of the models’ hair back then, including Grace Jones, who became a friend. He cut her famous flat top. Grace was telling me how she was going to go to Paris because she wasn’t getting any work and we were complaining about how black girls get the leftover jobs. This was before she went. She came back a star. I like this because it’s Grace Jones before.”
Above and below Sun Ra space I & II, New York City, New York, 1978
“I had a friend who was auditioning for the Sun Ra band. She called me up and asked if I wanted to come with her. I was being supportive of a friend and took my camera. This is a very successful image for me. It’s pure energy, cosmic energy. It’s just light and it was, well, Sun Ra, the visionary keyboardist, composer, arranger, bandleader and poet. I like these images [as a pair] because they go together for me. I don’t like to see them separated. It’s easier to understand when you see them side by side. Designer Karl Lagerfeld said this [above] was one of his favourite images.”
Joining Kamoinge was transformative for Smith and her photography. She acquired and developed key skills and ideas that would inform her work for decades to come.
“I learned what the art of photography was about,” she recalls. “I learned about Roy DeCarava and Brassaï and Bresson. It was like opening a door. I was immersed in it.” Black and white arthouse films provided inspiration too. “I loved a lot of the directors and their work,” Smith enthuses. “It was like still images to me. I learned a lot about photography and light by looking at some of those films. I love Fellini and the characters. I still have a magical, offbeat love for his images and the feelings of those images.”
Greyhound bus, Pittsburgh, 1991
“The Greyhound bus was how people migrated from the south to the north. Even me. I travelled with my grandmother on a Greyhound bus to Columbus, Ohio, where I was raised. I was around four years old. We almost missed our stop because we had fallen asleep. I left my doll. This image is from a series dedicated to the American playwright August Wilson called August Moon. I took the bus to the Hill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to photograph his hometown. The woman reminded me of my grandmother. The children had dolls with them.”
Smith’s photographs, with their focus on the humanity and spirituality of African Americans and Black culture, possess a kind of undefinable yet undeniable energy. They feel urgent and visceral, not of this world. Often playing with what’s seen and not seen, Smith uses light and shadow, movement and blur to conjure images that not only draw in the viewer but keep them there.
“It’s my instincts and what I see,” she says. “I was following my impulses, very much like how a jazz musician [plays] –they riff and improvise.
She adds, “This is all hindsight for me. While I was doing it, I wasn’t thinking that. It’s seeing something and capturing that moment – that was my intention. And that was art for me.”
MING SMITH HonFRPS
Ming Smith was initially recognised when she became the first woman invited to join the Black photography collective the Kamoinge Workshop. Focusing on street photography and portraits of Black cultural figures, Smith was also the first Black woman photographer to be included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Her work and influence have been celebrated again in more recent years.
Below Professor Edward Boatner, New York City, NY, 1979 “African American composer, teacher, choral conductor and singer Edward Boatner taught piano and gave voice lessons. He also arranged and published many spirituals. One of his sons was Edward ‘Sonny’ Stitt, the famous jazz musician. He knew Billie Holiday. I was fascinated by that. Those are his students, hanging on the wall behind. Some were on Broadway, others were recording artists. He was a proud and elegant man who had a lot of integrity and a lot of love for his students.”
Anything could draw her eye, she says. “Sometimes it was in my family or going to the grocery store or coming out of a shopping centre. It could be anywhere. I had my camera with me most of the time.”
In 1978, MoMA bought some of Smith’s work and she became the first African American female photographer to have work acquired by the museum. In the decades that followed Smith kept making pictures, but attention fell away. In 2017 she was included in the group exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Tate Modern, London. More shows followed. She is busy preparing for two right now, including a solo show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, opening in spring 2023.
“I like when people come and see my photographs,” Smith muses. “Many of the young people are very inspired by it, which is fantastic.
“Mainly I think that the doing of photography can be a healing instrument for yourself. It helped me get through the ups and downs in life. You can take your camera any time and be alone and work, and so the doing of it is healing because it brings you into yourself. You can be authentic.
“My life has always, it seems, to have been led by spirits. Nothing was planned, I just follow my angels or my spirit. Seeing my work – I’m happy, I’m glad, but doing it was most satisfying.”
Goghing with darkness and light, Singen, West Germany, 1989
“I took this in Germany. I was on a bus with my former husband, Mingus’s father, the jazz musician David Murray, and a band. We’d been travelling for maybe ten hours when I saw these sunflowers. It was so beautiful, I thought, ‘Of course Van Gogh would paint sunflowers!’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, you must stop the bus, just for two minutes.’ I love this photograph not only because of the sunflowers, but the dark, heavy clouds, which seemed very meaningful.”
She disarms her audience with humour while confronting them with unsettling symbols of everyday racism. As Destiny Deacon receives the RPS Centenary Medal she explains how her activist mother inspired her life and work
WORDS: EVA CLIFFORD IMAGES: DESTINY DEACON HonFRPS
A menacing grin looms overhead, eyes and teeth glistening demonically. A decapitated doll lies sprawled beside an axe. Two dolls sit side by side, one with a gaping hole in its head. The photographs of Destiny Deacon could well be stills from a horror film but for her, as an Indigenous Australian, horror is a part of everyday life.
Deacon, who is being awarded the RPS Centenary Medal in recognition of her contribution to the art of photography, was born in 1957 in Queensland and raised in Melbourne. Her ancestry hails from the KuKu of Far North Queensland and the Erub/Mer people of the Torres Strait. She grew up in Housing Commission – the equivalent of British council housing – in the innercity suburbs, part of a culturally diverse, working class community which exposed her early on to the country’s deep-rooted inequalities.
Raised by her mother, an influential activist, Deacon remembers tagging along to meetings and protests campaigning for Aboriginal rights, and it was her mother who inspired Deacon to study politics at university. She then moved on to teaching, working at some of Australia’s roughest schools before becoming a staff trainer for the Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins. It was in her 30s that she turned to photography, after taking part in a group exhibition at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 1991.
Deacon was in fact returning to an early interest as she recalls making photos on a Kodak point-and-shoot as a young girl. Even then her photos had a theatrical slant, often featuring her family members, such as her little brother dressed up in their mother’s clothes. Though she’d never considered photography as a profession, Deacon
recognised its potential to articulate her political beliefs, and it was after her first show that things began to snowball.
Since then, her work has made extraordinary waves. Besides participating in prestigious exhibitions around the world including documenta, the Yokohama Triennale, the 1st Johannesburg Biennale, the Havana Biennale and the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Deacon has earned a reputation as one of Australia’s boldest and most acclaimed contemporary artists. Yet for all her achievements she remains strikingly humble, referring to herself as “just an old-fashioned political artist”.
To describe Deacon’s work in words is difficult because it affects the viewer on a visceral level. Looking at her image of
“For all her achievements she remains strikingly humble, referring to herself as ‘just an old-fashioned political artist’”
‘Meloncholy’, 2000, from the series Sad and Bad
a decapitated doll beside a hatchet in ‘Axed’ (1994-2000), for instance, has a far stronger impact than reading about it. Central to all her work though – whether she’s working with photography, video, performance or installation – is the political message at its core. Deacon consistently exposes the everyday racism that pervades modern-day Australia and the violence that has been inflicted upon Aboriginal people for generations. Even her method of image making is inherently political. Her ‘anti-art’ aesthetic cunningly subverts the conventions of fine art photography, historically the preserve of white middle class men.
Drawn to the simplicity of Polaroids, Deacon began making portraits of her Aboriginal friends and family in the 1980s, but despite its convenience Polaroid was extremely costly – every shutter click costing around two Australian dollars. One thing it taught her, though, was how to be economical taking photos and soon Deacon began working with more reliable and patient models – dolls – which have since become her trademark. She explains: “With the Polaroids, I tried to take them with friends and family but people say ‘hurry up’ and they have somewhere to go. Dolls didn’t complain, of course.”
After capturing the images on Polaroid, Deacon would then blow them up to present on gallery walls, characteristically blurred and out of focus. “When I first started, people thought it wasn’t art,” she says. “White men thought it wasn’t photography because it was pictures of dolls and things – and also because it was bloody Polaroids.”
While Deacon swapped film for digital when Polaroid stopped production in the early 2000s, her anti-art aesthetics endured – as did her particular brand of dark humour, which reminds us ‘serious’ art can be funny too. Through her ‘lo-fi’ setups Deacon, who says she’s never owned a fancy camera in her life, uses humour as a disarming tactic and her
wit as a weapon to challenge common cliches about Indigenous people. “If you’re going to send a message,” she says, “you should make people think and laugh as well. I like to say there’s a laugh and a tear in every picture.”
With the dolls, mainly ‘rescued’ from secondhand stores, Deacon is able to act out certain feelings or experiences particular to being an Indigenous Australian. To her they represent the objectification of Indigenous people, so in reclaiming these objects – among other “Koori kitsch” or “Aboriginalia” she has collected over the years, from boomerangs to golliwogs – Deacon gives them agency.
“We [as First Nations] don’t have sovereignty, and so the photos of the dolls are saying we’re still treated like children; we’re still trying to express ourselves and say something,” she says.
