Eve Arnold – Lessons from Eve!


1963: Eve Arnold on the set of Becket. Photo: Robert Penn

Janine di Giovanni
Eve Arnold: Magnum Legacy

An indomitable woman and a Magnum stalwart, London based American photographer Eve Arnold (1912-2012) was one of the first female Magnum photographers. She started off as a house-wife, turning to photography only in her mid-thirties once her son Frank was born. What Arnold lost in time, she made up in tenacity, and a body of work that makes the Magnum Legacy publication on Arnold an inspiration for all those who feel like they’ve lost out on something.

This publication is filled with many iconic images including her first photographs of the underground Harlem fashion scene. Moving on to her famous images of Marlene Dietrich and later the potato pickers of Long Island, early on you get an insight into why Robert Capa summed up Arnold’s niche as ‘falling between Marlene Deitrich’s legs and the bitter lives of migrant workers.’ She could do both with aplomb! Her images of Marilyn Monroe brought her glamour, but alongside these she worked on political projects with Malcolm X and Joseph McCarthy. In 1970 she made a film for BBC called Behind the Veil that featured never-before-seen footage of the harem of Sheikha Sana, the niece of the ruler of Dubai. After this last project, Arnold accepted that film was not for her. It didn’t allow her to wander off on her own in search of stories to tell.

1979: Horse-training for the militia, Inner Mongolia, China

Arnold managed to maintain the fine balance between doing commercial projects to finance her more journalistic stories. This book goes on to chronicle Arnold’s travels to Cuba, China and Russia with insights into how her projects and publications were planned. She had a trusted team around her and the same names crop up throughout the book, showing that Arnold maintained a lifetime of friendships. She had warmth and pluck, and she was a great entertainer, throwing parties and dinners at her Mount Street apartment. Arnold loved to cook and always took a break for lunch! Not a sandwich at your computer kind of lunch, but one where everyone gets together around a table full of food!

One of the lessons we’ve absorbed from this magnum opus is that no matter how easy it becomes to take a photograph, no matter how much more difficult it becomes to make money out of photography, there is always room for talent! That one image that shows emotion, an action, a gesture…that something that we would not have seen if the photographer hadn’t show it to us.

There is so much you can do especially when your options are limited! Arnold’s first images were taken in dimly lit nightclubs in Harlem, forcing Arnold to push the limits of her ability to develop these images in the darkroom. Arnold later went on to specialise in black and white photography, only using colour when the story really needed it.

1955: Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses by James Joyce

We are deeply impressed by Arnold’s belief that it is the photographer and not the camera that is the instrument; how she negotiated nearly every piece of text that went alongside her images so she had control over the context; how she coached younger Magnum photographers to focus on the big projects, the ones that would last them a lifetime; by her determination, her ability to move her audience with both images and words; her tenacity and desire to make more stories and books than her long life allowed her to.

This one goes on the shelf for inspiration and lessons to learn.

United Visual Artists: Momentum


The sound of eerie.
a slice of light cutting through the fog,
then black again.

The shadow of the person standing somewhere in front of you,
the hollow shuffle of the group behind,
then lost again to the black that fills the Curve.

Welcome to Momentum, one of the latest works by the acclaimed United Visual Artists at the Barbican’s The Curve gallery. Combining light, sound and the movement of the visitors, this is a work like we’ve never experienced before. Being thrust into a darkness that alternates between pitch black and smoky shadows, depending on where you stand, is not something we’re used to. And the smoke is not exactly smoke we think, just the way the light feels….
Where’s Health & Safety when you need it?

Rest assured the maximum damage this work can cause you is knocking into the wall. Or bumping into the person in front/behind you.
But we guarantee that if you do take the first step into the darkened abyss that Momentum has transformed the Curve into, you won’t come away disappointed. And with many images in your head that no camera can capture, or no two people can witness.


United Visual Artists is a collective of London based ‘visual orators’ as they call themselves. With over ten years of work behind them including an intervention at Sou Fujimoto’s summer pavilion at London’s Serpentine Gallery in 2013, Volume at the Victoria & Albert Museum garden in 2006, and numerous projects for the band Massive Attack alongside re-designing the main stage for Coachella in 2011, we’re always in awe of their projects and the way they make us feel and see ourselves in space.

United Visual Artists: Momentum
Up to 1 June 2014


David Bailey: In the Pursuit of Beauty


David Bailey’s Stardust at the National Portrait Gallery gives visitors the perfect opportunity to immerse themselves in what Bailey does best – take fantastic images of the beautiful and the famous, but without letting the glamour overwhelm you.