By staging the dolls in strange and sometimes sinister scenarios, Deacon draws attention to Australia’s dark colonial legacy. In ‘Adoption’ (1993/2000), eight miniature brownskinned dolls are shown lying face up in baking cups. What at first seems an innocent image takes on a darker meaning when we clock the reference to Australia’s Stolen Generations – a government programme lasting from the mid 1800s onwards, which separated Aboriginal and mixed-race children from
“If you’re going to send a message, you should make people think and laugh as well”‘Man and doll’, 2005
their parents and placed them in institutions. The trauma of separation is even more explicit in ‘Meloncholy’ (2000), in which a decapitated doll rests inside a scooped-out watermelon.
As shown by the frequent wordplay in her titles, subverting colonialist language is also a focus of Deacon’s work. She felt the cutting impact of words while growing up, when white kids would call her a “little Black C—”.
“For Aboriginals living around Melbourne, that’s all you’d hear,” she says. “‘You f—ing Black C. You f—ing Black C’. So what I thought I’d do is take the ‘c’ out of Black and it would make it sound stronger.”
Though a seemingly simple act, its impact was huge. “I was surprised, I started off in the early ’90s, and since then Indigenous Australians have used it right around Australia and just for ourselves – as our people. It’s amazing, I’m so pleased about that.”
Yet despite these positive gains – and the Indigenous communities continually fighting for recognition and justice around the world – little has changed for Indigenous people in Australian society, from Deacon’s perspective. In her 2017 work ‘Escape’, which shows two dolls suspended either side of a metal fence, she addresses the growing rates of Indigenous incarceration; the fact that if you are born Indigenous Australian you are far more likely to be imprisoned than a non-Indigenous Australian. For women, the risks are compounded: despite making up just 2% of Australia’s population, Aboriginal women total 34% of those incarcerated in women’s prisons – making them the fastest growing prison population in the country. More than 80% of those women are mothers, further fracturing families and creating long-lasting trauma which can be felt across generations.
As children’s playthings, Deacon’s dolls become symbols for how insidious racial discrimination is, affecting people right from childhood through subtle to not-so-subtle messages in the world around them. And just as dolls are a familiar trope in horror, Deacon subverts their innocence to reveal the darker aspects of society.
“Racial prejudice and stuff like that, it hurts. Especially for young children today,” she says. “It mucks their heads up, and that’s something we’ve got to deal with. That hasn’t changed. It doesn’t seem to have stopped since I was a little child. Being called a little Black C, that still happens to the little ones now.”
This injustice continues to fuel Deacon’s work as an artist and activist, and for as long as it continues she will carry on confronting these difficult truths. It is up to the viewer what they then do with that knowledge.
“The pictures tell the story,” says Deacon. “People look at the pictures and they should think, and they should either get love or get disturbed.”
“Racial prejudice and stuff like that, it hurts. Especially for young children today. it mucks their heads up”
Science photojournalist Babak Tafreshi is collaborating with image makers around the world to illuminate the night sky –and expose light pollution. As he receives the RPS Award for Scientific Imaging, he explains why
‘Las Vegas at Night’ shows the extent of the city’s light pollution
“I’m honoured to have been arrested by the police in almost every country I’ve been to,” says Babak Tafreshi with a playful smile. He’s exaggerating, but as a man who spends much of his time wandering around alone in the middle of the night, run-ins with the law are an occupational hazard.
“I’ve actually been arrested a few times. But most times the police just come to talk to me because they have suspicious eyes and wonder, ‘What is this guy doing out with unusual equipment at night time?’ As soon as you tell them, ‘I’m a nightscape photographer, here to reveal the beauty of the night sky of this place’,
there’s a hidden interest in every person, including police officers. That helps a lot in those situations.”
Tafreshi’s own interest in the night sky goes back to his childhood in Iran.
“I was curious about night skies ever since I can remember,” he says. “The changing point was when I was 13. I borrowed a telescope from my neighbour and set it on our apartment rooftop in the middle of Tehran to look at the moon. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Every crater and mountain was visible. I still remember that moment. It’s fascinating how a simple experience like that can change somebody’s life forever.”
“There’s something inside you that all of a sudden unfolds”
That vision of the moon set Tafreshi on a lifetime of astro adventures, as an astronomer, science journalist, TV presenter, and now a science photographer and cinematographer for National Geographic. Many of his images incorporate landscapes or Earth-bound structures, so he prefers the term ‘nightscape photography’ to just ‘astrophotography’.
In 2007 he founded The World At Night (TWAN), a project with the slogan ‘One people one sky’ designed to show landmark buildings and natural locations around the world set against night skies. The project now has 40 photographers signed up. “I thought maybe if I photographed cultural landscapes and religious landscapes –
a church, a mosque, a Buddhist temple – and put them together under one roof, we can show one family living in one home,” Tafreshi explains. “We can break borders.”
Tafreshi is also an adviser on the board of Astronomers Without Borders, which has a similar goal of bringing people together through astronomy. Night skies are a great unifier, he suggests. Cultures across the globe and across time have looked up and wondered about humanity’s place in the universe. “There’s something inside you that all of a sudden unfolds,” he says. “It’s a connection to the universe that you were always looking for, understanding your place or your life in a different way.”
Now based in Boston, the IranianAmerican photojournalist doesn’t just aim to communicate the beauty of the universe, but also the science. He is this year’s recipient of the RPS Award for Scientific Imaging.
“In my photography, science is a major factor,” Tafreshi explains. “I have a science background. I studied physics.
I was a science journalist. In Iran, I had a TV programme on astronomy.
I was editor-in-chief of an astronomy magazine. My work usually tries to connect art and science in the media of photography and cinematography, or, for example, time-lapse motions.”
When creating images, Tafreshi often has a scientific phenomenon in mind
that he wants to demonstrate. “All my images start with the story,” he says. “We’re often saturated by the beauty of images we see on social media, but without the story, they don’t make an impact on people. I ask myself: What am I going to present? Is it a science story? Is it about the environmental impact of light pollution on a species? It could be a majestic new comet or an atmospheric phenomenon. I love to put as much science as possible in my visual storytelling.”
Tafreshi’s photography has taken him around the world, with the Atacama Desert in Chile and the Himalayas in Nepal his favourite locations for night skies. Spending around 90 nights of the
year working means he has witnessed all kinds of phenomena, his images often feeding into scientific understanding. “My photos are mainly wide angle. They won’t discover new objects but often they have something to contribute, especially in atmospheric science, by recording elusive phenomenon such as red sprite, or air glow phenomena, or a supernova.”
As human civilisations expand, so does light pollution, making it harder for people to find clear night skies. Tafreshi is currently working on a project
to highlight light pollution, including the impacts on insects, birds and other wildlife as well as on human health, mental health and cultures.
“Previous generations were in connection with night skies, for time, for a calendar, for healing and for moments of peace,” he says. “All of a sudden, it’s gone. It’s an important part of our environment to preserve, like a mountain or a national park.”
The work of astrophotographers or nightscape photographers is also becoming increasingly difficult due to
“I love to put as much science as possible in my visual storytelling”Clockwise from above: Constellation Orion appears with red nebulae in Death Valley National Park, California; Tafreshi on assignment in Zion National Park, Utah (photo by Oshin Zakarian); ‘Lausanne New Moon’ captures the sky above the historic Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne, Switzerland
the number of satellites being sent into space to orbit the Earth. “It’s really a pain,” Tafreshi admits. “They appear on so many images. On long exposures, it’s a major issue, and the number of satellites is increasing dramatically in the next few years.”
Despite years spent gazing up into space, Tafreshi has yet to capture any solid examples of extra-terrestrial activity. “I’ve recorded many things
I initially didn’t realise what it was. We could call them UFOs,” he says. “But over time, it was explained to me by an expert, and either what I saw was a very bright meteor, or a rotating satellite flare, or a rocket-related phenomenon. So far I haven’t captured anything that wasn’t explained. But there are things my colleagues have captured that are still not explained. We just need more time to explore this.”
Tafreshi is open to the suggestion of other life in the universe. It’s a question that fascinates some people and terrifies others, which is why the photographer appreciates the fear he sometimes instils when locals spot him working at night.
“Just imagine you’re in a village and you see a silhouette of a figure on top of a hill, with a little red light coming out of your head,” he says, laughing.
“People don’t think, ‘this is a night photographer’. They think either an
alien has landed, or there’s a vampire wandering around. You are definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. So now, I always try to go to places first in the daytime to present myself and explain what I do, rather than surprising people in the middle of the night.”
The World At Night: Spectacular
Photographs of the Night Sky by Babak Tafreshi HonFRPS is published by White Lion Publishing, £35. babaktafreshi.com @babaktafreshi
“There are things my colleagues have captured that are still not explained”Setting up cameras for a night in the barren Atacama Desert near Cerro Paranal Observatory, Chile
from The Airport
When he was growing up in London during the 1970s, under the shadow of Battersea Power Station and English racism, there were two places John Akomfrah liked to escape to.
An hour’s walk from his home in Parsons Green would take him to the Tate Gallery at Millbank. “It was just one of those places you can enter for free and you can just wander around and be on your own,” he says.
The other was a cinema, the Paris Pullman off the Fulham Road, where, he recalls, you could see a Monte Hellman film, say Two Lane Blacktop (1971), in the afternoon, maybe Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970) in the evening and then Antonioni’s Italian masterpiece L’Avventura (1960) the next day. “That was in a way my film school,” Akomfrah suggests.
Even before he ever thought of becoming an artist or a film-maker himself, art – whether paintings or films – was, he says, “a place of refuge”. And yet, he adds, it was also clear that in all the films he watched, all the paintings he looked at, he couldn’t see himself or people like him.
“At a certain point you are looking at these artworks, and at some point you realise, ‘Oh wow, most of this is all about white folks. I’m not here,’” Akomfrah recalls. “You make this discovery that the thing that you love is also the thing that is keeping you out in a weird sort of way ... It’s a very strange recognition to make, because it both brings a sadness and a resolve. You can feel yourself shifting inexorably towards a kind of corrective stance.”
Here is one possible beginning to John Akomfrah’s story. That’s because he’s spent much of his creative life resolutely working on correcting and reframing the pictures we see and the people we see in them. From his early days as a member of the Black Audio Film Collective in the early 1980s, to his current position as one of the UK’s most respected and acclaimed visual artists, Akomfrah has been a compelling, powerful agent for the idea of Black Britishness in his work. His films tell stories about migration and environmental change that go beyond newspaper headlines to embrace ideas of complexity, historical memory and cultural amnesia.
To experience one of his installations is to be plunged deep into a state of sensory overload as you are immersed in images both beautiful and baleful. In his 2015 work Vertigo Sea, scenes of the natural world are mixed in with shots of the industrial slaughter of whales, slave ships and refugee boats. In Purple, his 2017 work which plays out on six screens, he looks unblinkingly at the true scale of the environmental disaster we as a species have wreaked on the planet.
Using a combination of archival footage and original material, Akomfrah’s art is often both an urgent response to where we are now and a contemplative, essayistic enquiry into how we got here. The increasing breadth and depth of his work has been recognised over the years. That continues today. Akomfrah has now been named as this year’s RPS Lumière Award recipient. “I’m obviously very, very, very chuffed,” he says when we speak in late August. “I had no idea that I was even in the frame.”
Akomfrah’s work looks outward to the world but you can find traces of the things that concern him – issues of identity,
Black historical experience and migration – in his own story too. He was born in 1957 in Ghana to parents who were anticolonialist activists. His father was a cabinet member of Kwame Nkrumah’s government and his mum met Malcolm X in Accra in 1965. Ask him for his earliest memory and he speaks of his father.
“He died when I was quite young,” Akomfrah begins. “This was before we left Ghana, so I would probably be three and a half, four. He’s going off somewhere so he picks me up and suddenly all these red marks start appearing on his white shirt. It takes me a little while to realise that it’s coming from my nose. I’m having a nose bleed on this poor guy’s shirt who is no doubt about to piss off somewhere foreign. He has to go and change his shirt. So that’s the earliest thing I remember.”
It’s a simple family story that you could parlay into sentimental symbolism if you were so inclined. Akomfrah is not. But it’s true to say his father died before the military coup in 1966 that overthrew Nkrumah’s government, a coup that put his mother’s life at risk. Hence the move to London.
Looking back now, how much does he think he was shaped by his parents’ anti-colonialist ideas and experiences?
“I have tried to answer this question both to myself and to others over the years. The bottom line is this. I am a Black British figure. I spent my teenage years, my young adult
years, battling emotionally, politically, culturally in trying to bring about something called ‘Black Britain’. That’s my key sense of identification – with the Blackness in Britain.
“But I’m aware that somewhere their sense of mission, their charismatic example, their forbearance, all of those are a kind of an inheritance, a legacy. I am clearly shaped and formed in some very fundamental way by what they were.
“But I have tried consciously to live my life as a citizen of this place and make something of my life here. To that extent my key sense of affiliation, if you like, is to the group of allies, friends, family that I formed here. I’m really proud of that. As a kid there was no such thing as Black Britain. We had to make it.”
Akomfrah’s contribution was initially centred around his work with the Black Audio Film Collective. Their 1986 film Handsworth Songs, filmed during the riots in Handsworth and London in 1985, and commissioned by Channel 4, was to lay down a marker as to Akomfrah’s way of working; ideas and images layered on top of each other.
The result was essayistic rather than journalistic. Partly this was to do with lack of money and time. When the film was finally finished the topicality of the riots had passed. But that opened up the possibility of other approaches.
“If it can’t be topical there are all sorts of other things you
can do,” Akomfrah suggests. “You can memorialise, you could force people into a space of reflection, you could force them into a space of nostalgia; nostalgia can be good or bad. It’s not always bad.
“We knew we were looking at something that was at the crossroads of past and future. And it’s not what the newspapers had said. It’s not what Panorama had said. It was something else. We needed to find out what that something else was.”
He has spent much of the rest of his artistic career exploring that something else, whether that be the way history repeats itself, the narratives we use to justify our actions, or the structures that underpin our cultures.
“Handsworth was important to me because it was about trying to recognise the forms of return that history takes in our lives. And some of it is pretty straightforward. The reason I am Black is because there are all these narratives about Blackness that pre-date me and they are what people are calling upon when they say ‘John Akomfrah, the Black British artist’.
“The memory that I’m talking about is the way in which the present is structured by all kinds of complicated mechanisms, all the antecedents to past historical events. That’s the bit I’m interested in.”
The resulting work can be complex and challenging. It can also be tough to watch at times, too. Viewing Vertigo Sea in Edinburgh a few years back, I tell him, was a deeply uncomfortable experience.
“Yes, a lot of stuff that I do is really difficult. I’m not going to pretend. But there’s a kind of alleyway between the two camps, the horror camp and the truth camp, that I like to bring things into so they can have a conversation with each other.”
To explain he uses an example from art history.
“One of my favourite paintings is Mantegna’s Dead Christ,” he says, referring to the 15th-century Italian Renaissance artist’s bold and confrontational painting of Christ laid out after the Crucifixion. “You look at the Dead Christ now and it’s horrible. It’s absolutely a thing of horror. Jesus, what a perspective. What a place to see the dead Christ from. Being in that position absolutely reinscribes into the narrative of Christ and the body of Christ the question of mortality. You go, ‘Oh my God, that’s a human being.’
“The horror was a way of bringing something else into the conversation that something purely quote unquote beautiful would not have. Mantegna is my example really and has been ever since I saw it in a book.”
And yet beside the horror there is a heroism in Akomfrah’s work. He is keen to reframe how we look at the vexed subject of migration, for example.
“One of the things we slowly got to grips with is a way in which one can talk about migration or the questions of migrancy in this moment to give it its proper context. And for me migration became a kind of Homeric act in late modernism. A Homeric act in the sense that there was agency and purpose and will and desire and love in this. They left one place because they thought they can make their lives, and by implication the lives of those in the place they were going, better. And that story, that Homeric story of self-discovery and transformation, always tends to get lost in the other stuff – the moral panics and anxieties about migration, the numbers.”
As a result, he says, migration is portrayed as a dystopian act. “Rubbish. Migration is the most utopian act on the planet because if you don’t believe there’s a future you don’t move, you don’t travel anywhere. If you don’t believe that elsewhere is better than where you are at in the present day, don’t move.
“People move for the most incredibly utopian reasons. They believe that they are going literally to Eden. Because that’s why you move. Otherwise, you stay where the f— you are. If you thought Accra in 1967 was the same as London, you don’t move.
“When we concentrate too much on the detritus of arrival you lose the overview, which is that it’s connected to why we left the Rift Valley all those thousands of years ago. You want to make things better.”
And that is the true human story. In the end we are all migrants. John Akomfrah, you, me and everyone else. smokingdogsfilms.com
LIGHT OUT OF DARKNESS
Last day of chemotherapy (self portrait) from the series Reality Trauma: After six months of chemotherapy I was overwhelmed by the treatment and the possibility of dying. In this self portrait the damage caused to my body by the chemo is clearly visible. The image of who I thought I was became unfamiliar, almost alien, losing my hair and so much weight; I was unable to recognise my reflection in the mirror, which I avoided at all costs.
PICC line insertion in theatre, from the series In the Blood: After a reassessment scan in early 2019 it was discovered that my brother Joe’s cancer had not completely gone away. This was a bitter blow to him as his hair had started to grow back and he hoped he had finished with chemotherapy. He started a new regime of intense chemo treatment in March, so he needed to have another PICC line put in. He stayed in hospital for two weeks during the treatment.
She was used to documenting other people’s struggles, but after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, turned the camera on herself. Meet Carly Clarke, recipient of the RPS Vic Odden Award
WORDS: DANI GARAVELLI IMAGES: CARLY CLARKE
Carly Clarke was already ill when she travelled to Vancouver in 2012 to document the lives of homeless men and women in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood. At 26, it was her first major photographic project, and she was determined to see it through despite a collapsed lung –something she thought was caused by pneumonia – and her persistent cough. Clarke had long been drawn to frailty and suffering, and now here she was, frail and suffering, as she lugged her camera through the freezing streets trying to capture stories of marginalisation and addiction.
“Many of them had terrible illnesses: cancer or HIV, or they had become addicted to OxyContin and morphine,” she tells me from her flat in Eastbourne. “I wasn’t eating much and I
was coughing all the time. I had lost weight. I thought: ‘I sort of understand what you are going through.’” That empathy helped her bond with men like Clint, photographed looking over his shoulder at Lucky, a three-legged ball of fluff hitching a ride in his backpack. Clint had picked up Lucky from a shelter and told Clarke the dog was his ‘antidepressant’.
Clarke grew up chronicling events. As a child she would run into the street with a pen and paper if she heard there was a house on fire. Gradually, she alighted on documentary photography as the perfect medium for the kind of storytelling she aspired to. But it wasn’t until she returned from Canada, still desperately unwell, and was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma that she realised the next life she’d be
chronicling would be her own. Within a few months, she had embarked on Reality Trauma, a series of photographs taken as she underwent months of chemotherapy.