‘The pictures I take are simple and direct and about the person I’m photographing and not about me. I spend more time talking to the person than I do taking pictures.’

Most of the images are black and white, and though the display does highlight Bailey’s other images taken in India, Sudan, Australia, and London’s East End, the main focus is on his celebrity images. And it doesn’t take much to figure out why it is with these images that the maverick photographer has built up his reputation and his fan base.

Meryl Streep, 1980


Noel Gallagher, 2008


Damon Albarn, 2007


Ralph Fiennes


Marianne Faithful, 1964


Marianne Faithful, 1999


Jerry Hall and Helmut Newton, 1983


Mia Farrow, 1967


Jack Nicholson


Francis Bacon, 1983


Man Ray, 1968


Salvador Dalí and David Bailey 1972
Salvador Dalí and David Bailey, 1972


Jacques-Henri Lartigue, 1982


Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie, 1982


Catherine Bailey


Bailey’s Stardust
National Portrait Gallery
Till 1 June 2014

Portrait Heaven


Yesterday we took the time out of our hectic weekending to catch the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, and we got just what we wanted – a few great images, a few great moments captured by the lens, and quite a few interesting photographers to research.

Here’s a special selection of the ones that stuck with us, among those that capture the different sides to femininity. The exhibition is worth a visit especially for the context it offers each photograph. Without this, an image could be many things to most.

Maria and Corrine, From the series After Sargent, Lydia Panas, July 2012 (Image Source: http://www.fototazo.com/)

The portrait is of Maria and Corinne, part of a series inspired by the work of John Singer Sargent. The twins’ mother is a friend of the photographer. Panas says: ‘When she told me she had twins, I was excited to take a portrait of them. It was curious how little they looked like one another, but still very compelling.’

Sisters, Tereza Červeňová, April 2013 (Image Source: http://www.terezacervenova.com/)

The portrait is of three sisters at a swimming pool in the photographer’s native Bratislava. Červeňová was working on a series that recalled the atmosphere and mood of her memories of growing up in Slovakia. On returning to the swimming pool she would visit as a child, she was struck by the chance encounter with the girls standing by the locker she had habitually used in her youth; with their mother’s permission she made this portrait.

Taylor Wessing Prize 2013: Holy Mother by Erik Almas, 2012
Holy Mother by Erik Almas, February 2012 (Image Source: http://www.theguardian.com/)

The portrait is of Sarah, a model working with Almås on a fashion image with visual references to the Holy Mother. Almås says: ‘It came at a time when my photographic curiosity changed from just observing to truly connecting with my subject.’

Taylor Wessing Prize 2013: Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait  Prize 2013
The Twins by Dorothee Deiss, March 2013 (Image Source: http://www.theguardian.com/)

The portrait is of identical twins Esther and Ruth. The photographer saw the women at a socialgathering and contacted them to ask if they would allow her to take their portrait. They posed together at Esther’s house and were surprised to be asked to wear bathrobes and lie on the bed. Deiss says: ‘I wanted to depict their relationship in all its honesty, tenderness and strength’.

Taylor Wessing Prize 2013: Katie Walsh by Spencer Murphy
And the Prize winner is: Katie Walsh, Spencer Murphy, March 2013 (Image Source: http://www.theguardian.com/)

The portrait of Irish jump jockey Katie Walsh was commissioned by Channel 4 to promote TV coverage of the 2013 Grand National. Murphy photographed several jockeys in their mudspattered silks on a race day at Kempton Park. Walsh was the only woman included. She is the Grand National’s highest placed female jockey, achieving third place on Seabass in 2012.

Elza and Nellie, From the series Family Matters, Hana Knizova, June 2013 (Image Source: http://hana-knizova.tumblr.com/)

The portrait is of identical twins Nellie and Elza and is from a series that explores physical resemblance. Knizova says she was fascinated by ‘the twins’ similarities, differences, and their mutual close attachment.’ The young women have recently moved to London, hoping to further their media careers after being seen in the television series New Zealand’s Next Top Model.

Three Colours Red, Tom Stewart, May 2013 (Image Source: http://www.pinterest.com/)

The portrait is of Katie and Jojo, two of the photographer’s friends from university. They are posed with Stewart’s Maine Coon cat, Tex. Stewart originally intended to make a moving image piece, but found a photographic portrait communicated the idea more clearly.

Patrick Fraser Taylor Wessing Prize
Carla Korbes, Patrick Fraser, March 2013 (Image Source: http://www.friendandjohnson.com/)

The portrait is of Carla, a friend of the photographer who is a Principal Ballerina for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company. Fraser says: ‘I wanted a raw, natural setting. The portrait was made in the early morning by the coast, west of Seattle, when the mist was still hanging in the air.’