How difficult was it to turn the camera on herself?
“It was tough, especially at the beginning because I had a large tumour in my chest and it was agonising most of the time,” she says. “I had so many referred pains in my back and chest and my face, and it was a few months before it [the tumour] started to go down. At the same time, though, the project gave me something to focus on other than the discomfort and medication. It kept me going because I was doing the thing I loved.”
It was logistically tricky too. Clarke had been using the Pentax 6x7 since she stumbled on it while studying photography at Middlesex University.
“It’s just such a beautiful thing,” she says. “I love the grain of the film. It’s got an almost painterly quality and the lenses are stunning.”
“The project gave me something to focus on other than the discomfort and medication. It kept me going”Hair on bath (self portrait) from the series Reality Trauma: I held off washing my hair for as long as I could, because I was losing so much of it at this time. It would fill the bath and there was no way of stopping it. Each wash left me with visible bald patches.
But Pentaxes are heavy, and setting up shots when you’re weak and receiving intravenous medication has its own challenges. “I tried to put [the camera] on a tripod, and have a cable release, but that didn’t always work because I would be attached to a machine and people would be fiddling around with my PICC [peripherally inserted central catheter] line, so sometimes I would put the tripod on a ledge across the room and get one of the nurses to press the shutter for me.”
The result is a set of raw, intimate images, which exposes both her vulnerability and her resilience. ‘Hair on bath’ shows her crouched by the side of the tub, fingering the precious strands left on the side. Its power lies in the immediacy of her loss. We are used to seeing photographs of cancer patients who have gone bald, but this shows Clarke in an act of private mourning.
In ‘Last day of chemotherapy’, shortlisted for Portrait of Britain 2018, she is bare-shouldered and staring unflinchingly
into the camera. “It had been such an awful day,” she says. “I’d got an infection in my PICC line – I had sepsis. Because of that they had to put a cannula in my hand for the final session. I knew I had to photograph myself because it was such an emotional moment. I didn’t even look in the mirror. I just thought, ‘I want to capture this as truthfully as possible’.”
As she went into remission, Reality Trauma helped Clarke make sense of what had happened to her. The photographs allowed her to track the way her body had changed as the steroids bulked out her skinny frame, rounding her sharp edges, and to understand how she had come to lose her identity.
“There’s a picture of me looking out of the window in my mum’s bedroom,” she says. “It isn’t a very good picture, but it reminds me of my darkest hour. At that point I didn’t recognise myself. I didn’t like who I was any more. I didn’t know if I would make it to the end of chemo. I thought:
Bones and Patty Cakes, Desert Star, Nevada: In 2013 I met Bones and his wife Patty Cakes at their gas station while I was travelling through the Nevada desert. They told me about the increasing number of cancer cases among their family members and neighbours. Bones speculated that this was due to a contaminated water supply in the area. He was undergoing chemotherapy treatment. I was particularly interested in his story since I was in recovery from chemotherapy at the time.
‘Does [this project] make any sense if I’m not going to be there to see it at the end?’”
Now Clarke is well, and the value of her work is being recognised with the RPS Vic Odden Award, a prize for notable achievement in the art of photography by a photographer aged 35 or under. She says she can barely take it in. “I look at other people who have won the award – photographers I really admire, like Olivia Arthur and Laura Pannack – and I can’t believe I am on the same list as them.”
Yet, for all her modesty, Clarke has achieved so much. While undertaking her master’s degree in 2014, she travelled to India to explore the abuse of senior citizens. The images she took for Godhūlikāla: India’s Forgotten Elders explore universal themes
“I look at other people who have won the award and I can’t believe I am on the same list as them”
such as the loneliness of ageing, as well as documenting a growing crisis in a country with 130 million over-60s.
In 2018 her brother Joe, then aged 15, was also diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, and she began taking photographs of him too. Joe relapsed after his first round of chemotherapy, required more, and had to stay in hospital for weeks for autologous stem cell transplants. The project brought them closer together, but also sometimes drove them apart.
When she was photographing herself Clarke had control, but that was not so true for Joe. “There were times when he felt the project was more important to me than him, which was absolutely not the case,” she says. “Then I would stop taking photographs for a while and just stay with him.”
Today, Clarke combines a full-time job managing a healthcare agency with photographing her hometown of Eastbourne. As with most teenagers, she couldn’t wait to leave the faded seaside resort for the big city, but her illness brought her back and she gained a new appreciation of its charms.
“I decided to do this project about three years ago when I started to see many places here disappearing,” says Clarke, who divides her time between Eastbourne and London. She hopes to photograph the town over a decade, documenting events such as the Eastbourne International tennis tournament, along with the characters who liven up its streets.
So far, these include Peter, an ex-serviceman visiting the Queens Hotel, whom Clarke shot in his Union Jack umbrella
hat, and Camilla, who owns a chaotic bookshop in the town’s Little Chelsea. Camilla is photographed from behind with her parrot, Archie, on her shoulder.
Next on Clarke’s wishlist is Sheikh Abid Gulzar, owner of the once fire-ravaged pier. Something of a Midas figure, Gulzar turns everything he touches to (painted) gold: the rings on his fingers, his Mercedes car and, most controversially, the pier domes.
Gulzar is proving hard to pin down, but when she finds him, Clarke hopes to photograph him in his office, filled with knick-knacks such as elephant-shaped teapots and giant pineapples. He sounds like the perfect addition to a collective portrait of a town on the cusp of transformation. carlyclarkephotography.co.uk
“I decided to do this project three years ago when I started to see many places here disappearing”Peter at the Queens Hotel, Eastbourne: Peter was one of a group of holidaymakers from an ex-servicemen’s club in Bromley in south London, enjoying the evening’s entertainment at the Queens Hotel Eastbourne.
‘Shrinky recipe, 2019’ from the series On Rape
‘I SEE THE FLAWS OF PHOTOGRAPHY BUT ALSO THE BEAUTY OF IT’
In 2010, a nine-year-old girl named Innocence gave birth to a baby conceived after she’d been raped by her own father. This was in Nicaragua, one of six nations where abortion is illegal under any circumstance, including threat to the mother’s life.
Many more countries that forbid abortion in medical emergencies do not consider rape a legitimate justification. To categorise these examples as outliers in what can be seen as an increasingly progressive world is a mistake. In June this year, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that gave American women the absolute right to abortion within the first trimester of pregnancy.
It was a moment that sent shockwaves internationally but to photographer Laia Abril, it was unsurprising. Six years earlier she had been immersed in preparing an exhibition of her project On Abortion when she heard the news that Donald Trump had been elected US president.
“I was devastated because I knew then what that would mean [for reproductive rights] not only in the States but in other places too,” says the Catalan photographer, who is to receive an RPS Honorary Fellowship. “Those rights have been restricted for years
through loopholes and prolife terrorism so it was only a matter of time.”
Poland’s near total ban on abortion in 2021 hit her harder. “It was so bad there, I really didn’t think it could get any worse,” she says. “Not that I think what I do will change the world but in these moments you do reflect, what’s the point?”
For more than a decade Abril has dedicated herself to uncovering the foundations of a deep prejudice against women that she sees as shaping contemporary societies across the globe. Employing a method that is part documentary, part research, her longterm project A History of Misogyny explores how historical precedent plays out today, bringing together photographs of everything from medical instruments to ancient battle trophies, interviews with lawyers and academics, archive materials and quotes.
Each ‘chapter’ has been presented as installations and books – the first, On Abortion, shown at Les Rencontres d’Arles festival in 2016 and published by Dewi Lewis in 2018, went on to win multiple awards including the RPS Hood Medal. The next chapter, On Rape, has recently been published, having already been exhibited internationally to widespread critical praise. Alongside these run smaller strands: Menstrual
Myths, shown at RPS Gallery in 2021, examining miseducation around the female cycle, and Feminicides, an investigation into a 2019 murder case in Réunion made with Le Monde journalist Lorraine de Foucher.
When Laia speaks over a video call from her studio in Barcelona, a set of images are pinned to the wall just behind her head – work in progress for chapter three, on mass hysteria.
A History is not, Abril emphasises, intended to be an exhaustive catalogue on the subject. As she says, “It’s a history of misogyny, it’s not the historic misogyny.” The project is about stories, myths, taboos that intersect and overlap, permeating everything from religion to law, education, the military, medicine, gaming or the movies, creating the inequality that ultimately fuels such injustices as rape.
A still life of a medieval metal chastity belt is accompanied by a description telling us how these tools were designed to protect women from rape when men were away fighting. It’s a symbol of how the responsibility for avoiding being raped is shouldered by potential victims rather than perpetrators. Phrases like ‘revenge porn’ and ‘meta rape’, explored later in the book, might only have meaning in a contemporary context but their roots go way back.
‘Burundanga, 2019’ from the series On Rape
‘Military rape, US, 2019’ from the series On Rape
“It actually affects me more now than in the beginning. It kind of piles up”
Controverisal comments by politicians and judges shout from the pages of the books in large-set typography. The narrative that builds throughout is one in which women are treated as property to be prized, traded in times of peace and stolen in times of conflict – attested to by the images of Serbian ‘rape camps’ where, during the Bosnian War, Muslim women and girls were violated in an act of ethnic cleansing.
There is something about Abril’s editing and sequencing that feels so relentless as to be almost overwhelming. At times, you want to look away.
And no matter how long she works with this material, it doesn’t get any
less disturbing for the artist, either.
“It actually affects me more now than in the beginning,” she says. “It kind of piles up.”
Laia Abril studied journalism in her native Spain before moving to New York where she started producing photographic projects around the themes of eating disorders, gender and sexuality. She then enrolled on a residency at Fabrica – the creative incubator run by Benetton in Treviso, Italy. There she worked for five years on Colors magazine.
She has something of “a love-hate relationship” with photography. When studying journalism, she felt the stories
that were pertinent to her as a woman were often overlooked – but working at Colors exposed her to a more artistic way of working that allowed greater scope for “visualising stigmatised topics that people didn’t want to see”.
“I never romanticised photography as the only way to tell stories and I think that was helpful,” she says. “I see the flaws of photography but also the beauty of it. That’s integrated into my methodology.”
Abril self-published her first book, Thinspiration Fanzine, in 2012. Featuring re-photographed vernacular images taken from ‘pro ana’ websites, where communities of women and girls
suffering from anorexia swap images, it lays bare the dangers of the photographic impulse. Her subsequent 2014 book, The Epilogue, incorporated multiple voices, found documents and family snapshots with new portraits. Now, Abril says her output is an even split between images and words.
The forthcoming publication, On Mass Hysteria, was actually the first chapter Abril conceived of, a kind of “genesis”. The book will take her in a slightly different direction, more openended, “complex and philosophical”. Where the accounts in On Rape and On Abortion leave you with the impression that individuals suffer at the hands of systems much stronger than them, mass hysteria is a psychological disorder affecting groups of women or girls in institutional settings such as workplaces or educational establishments.
In 2007, for example, in a boarding school in Mexico, 600 girls aged 12-17 years old were struck with fever, nausea and an inability to walk. With no apparent biological cause, doctors were confounded. Abril describes such a manifestation as “a protolanguage of protest” – an articulation of female collective power in which “their bodies are speaking for them”.
Female bodies have historically been seen as mysterious and shameful. Most major medical breakthroughs are based on clinical trials involving men. A 2014 report by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that gender bias in medical research, “hampers our ability to identify important differences that could benefit the health of all”. The teen who asks her classmate in a whisper whether she could subtly sneak her a tampon may on the
surface seem incomparable with the child abuse survivor forced to give birth in Nicaragua, but they are both symptomatic of a landscape in which women are seen as less than men.
This is what Abril’s hard-hitting work sets out to show to as wide an audience as possible. As Professor Joanna Bourke, director of the Wellcome Trust-funded Sexual Harms and Medical Encounters Project tells Abril, a rape-free world is possible, but creating it “will require a labour of each and every one of us”.
The exhibition On Rape by Laia Abril HonFRPS is at Copeland Gallery, London, 10-27 November. It is presented by the V&A in collaboration with Photoworks as part of the Parasol Foundation Women in Photography Project
Above ‘Chastity belt, 2019’ from the series On Rape
‘Ala Kachuu (bride kidnapping), Kyrgyzstan, 2019’ from the series On RapeLAIA
MARK PHILLIPS FRPS Members’ Award and honorary life membership
A documentary photographer who gained his RPS Fellowship in November 2020, Mark Phillips has been photographing since his teens. He will tell you he has never formally studied photography, but his work speaks far louder than any qualifications might.
His early work centred on music, travel and sport, but documentary has been his passion for the last decade –“work that has some intent,” he says. “The work is largely focused on the urban environment and on sustainability.”
He is now chair of the RPS Documentary Group Phillips studied engineering, and achieved a PhD in innovation and social ecosystems. He developed multiperspective approaches to understanding emerging and
complex systems – research that now informs his photography projects. His work has been published online and in print in major newspapers and magazines, and at exhibitions in the UK, Europe and the USA.
Besides working on personal projects, he collaborates with charities and NGOs where he shares a common interest.
His ongoing project unbroken.solutions focuses on the importance of repair and reuse as a response to waste, and the urgent need to create a sustainable future. Phillips is also working on a book and series of ’zines.
Who or what has been your biggest photographic inspiration?
I think this changes with time and my own learning. Initially, Don McCullin and his Sunday Times images. Then later, for colour work, Alex Webb or Saul Leiter. In terms of
Each year the RPS recognises members for their outstanding contribution to the work of the Society. Ciaran Sneddon introduces the 2022 Fenton Medal and Members’ Award recipients
Clockwise from opposite
research-based documentary work, Mathieu Asselin, Zed Nelson and Laia Abril. But I could name many others.
Which photograph or photobook do you most cherish?
I have a lot of photobooks – some might say too many. While I really like the narrative books of Alec Soth, if I can only pick one book it is Minimata by W Eugene Smith and Aileen M Smith. Not only are the images and research powerful, but when you realise how the project was undertaken it can only inspire.
Is there an image you wish you’d taken?
I’m not sure I think that way. I see the work of others as inspiration or as ideas, but ultimately I want the photograph to be my own, rooted in what my intent and vision was at the time.
When were you most struck by the power of photography?
That probably goes all the way back to Don McCullin and then later seeing the work of people like W Eugene Smith Smith and James Nachtwey. Despite all their work, and power as images, I’m not sure they have made the real difference they wanted. But I’m interested in the approach Mark Neville is taking with a more activist approach, engaging communities. That might be more powerful in the long run.
What is the photo that got away?
That happens almost every time – especially when working, as I often do, in places where there is lot going on. I don’t tend to worry about it. It is more important to focus on what’s happening and anticipating, than worrying about what you might have missed.
RICHARD BROWN FRPS Fenton Medal
First an RPS Associate and then a Fellowship, Richard Brown became a founding member of the Licentiate Slide-Sound Sequences Panel in 1980. He has sat almost continuously on all four iterations of this panel for 42 years now, and has also served as chair, secretary and area organiser of the Audio Visual Group, among other key roles.
Who or what has been your biggest photographic inspiration?
The turning point in my photographic career was undoubtedly seeing an Audio Visual presentation for the first time. Up until then my main interest had been in black and white prints. I had never really seen slides projected onto a big screen before. The combination of fantastic image quality and hi-fi sound was captivating and I knew I would be chasing around after AV from then on.
Which photograph or photobook do you most cherish?
This is a choice close to my heart. It’s the only photograph of me with my grandfather, who I never knew. He died a short time after it was taken, when I was a toddler. It may be a poor snapshot – it’s not even in focus –but it has an emotional effect which makes technique irrelevant. Photographers often obsess too much about technical quality rather than content. In the end it’s what a picture communicates to the viewer that is most important.
Is there an image you wish you’d taken?
Mervyn O’Gorman’s autochrome portrait of Christina Bevan, taken in 1913, which is in the RPS Collection. I had seen this photograph reproduced a number of times over the years, but it was when it was used as the publicity image for the Drawn by Light exhibition in 2015 that I took a serious interest. The detective story around the model’s identity became the basis of my AV sequence ‘In Search of Christina’, my most successful production in competitions and festivals around the world. It’s an incredibly simple image, but it has a timeless quality which means that I never tire of looking at it.
When were you most struck by the power of photography?
The photographs of the unknown man with his shopping bags facing down an army tank in Tiananmen Square. Much had been written and spoken about the protests in Beijing in the spring of 1989. But those iconic images had a far greater impact than words ever could. A single, tiny incident captured on film which came to define a moment in world history in the public’s imagination.
What is the photo that got away?
There is a pub near Birmingham city centre called The Rainbow which I used to pass on my way to work in the 1980s. One lunchtime, after a thunderstorm, the building was lit up by the sun like a spotlight. The sky was almost black and there was the most brilliant rainbow I have ever seen right over the pub. Needless to say I didn’t have my camera. I have carried a compact with me ever since, but I’ve never seen anything as spectacular as that again.
‘Christina’ by Mervyn O’Gorman, 1913, RPS Collection/V&A
‘The copse’ by Susan Brown FRPS
SUSAN BROWN FRPS Fenton Medal
With more than four decades of experience, Susan Brown has built a name not only for her memorable images, but also for her readiness in assisting others on their own photographic journeys. She has been an assessor for the RPS, a member of the Distinctions Committee, chair of the South West Visual Art Group and an exhibition curator.
Who or what has been your biggest photographic inspiration?
I admire the wide-ranging work of Bill Brandt, from his landscapes to his beautiful nudes. An image that stands out in my mind is his one of the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire (taken the year I was born). So many talk about the ‘rules’ of photography and this image breaks all these mythical rules. I now have a daughter who lives near Marlborough and I often think of this image when driving round the countryside wondering where he took the image, and what that particular landscape may look like now.
Which photograph or photobook do you most cherish?
When working on the Distinction Panels became too busy, I reluctantly had to hand over the role through which I had made so many friends at our very memorable meetings. I often referred to Magnum photographers as being inspirational and I was thrilled to receive an enormous book simply called MAGNUM as a thank you. It has pride of place on my bookshelf.
Is there an image you wish you’d taken?
Elliott Erwitt is another photographer I enjoy. His amazing sense of humour and candour of everyday life – if only I could be spontaneous enough to capture such images. One different image of his I would love to have emulated was one he took of his first wife and her newborn child. The lighting, love and passion in that image is beautiful. I tried to do something similar with my grandchildren but failed miserably.
When were you most struck by the power of photography?