Sofia, From the series Vivi. Women with a present life, Néstor Díaz, April 2013 (Image Source: http://www.codigovisualweb.com.ar/)

This portrait of Sofia is part of a series that the photographer has dedicated to his late wife, Vivíana, and all women affected by breast cancer. Díaz says of this portrait: ‘Sofía looks us in the eye and tells us who she is and how she lives today: accepting her new reality, valuing a different kind of beauty, more authentic and more profound.’

Three Generations, From the series Family Extension, Sipke Visser, April 2013 (Image Source: http://www.artphotoindex.com/)

The portrait is of Visser’s newly born daughter, his girlfriend and her mother. He says of the portrait: ‘My daughter was born at 3am. The photograph was taken towards the end of the morning when everyone involved was exhausted and had fallen asleep.’

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize
National Portrait Gallery
Till 9 Feb 2014

Ayşe Erkmen’s The Space Inbetween

Most of us who frequent art exhibitions and museums have a certain pace at which we walk from one work to the next.
Faster or slower than that and it doesn’t feel right.
Now imagine walking through a space and having to wait for Work A to move out of the way before you get a glimpse of Work B.
It could either be one of those ‘how long is this going to take?’ experiences. Or it could be magical.

For all those of you who venture to see Ayşe Erkmen: Intervals at Barbican’s The Curve gallery, we hope you feel the latter.

Members of the public admire an installation artwork by Ayse Erkmen entitled 'Intervals' in The Curve art space in the Barbican Centre on September 23, 2013 in London, England. The work consists of 11 large theatrical backdrops which periodically move up and down on an automated system, partitioning the 90 metre long space.

Ayşe Erkmen is an artist who investigates the history and the politics of the locations her work is sited at. This is interesting in the context of The Curve –  a space that wraps around the back of the Barbican’s Hall while sitting above its backstage area. Playing on the idea of ‘behind the scenes’, Erkmen has created eleven scenic backdrops that are placed in quick succession across the narrow semicircle gallery. By raising and lowering these backdrops on an automated fly system, she creates a scenic walkthrough for vistors, often making them pause between backdrops as they wait for the one one ahead to rise up.

Members of the public admire an installation artwork by Ayse Erkmen entitled 'Intervals' in The Curve art space in the Barbican Centre on September 23, 2013 in London, England. The work consists of 11 large theatrical backdrops which periodically move up and down on an automated system, partitioning the 90 metre long space.

That the verso of each backdrop is matched by the front of the one ahead is poignant; almost making the visitor feel like they’ve been sandwiched between two works. Not being able to move around them is also key to the experience; you have no choice but to wait.

Members of the public admire an installation artwork by Ayse Erkmen entitled 'Intervals' in The Curve art space in the Barbican Centre on September 23, 2013 in London, England. The work consists of 11 large theatrical backdrops which periodically move up and down on an automated system, partitioning the 90 metre long space.

A powerful work that doesn’t succumb to our need for instant gratification, Intervals also covers different styles and traditions of theatre design across the carefully selected backdrops.


Ayşe Erkmen: Intervals
Up to 5 January 2014

Images borrowed with thanks (c) http://www.zimbio.com

On a Good Day


Al Vandenberg has this great series called ‘On a Good Day’ that captures Londoners doing what they do best – projecting a street-style that’s gritty and urban, yet possessing a warmth that is quintessentially British.

Vandenberg captured these images on what he called a ‘good’ day – a day both he and his subjects felt their happiest best. Though this comes across in most of his images, what would a series of street photographs be without a few token scowls.

London, 1970’s


London, 1970’s


London, 1970’s

London, 1970’s


London, 1970’s


London, 1970’s


Kings Road, London, 1975

London, 1970’s


Kentish Town, London, 1974


London, 1970’s


London, 1975

All images borrowed with thanks (c) http://www.vam.ac.uk

Friday Inspired: London’s Iconic Murals


This week’s Friday Inspired has Ruth Miller, mural expert and founder of The London Mural Preservation Society, give us insight into why she finds murals inspiring, and how she has grown up alongside some of Brixton’s most important murals.

‘With a father interested in local history, art and architecture, as a child, I was always encouraged to look around me and observe all the interesting sights and sounds of the places we were visiting. My everyday space was Brixton of the 1980s – an area full of character; the grand architecture of a Victorian Suburb contrasted against the new build housing estates, the hustle bustle of the busy market and the communities of West Indians, squatters, and the Irish, all adding something to the recipe that created the neighbourhood.