I only started photography when I knew I was going to be a mother. Frightened of becoming housebound I enrolled in a darkroom course, loved every minute of it, bought a secondhand camera, set up a darkroom and life changed. I continued using film until I moved to Devon in 2005 and had no darkroom facilities – it was time to embrace digital.
What is the photo that got away?
The ones that got away! I was in the Middle East, out in the desert caught in a sandstorm. There was a goat herder struggling to control a herd of panicking goats –that powerful imagery remains in my memory today. I could not wait to get home and process the film. To my absolute horror the force of the wind had caused fine sand to penetrate my camera and the whole roll of film was really badly scratched with ‘tram lines’ ruining all my precious images. I would have had more chance of rescuing them in the digital age but …
‘Westgate Road’ from the series The West End, Newcastleupon-Tyne by Robert Gates ARPS
ROBERT GATES ARPS Fenton Medal
A member of the RPS for 51 years, Robert Gates has held roles throughout the organisation, including as chair of the RPS Exhibitions Committee, chair of the Licentiate Distinction Panel, and as regional organiser for Yorkshire. Elsewhere, he oversaw a volunteer group at the National Media Museum in Bradford to initiate the digitisation of the RPS collection.
Who or what has been your biggest photographic inspiration?
My chemistry teacher, Keith Adamson FRPS, was my early photographic inspiration. As a young schoolboy, it was Keith who encouraged me to pick up a camera. The school had a darkroom and Keith instructed our small camera club in the production of fine negatives and prints. Something for which I will be forever grateful. Later, I had the opportunity of assisting Gordon Coates, a photographer at The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, where I learned how to light works of art and use a large format camera.
Which photograph or photobook do you most cherish?
That would have to be iWitness by the late Tom Stoddart HonFRPS. All of Tom’s images show a compassionate and dignified approach to his subjects trapped in appalling situations. I had the great pleasure of meeting Tom and hearing him speak on several occasions. I got to know that
he was a photographer genuinely interested in people and the human condition.
Is there an image you wish you’d taken?
Not particularly any single image but one set that instantly springs to mind is Behind the Green Door, by the late Dr Richard Sadler FRPS. This is a series of images of people taken in the familiar setting of their own living space. Richard instilled in me the importance of striving for a cohesive body of work, not just making individual ‘masterpieces’.
When were you most struck by the power of photography?
I think that would be when I first saw the image known as ‘Migrant mother’, taken in 1936 by Dorothea Lange. I was so moved by the image it prompted me to delve into the archive of photographs taken for the Farm Security Administration programme during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The photographs recorded the plight of rural communities and their atrocious conditions. I’m sure that these images contributed to social reform in the United States, and that’s what makes them so powerful.
What is the photo that got away?
I have missed many shots whilst on the streets so I can’t really single one out. I now tend not to look at my camera screen to check each image. When that moment has gone it’s gone forever. I concentrate on my surroundings hoping to catch that so-called ‘decisive moment’.
JANET HAINES ARPS Fenton Medal
Creativity runs in the family for Janet Haines. The earliest memories of photography come from her father, who had a passion for camerawork. By osmosis, Haines discovered her own talent for image-making, which initially manifested through the art of montage. However, it wouldn’t be until early retirement that she found the time to properly return to creative photography. It was the dawn of digital cameras: the great levelling field that removed the financial penalties of taking too many images. Haines quickly scaled the layers of technological advancement and found her home with a DSLR which could keep pace with her imaginative visions. The hobby became an outlet, and one that led to competitions and clubs, as well as several industry accreditations.
Who or what has been your biggest photographic inspiration?
There are three RPS members who have inspired and influenced me most: Steven Le Prevost FRPS got me hooked on textural painterly creative work, Rikki O’Neill FPRS for his mastery of Photoshop and his brilliant imaginative images, and Martin Addison FRPS who inspires me still with his style, passion, skills and wonderful creativity. Each has shaped me and influenced my personal style.
Which photograph or photobook do you most cherish?
I’m not really a book person but I have recently been given Outside the Lines by our 2022 AGM speaker Lucinda Grange and one cannot help but be overawed by her photography and the places she gets to when shooting. The book is in the RPS shop and well worth seeing or buying.
Is there an image you wish you’d taken?
More of my dad. He was a photographer and therefore always behind the camera and only after he had died did I realise how few images we had of him.
When were you most struck by the power of photography?
About age seven when I was allowed into dad’s darkroom and saw the images appearing as if by magic. I was even allowed to wash them off and I thought that was so grown-up.
What is the photo that got away?
Because my work starts inside my head and then I create composites from that internalised image, it isn’t quite the same as ‘images that got away’. Certainly I wanted to create an image to represent the music ‘Paint It Black’ by The Rolling Stones that I have yet to manage to get ‘right’ creatively, so I guess that still escapes me.
‘Entrance from the Queen of Sheba’ by Janet Haines ARPS
The story of a retinal photographic device to be told at Combined Royal Colleges lecture
rps.org/whatson for the latest updates
2 SURF AND TURF: AUTUMN COLOURS AND TURNER’S SEASCAPES
Wed 16 Nov, 10am
Taking inspiration from JMW Turner, this workshop will see six participants head to Whitstable for a day led by Kent-based photographer Alex Hare. The group will spend time on the coast and in woodland to try a variety of techniques, including long exposure, graduated filters and compositions that break the rule of thirds, to improvetheirlandscapephotography.
In Whitstable, booking essential
3 PINK LADY® FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Sat 19 Nov until Sun 11 Dec
This annual exhibition is the pinnacle of food photography – the crème de la crème of culinary visuals.
The culmination of thousands of entries from almost 80 countries, the showcase explores how food fuels humanity, and how it informs the planet’s many cultures.
RPS Gallery, Bristol
4 MONSTERS, MYTHS & METAPHORS
Weekly from Wed 23 Nov, 6.30pm
A device capable of photographing a human retina will be at the centre of this year’s Combined Royal Colleges lecture. The annual speech will be given by Douglas Anderson, the founder and vice-president of Global Advocacy at Optos – the company which created the camera.
Anderson launched the company in response to his son, Leif, suffering a spontaneous retinal detachment at the age of five. Since then, Optos has been developing and improving its devices which can capture a digital ultra-widefield
image of the retina. The newest models can detect several disorders and diseases in the eye, and more than 150 million patients have benefitted from the device. In the lecture, Anderson, who was awarded the Combined Royal Colleges Medal in 2021, will reveal the step-by-step process of developing the technology and how he overcame technical, financial and clinical hurdles.
The Combined Royal Colleges lecture is in-person at RPS House and online, 17 November, 6.30pm. events.rps.org
Over four weeks, Benedict Brain ARPS will guide a group of up to 10 photographers through the intersectionality of photography, narrative and storytelling. Workshops and presentations will both feature as the group builds a small body of work that explores the course’s themes. In particular, participants will look at adding layers of meaning to their work. Online via Zoom
5 LONDON NIGHT SHOOT
Wed 30 Nov, 6.30pm
Night shoots can pose all kinds of challenges, but with the right kit and techniques, they can unlock exciting new opportunities too. Nigel Wilson, a tutor with experience at New York University and London’s Camera Club, will lead an evening of imagemaking through the streets of the capital, providing vital information on creating magic in the darkness. Meet at Blackfriars Bridge, booking essential
PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS 2022
The Photographer’s Journey is far better experienced with others than alone, and your RPS can help ensure it is creative, exciting and fulfilling
“The journey not the arrival matters” T S EliotSIMON HILL HonFRPS
Last year the Society published its strategic plan, Photography for Everyone, comprising some 21 individual programmes we intend to deliver over five years. This plan was written before the end of the Brexit transition period and realisation of the enormous national impact of our exit from Europe; before the long-term economic effects of the pandemic became properly understood; before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; and before these and other events set much of the world on a course for staggering levels of inflation and the likelihood of global recession.
This challenging climate could not have come at a worse time for our Society. A declining membership; reduced returns on an already compromised investment portfolio; increasing operational costs; and greater competition from other ways through which we can support our personal photographic ambitions. In this current climate our strategy may now appear overambitious. However, I make no apology for this – I would rather work with the board and executive to create a strategy that is ambitious and needs to be ‘tuned’ than one that is underwhelming and not nearly ambitious enough.
On any journey travellers must remain vigilant and respond speedily and efficiently to changing environments, and so it is with the delivery of our strategic plan. As the global economy shifts and changes around us, and as a multitude of obstacles appear in our path – internal and external to our Society – we must retune the direction of our journey to successfully navigate our way.
The executive – and our members’s and representatives’s committees – have assessed our 21 strategic programmes in terms of the contribution each can make to building membership, to serving the membership, and to sustaining that membership in the longer term.
Seven areas of strategic focus have been identified as major contributors to these aims.
These are distinctions and qualifications; education; our community of Groups, Regions and International membership; exhibitions; the RPS Journal; mentorship; and a significant expansion of our RPS online activities that so much proved their worth as we developed new ways of engaging with members during the pandemic. As we steer our way through the difficulties of the current climate, these are the programmes that might benefit from greater operational effort. Our priority must be building membership, serving the membership, and sustaining that membership longer term.
You will note, I am sure, The Photographer’s Journey does not appear in this list of programmes. It is, however, arguably the most important of our 21 programmes and that is why it was chosen as the theme of this year’s AGM. The Photographer’s Journey is the overarching initiative under which all our programmes sit as we work to deliver Photography for Everyone.
So, what is The Photographer’s Journey?