During this time, murals started to appear, often visible to me on my regular route to school or visits to Brixton market. There were two that I really liked. One is a portrait of local people at the local adventure playground. To little me, then about 10 or 11, I was so impressed by the fact the artist had created portraits that actually looked like the individuals. And I felt privileged to know people who someone thought were important enough to be painted on the public wall. This feeling of ownership to the piece was delightful and now when I see it, it triggers so many memories of playing at the adventure playground.

Slade Gardens Adventure Playground Mural, Lorn Road, Stockwell, London


The other mural which I noticed was Brixton’s Nuclear Dawn – a painting of a skeletal man dropping bombs on London whilst the Government hides in a bunker under Parliament. As a little child, the political message of the piece was lost on me, however there was a very real threat of the bomb being dropped on us while we slept; my siblings and I constantly talked to my mum about this. And the mural was (and is) a constant reminder of that fear.

Nuclear Dawn, Carlton Mansions, 387 Coldhabour Lane, Brixton, London


But asides from the moments of nostalgia with these paintings, they also taught me things about art, showing me strong compositions, use of colour and good technical skills. I’m sure too many of my own art works featured skeletons or a figure striding across an urban landscape such was the subliminal impact of this mural. Today I run the London Mural Preservation Society in the hope that we can collect and save the stories of these pieces and repair some of these murals so they can inspire future generations.’

Walking Tour of Brixton’s murals organised by the London Mural Preservation Society 


Children at Play mural, Brixton Academy, Stockwell Park Walk, London


The London Mural Preservation Society run walking tours of London’s murals in spring and summer. Keep an eye out on the website for future announcements.

Ruth’s sister Hannah Lee Miller has also made an animation featuring the Nuclear Dawn mural, which echos what Ruth says about murals becoming a part your everyday if you grew up in London in the 80s.


Thanks Ruth, for sharing your inspiration behind the London Mural Preservation Society with us.

To join or learn more about the Society, visit the website, blogFacebook, Twitter, Flickr or send Ruth an email.

All images courtesy The London Mural Preservation Society.

Elmgreen and Dragset’s Uninvited Guests


Tomorrow, the Elmgreen & Dragset exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is probably one of our favourite exhibitions of this year. Quite big praise you might say, but not only did this show make us more aware of how conditioned we are as art audiences, but it also highlighted the fact that we can’t help but whisper and tiptoe, and revere art spaces even when obviously encouraged to do just the opposite.

Taking over five rooms of the V&A in what were formerly the Textile Galleries, Elmgreen and Dragset have converted this space into the fictional rooms of an apartment that belong to a retired and disgruntled architect Norman. The rooms include a parlour, living room, study, kitchen, bedroom and a passageway with doors in the wall that emit sounds of a running shower. The atmosphere is surreal especially when you see the gallery staff walking around in livery – almost like a modern day version of Downton Abbey. Do you talk to them or do you walk away? Are they going to stop you if you touch something?

As you walk through the doors, you are also welcome to pick up a little book that accompanies the exhibition and contains a script set within these very rooms. All this making Tomorrow slightly surreal as you wonder whether you’ve walked into an exhibition, a theatre set, or the ‘real’ apartment of someone lucky enough to reside at the V&A. All this adding up to the big question – are we the intruders here or the deliberate audience?

This exhibition comes with no instructions on the tin, no introductory wall text, no helpful gallery assistants to explain – they all seem to verge on characters in a play, making them quite daunting to approach. But they do stop you when you try to take pictures; and a smirk is the most likely answer you will get to a ‘can I sit on the chairs?’ It gets stranger still when you start to look at other visitors and try to figure out whether they are ‘genuine’ visitors like you, or whether they come with the display.

Most of Elmgreen and Dragset’s work focuses on how art is presented and experienced, and also on how different kinds of architecture and the objects within it can affect our behaviour. And in this case the objects featured in this apartment come from everywhere – a combination of objects from V&A Collections, artworks and objects from the artists’ collections, and thrift shop purchases – all presented in a completely non-hierarchical and matter-of-fact way.

But more than each individual object, Tomorrow is the sum total of the atmosphere they collectively create. And the fact that there are a multitude of references to former Elmgreen & Dragset works throughout the display, shows these artists doing what they do best – subverting meaning by reusing old material in different contexts.


As Michael Elmgreen says, ‘If you really respect your audience, you have to consider them as complex as yourself. And they will be very diverse. They will come from many different backgrounds.’ Which is very true in this case – every visitor to this exhibition will have a different understanding of Elmgreen & Dragset’s work, a different expectation of what they are going to see, and a different level of sensitivity to art. That they will all leave with an uncanny feeling, is what these artists have aimed for, and have successfully delivered.