Over recent months this has been the subject of some considerable discussion and, incidentally, a great deal of debate about where we should place the apostrophe – but I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Firstly, I should clear up what has become a persistent confusion. A definition of The Photographer’s Journey has never been properly articulated and this has caused it to become conflated with the new Customer Relationship Management system – such that the CRM system is, by some, mistakenly referred to as The Photographer’s Journey.
The CRM system is a vitally important software investment; it is not a strategic programme. It is also not some magic system that will transform our Society overnight, nor will it immunise us from the enormous challenges we face in these unprecedented times.
The CRM system is not The Photographer’s Journey; it is simply a tool that relies on the work of our staff and volunteers for it to be effectively and efficiently used, just as buying, say, a new photocopier won’t make the Society any more or less successful than it is already. It allows us to do things we would not otherwise be able to do and it makes life easier or, rather, it should make life easier.
You will all have become aware over recent weeks and months that the procurement and
“On any journey travellers must remain vigilant and respond speedily and efficiently to changing environments, and so it is with the delivery of our strategic plan”
implementation of the CRM system has not been without its problems. Yes, this is an understatement but, with the commitment of the staff, volunteers and trustees – and the patience and resilience of members – we will get it over the line.
The CRM system will allow us to have more meaningful interaction with members; help us build relationships with and between members; streamline our processes so that our Society becomes more attractive and welcoming to new members; provide each of us with personalised interaction with our Society and it will allow everyone – members and non-members – to have greater engagement with our many events and opportunities. However, we must also address the organisational and financial problems that severely restrict our potential for growth and limit the expansion and quality of our services to members.
It has been a great honour, for almost two years, to be President of our Society and I look forward to the next three. It is also an enormous privilege to be Chair of a Board of Trustees on which each Trustee brings a unique set of experiences and skills vital to ensuring the future success of the Society. With this Board, our Society is in very capable hands, but please be under no illusion the decisions it must take over the coming months will not be painful. To ensure our Society can weather the storm, better fulfil its charitable objectives, while simultaneously delivering the service and opportunities members expect, the Board will not shy away from taking those decisions.
Now, let me return to The Photographer’s Journey. If this is not the CRM system, what is it? It is an integrated ‘offering’ of opportunities, connections and influences that will take us all, as individual photographers and as a social collective of photographers, on a creative, exciting and fulfilling journey. After all, this is what we all seek from our membership of the Society and to consider this journey requires me to return to the matter of that much-discussed apostrophe.
The Photographer’s Journey is one we take together, as a Society of friends supporting each other on our individual journeys. So, when thinking about the purpose and direction of our Society, I automatically placed the apostrophe after the ‘s’ – The Photographers’ Journey, using the plural possessive, indicating that this is our collective journey as members of an inclusive Society. Of course, there are two sides to any debate and I had to accept the opposing argument – that the journey is one we take as unique and individual photographers. I accepted defeat and reluctantly agreed to the placement of the apostrophe before the ‘s’ – The Photographer’s Journey – using the singular possessive, indicating the journey is taken by an individual photographer.
Just as light itself can be considered a wave and a particle, I suppose this duality of a journey taken
by many photographers while also being a journey taken by an individual photographer has some resonance with the duality of our Society, simultaneously being a membership organisation and a public benefit arts charity. We must never lose sight of the fact we are both.
Perhaps we can agree to disagree on the placement of the apostrophe, but this struggle with correct punctuation led me on another journey I want to share with you. Please bear with me – I promise you this journey has a strong emphasis on photography and it begins with an injustice within our Society’s organisational structure.
The Republic of Ireland is not a UK region, yet for years it was included on our website under ‘UK Regions’. Three years ago, as a new Trustee, I wanted to find a way of ensuring our members in the Republic of Ireland felt included in the wider regional network of our Society without the indignity of suffering a subversion of their national identity. The easiest solution was for ‘UK Regions’ to become ‘Regional Hubs’ and remove any reference to the UK. However, this highlighted
Susan Sontag, writer, philosopher, political activist, and author of On Photography, 1977. Portrait by Lynn Gilbert, 1978
another problem. As a UK charter company and charity, our geographical jurisdiction is the United Kingdom and therefore does not include the Republic of Ireland. So, Ireland had to become an RPS International Chapter but, as our closest neighbour and sharing the same language, it remains a blurred line between Region and Chapter. Nonetheless, we put right an historic wrong.
On the subject of putting right an historic wrong and as a demonstration of the importance of correct punctuation, we can look again to Ireland and to the struggle for Irish independence. Sir Roger Casement was a celebrated Irish nationalist. He was born in 1864 at Sandycove, Dublin, and in 1916 was hanged, aged 51, in Pentonville Prison, London. His crime was high treason – trying to gain German military assistance for the 1916 Easter Rising. Famously, Casement was ‘hanged on a comma’ that had been mistakenly inserted in the Norman French text of the Treason Act of 1351.
Correct punctuation also provides the next link in this journey as it now takes a photographic turn. On 15 August 1968, American authors Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs had a physical fight as they argued over the use of the Oxford comma. The rights and wrongs of the Oxford comma is another story, but thinking about Kerouac led me to consider the notion of ‘journey’ and what that can mean for photographers.
Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road is a journey narrative that became the defining work of the Beat Generation. He typed the novel over three weeks onto a continuous roll of paper – it is based on a road trip he took with his friends across the United States during the late 1940s. The reason my thoughts went to Kerouac was not only because of On the Road but also because he wrote the introduction to Robert Frank’s 1958 photobook The Americans. This is one of the most influential works of post-war photography; it changed the course of documentary photography and forged the genre as we know it today.
These photographic connections don’t end with Kerouac nor with Frank because The Americans was itself inspired by the earlier work of another photographer. American Photographs by Walker Evans was published as a catalogue to his 1938 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, 20 years before Frank’s photobook.
The more I thought about who did what and when, the more I realised I was building a picture of a photographic journey taken not by a lone photographer working in isolation, but by a group
of photographers, writers and curators, all working at different times in different places: a continuum of opportunities, connections and influences that together facilitated such an incredibly exciting artistic journey. So exciting was this journey, I felt inspired to reread an author I hadn’t read since art college, some 40 years ago.
“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list,” is a quote from Susan Sontag, the American writer, philosopher, political activist and author of On Photography, published in 1977. On Photography examines the aesthetic and moral problems raised by the authority of the photograph in modern times.
Sontag was open about her bisexuality. In an interview for the Guardian in 2000 she claimed to have been in love nine times – five with women and four with men. From 1989 until her death from leukaemia in 2004, Sontag was in her most meaningful and probably most romantic relationship, with the photographer Annie Leibovitz who, as one of our Honorary Fellows, links us right back to the RPS. But the connections and journey don’t end there.
When I thought about Sontag’s writing, and her relationship with Leibovitz, it reinforced for me the notion that journey narratives are a vehicle for cultural and political commentary but, more importantly, for the transformation of the individual. Now, isn’t this exactly what we want from our membership? We want to be transformed into more creative and successful photographers as we take our ‘photographic journey’.
It was because of this notion of a ‘vehicle for transformation’ that I was able to make one final connection in this journey. My train of thought jumped from the Sontag-Leibovitz relationship to a film that quite literally involved a vehicle and used a female relationship to rewrite the traditional masculine narrative of the road movie.
Thelma & Louise is the 1991 American feminist road movie written by Callie Khouri and directed by Ridley Scott. It sees Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) and Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) subvert the stereotypical masculinity of the road movie in a cinematic celebration of female agency.
Now, let me recap where we are, how we arrived here and the conclusion I draw from this in respect to The Photographer’s Journey – wherever you choose to place the apostrophe!
We have taken a journey from an ambition to be a more inclusive Society … to the naming of the RPS Regions … through Irish nationalism and the execution of Sir Roger Casement … to Jack
“This is why I maintain that The Photographers’ Journey – with the apostrophe very specifically placed after the ‘s’ – is, and has always been, the most important benefit of being a member of this unique and inclusive Society”
Kerouac and Robert Frank’s evolution of the documentary genre … via Walker Evans and New York’s Museum of Modern Art … to Susan Sontag and Annie Leibovitz … to Ridley Scott and Thelma & Louise.
To conclude this address we need to visit the final scene of Thelma & Louise where the two women are in their car on a cliff edge, surrounded by police and moments away from arrest. When Ridley Scott was in the cutting room editing this final scene he faced a dilemma. He had shot the scene with Thelma and Louise holding hands as they drove their car over the cliff, plummeting onto the rocks below. However, the scripted scene cut to the final shot showing the two women, in their car, miraculously surviving their crash onto the rocks, as they drive off into the distance. A second option considered by Scott was to have Louise push Thelma out of the car to save her from certain death. Neither of these made it to the final cut. It was a third option that was used for theatrical release. This sees the pair holding hands as they accelerate over the cliff but, while the car is still in mid-air, the scene fades to a white-out screen leaving the viewer not knowing what actually happened.
For Ridley Scott and his audience, whether Thelma and Louise lived or died was not important. To paraphrase T S Eliot, the journey is all that matters. So it is for us, as members of The Royal Photographic Society; it is our journey that matters. Of course, our much-respected distinctions of Licentiate, Associate and Fellowship provide a wonderful opportunity for the exchange of ideas, skills and practices that enriches all of us and they provide validation of our creativity and technical abilities, but they are simply points of punctuation, commas if you like, on our journey as photographers.
This is why I maintain that The Photographers’ Journey – with the apostrophe very specifically placed after the ‘s’ – is, and has always been, the most important benefit of being a member of this unique and inclusive Society. We must build our membership: encourage more photographers to join us on our collective journey – whether amateur or professional; experienced or novice; young or old; rich or financially challenged; male, female or non-binary; able or less able; white or of colour. With a larger, more diverse and more inclusive membership, our journey will be far more creative, exciting and fulfilling as we take it together rather than alone.
Report of the Annual General Meeting
The AGM 2022 was held as a hybrid event with 235 members present online and 26 members in the auditorium at RPS House. Attendance represented 2.55% of the RPS membership.
The President, Simon Hill HonFRPS, welcomed all to the meeting, noting that members were attending from the UK, Republic of Ireland, mainland Europe, the United States, India, Japan and south-east Asia.
He then paid tribute to Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Patron of the RPS from 1952 to 2019, and expressed the hope that, despite the inevitable expansion of her duties, Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales would remain our Patron for many years to come. Those present, and able to do so, stood for one minute’s silence in remembrance of Her Late Majesty The Queen.
The minutes of the AGM 2021 held 25 September 2021 were circulated prior to the meeting. There were no matters arising. Acceptance was proposed by Gavin Bowyer ARPS and seconded by Sarah J Dow ARPS. In the subsequent vote, 161 members voted for, none voted against, and there were 10 abstentions (total indicating a vote 171). The minutes were duly accepted as a true and accurate record.
In advance of the meeting, the Annual Report of the RPS for the year ended 31 December 2021 was made available to members via the RPS website. The President presented highlights from the report and the Honorary Treasurer, Tony Cearns, presented the financial report. There followed a question and answer session which is fully documented in the minutes of the meeting. Acceptance of the Annual Report and financial
statements was proposed by Edgar Gibbs FRPS and seconded by Mathew Lodge LRPS. In the subsequent vote, 173 members voted for, one voted against, and there were eight abstentions (total indicating a vote 182). The annual report and financial statements were duly accepted.
The President asked for a vote on the appointment of Moore Accountants as the auditors for 2022. Acceptance was proposed by Sarah J Dow ARPS and seconded by Edgar Gibbs FRPS. In the subsequent vote, 160 members voted
for, one voted against, and there were 23 abstentions (total indicating a vote 184). Moore Accountants were duly appointed as auditors.
The President gave notice of appointments to the Board of Trustees and the resignation of Tony Cearns as Honorary Treasurer. The President thanked Mr Cearns for his work in the office of Honorary Treasurer and wished him well for the future.
There was one motion put to the meeting, to re-elect Simon Hill HonFRPS as President and Chair of Trustees to serve until the close of the
AGM in 2025. The result of the vote on the motion (completed in advance of the meeting) was 249 members voted for, 15 voted against, and there were three abstentions (total indicating a vote 267). Therefore the motion was carried with the support of 93.3% of the total votes cast.
The meeting concluded with delivery of the President’s address which will be published in the RPS JournalSimon Hill HonFRPS President and Chair of Trustees
William Klein HonFRPS (1926-2022)
Pioneering post-war photographer and filmmaker William Klein, awarded the RPS Centenary Medal and an RPS Honorary Fellowship in 1999, died 10 September in Paris at the age of 96.
Born in New York City, Klein came to photography from the world of fine art. He had settled in France after serving overseas during World War II and, following study at the Sorbonne and with Cubist painter Fernand Léger, exhibited his own abstract paintings and kinetic sculptures. Klein took up the camera in 1952 after meeting Vogue art director Alexander Liberman. Liberman once said of the unforgettable black and white images that Klein went on to shoot for Vogue, “In the fashion pictures of the 1950s, nothing like Klein had happened before. He functioned like a Fellini, sensing the glamorous and the grotesque.”
His previous immersion in abstraction naturally led Klein to wide angle and telephoto lenses, and to motion blurring. He wielded the camera like a paintbrush, flicking and shaking it to warp and subvert the conventions of elegant fashion photography.
A boisterous but razorsharp focus on form in his
fashion work was part of a bold visual exclamation mark style parodying post-war American overabundance and excess. Or as Klein himself put it, “In the fashion world, you can never be too absurd.”
Klein’s commitment to exposing the dirt behind the daydream found a different expression in the photobooks that began with Life is Good and Good for You in New York in 1956. This raw, even crude, study of street-level life seemed to lack the
Abdelkader Allam, Egypt
Gillian Duffy, Middlesbrough
Jie Fischer, USA
David Halliburton, Glasgow
Christine Jordan, Crewe Liang Li, China
Margaret Merrin, Clitheroe
David Mosley, Halifax Kirsten Pearce, Coventry
polished irony of his fashion work and was at first met with hostility and confusion. “They just didn’t get it,” Klein later said of his American critics.
Over time, however, the vitality and inventiveness of this early street photography style proved undeniable, and Klein produced similarly complex city studies in Rome, Moscow, Tokyo and Paris, the last in 2002.
Restlessly creative, Klein largely concentrated on film-
making between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s. He directed many short and longform documentaries, including an acclaimed 1974 portrait of Muhammad Ali, and three feature films including the prescient superhero satire Mister Freedom (1968). Filmed in suitably garish hues, Mister Freedom showed that Klein’s visual flair was not confined to the brilliant monochrome photography that made his reputation.
Congratulations to these RPS members
Stephen Gledhill, Evesham
David Nash, Edinburgh
Mark Vella, Deal
Win Tun Naing Salin, Myanmar
Peter Benson, Haverhill
Simon Street, Esher
Simon Street, Esher
OPEN UNIVERSITY COURSES SUPPORTED BY THE RPS
DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY: DISCOVER YOUR GENRE AND DEVELOP YOUR STYLE
Available worldwide for £200
Course starts 4 March 2023
Register by 23 February 2023
OU course code: TG089
New to digital photography or want to improve your skills?
This 10-week online course will boost your ability to create and share digital images of which you can be proud. The course will develop your technical skills as you learn the principles of digital photography and image editing.
DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY: CREATING AND SHARING BETTER IMAGES
Available worldwide for £450
Course starts 27 March 2023
Register by 27 March 2023
OU course code: TZFM201
Take the next steps in your photography journey by exploring different genres and finding your photographic style. This 10-week course will give you the knowledge, skills and techniques to create better photographic narratives.
A DESIGN FOR LIFE
Her work in theatre influenced her portraiture, but Rosalind Maingot also made her mark as a medical photographer, writes Francesca Issatt
Rosalind Maingot was a leading amateur portrait photographer in Britain during the 1930s and 1940s. Born in Australia in 1894 she worked as an actress in musicals and comedies, then as a costume designer. She moved to Britain and married Rodney Maingot, a surgeon, in 1928. Finding life as a housewife dull, she took up photography, training at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London.
Maingot joined the RPS in 1932 and was elected a Fellow in 1940. Highly regarded for her figure studies and costumed portraits, she was praised for her execution of pose, texture and lighting.
Her background as an actress and costume designer shows in her work. Maingot’s costumed tableaux share themes and props that create an aesthetic recognisable as her own. The artists’ model Rae Fuller regularly appears in Maingot’s tableaux, glamour and nude studies, showing great versatility as a model (she is pictured above standing). Alongside portraiture Maingot was also a medical photographer, taking photographs for her husband’s lectures and publications. Mindful of a post-war appreciation of the practical application of medical photography, Maingot tried to elevate its status in the RPS.
‘The poem’, 1943, by Rosalind Maingot
The RPS Collection is at the V&A Photography Centre, London vam.ac.uk
In 1946 she helped found the RPS Medical Group to encourage medical professionals to improve the quality of photography for teaching and research.
Maingot’s varied work all reflects her interest in capturing the human form. Research into her life and photographs has been part of ongoing efforts to study and digitise the RPS Collection.
Rosalind Maingot’s work is available to view on request at the V&A Prints and Drawings Study Room.
Francesca Issatt is a PhD researcher at Birkbeck, University of London and the V&A
In her four decades as a chef, Sue Miles acquired a treasure trove of kitchen objects – pots and pans, colanders, dishes, bowls and jugs.
After Miles died of cancer in 2010, Her daughter, photographer Celine Marchbank, faced the task of sorting through this kitchenalia to figure out what to keep. There were “the dark blue coffee cups she always had her coffee in each morning, the dark green Spanish plates she so loved and was so careful when washing them so as not to break them,” she recalls. “They all had such strong memories.”
In Marcbank’s beautiful and critically acclaimed book Tulip, she documented the end of her mother’s life. Her latest title, A Stranger in my Mother’s Kitchen, is both an exploration of her own grief and a tribute to her mother.
“I was caring for her history and her legacy, and trying to find a way to mark this all in the correct way,” she explains. “I felt a burden to get it right.”
In the end, Marchbank, couldn’t bear to get rid of any of the crockery pictured above. “I kept every one … and cook with them every day. I feel my mother’s presence in my new
kitchen even though she has never been here.”
While she was crowdfunding to publish the project, Marchbank discovered she was pregnant. She gave birth the week she completed the book.
“It’s lovely to become a mother, and even more poignant at the same time as making work about remembering my own mother.”
A Stranger in my Mother’s Kitchen is published by Dewi Lewis at £45. dewilewis.com
Photographing a cherished crockery collection helps Celine Marchbank to keep her mother’s memory alive
‘All my mother’s plates, 2012’ by Celine Marchbank