Tomorrow – Elmgreen & Dragset at the V&A
Victoria & Albert Museum
Till 2 January 2014

More images and a recommended read.

Images borrowed with thanks (c) Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London and V&A.

Foreign Bodies, Common Ground


It’s not very easy to make artistic interpretations of medical research, and present them in a way that captures both the data sets and the mindsets of the community the research sustains. But then when do we ever want easy?

The Wellcome Collection’s current exhibition Foreign Bodies, Common Ground presents the output of six artists who did residences at research centres in Thailand, Vietnam, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and United Kingdom. The brief given to them was simple enough – explore the research being done at the centre, find an area that interests you, and make art out of it.

The responses are varied as are the works. Some focus on the science alone, while in other cases the local communities are encouraged to tell their side of the story. But either which way you realise that wherever you might be in the world – good health, strong community ties, and the opportunity and ability to earn one’s living – are common ground for every human being.

Here are some of the works that made us flip out our little black books to take notes –

Zwelethu Mthethwa (South Africa) worked with the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies to explore their HIV research data collection techniques. Here are some of the images he’s showing, taken by young locals who were asked to capture an image of good health. The young boy all dressed up for church holding a condom in his hand , says it all.

Nothando Sabela, Yoga with NO face, 2012
Nothando Sabela, Vinyasa Flow 2, 2012


Sebenzile Nkwanyana, Save Me, 2012
Sebenzile Nkwanyana, Save Me, 2012


Siboniso Bhekumusa Sibiya, The Fountain, 2012
Siboniso Bhekumusa Sibiya, The Fountain, 2012


Sanele Mbokazi, Splash, 2012
Sanele Mbokazi, Splash, 2012


Lêna Bùi (Vietnam) examined zoonosis or the transfer of diseases from animals to humans. Her stunning video Where birds dance their last, follows the locals of the Trieu Khuc village who earn their living collecting chicken and duck feathers. This community was badly affected economically during the avian flu outbreak in 2008, though none of them contracted the flu themselves.

Lena Bui, Where birds dance their last, 2012
Lena Bui, Where birds dance their last, 2012


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And among the works on display by Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki (Kenya) are two stunning images that represent the thin layer that separates the medical professional from the disease and the human being they are administering. Simple yet highly evocative images!

Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki, Conjure Paths, 2012
Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki, Conjure Paths, 2012


Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki, Conjure Skies, 2012
Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki, Conjure Skies, 2012



Foreign Bodies, Common Ground
Wellcome Collection
Till 30 June 2013

Dayanita Singh’s Museums

Dayanita Singh is one photographer we keep revisiting for her poignant black and white photographs. Her current exhibition Go Away Closer at the Hayward Gallery gives us the opportunity to dwell and wander amidst her work to our heart’s desire. And wander we did, quite literally too, among the Museums she has created as part of this exhibition.

Expertly sequenced and edited, these Museums have varied titles – Museum of Furniture, Museum of Machines, Museum of Chance, File Museum and so on – and they comprise of physical free-standing structures that double up as bookshelves. Singh’s images are slotted into these structures and can be moved around at whim to create new sequences.

Image Source: http://www.galleriesnow.net/

While Singh doesn’t like to call herself a photographer and sees photography as a language, her prefers investigating different ways of presenting and circulating her images. While she has resorted until now to using books for this purpose, she has recently started working with these Museum structures which she hopes to display and tour as a set.

We were really inspired by her Museum of Furniture and Museum of Machines, though sadly as gallery assistants were patrolling the space, we could only escape with an image of the former.

2013-11-03 15.27.56
Museum of Furniture

Since Singh doesn’t caption most of her works, these sequences and Museum titles are very welcome, and are the highlight of an exhibition that would otherwise seem quite non-directional to someone not familiar with her work.

‘What does the where and when of a photograph do, other than satisfy your curiosity?’ she asks in the exhibition guide. Well it does a lot to add context, but we don’t mind when you help us along the way no matter how broadly.

We strongly recommend going to see this show which is vastly different from the Ana Mendieta exhibition that Hayward Gallery currently has on view on the lower floors. You might like one more than the other but we’ll let you decide which.

But before we go, we have to leave you with this Dayanita Singh image that we can’t get out of our heads. Part of Singh’s Museum of Embraces we’re transfixed by this unknown beauty’s gaze.

Image Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/


Dayanita Singh – Go Away Closer
Hayward Gallery
Till 15 December 2013