Bloody Sunday 1972: the photograph seared into the memory

Bloody Sunday 1972: the photograph seared into the memory

Some photographs stay with you permanently, haunting your memory long after the pages of the newspaper in which you saw them have crumbled into dust. Images from the American civil rights movement, Kennedy’s assassination, the little girl burned by napalm running down a road in Vietnam, the lone protester in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the woman screaming as she kneels over the body of a fellow-student shot dead during an anti-war protest at Kent Sate University in 1970…

Each of these images has come to represent more than the fleeting instant they captured: each now stands for the historical moment from which it emerged. And so it is with the iconic image of Edward Daly, the terrified priest waving a bloodied white handkerchief, calmly leading a group of men carry a dying teenager to safety under British paratrooper gunfire, in Derry on 30 January 1972, the day which came to be known as Bloody Sunday, on which 13 unarmed civil rights demonstrators were shot dead.

When I heard of Daly’s death yesterday I didn’t have to look up the image on the web: it was there, imprinted in my mind’s eye.  Continue reading “Bloody Sunday 1972: the photograph seared into the memory”

Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos

Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos

A warning from the United Nations special representative for international migration and two photo essays by photographers covering the refugee crisis on Lesbos alert to the scale and tragic nature of a disaster unprecedented in its size and scope. Continue reading “Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos”

Bright Phoenix: celebrating the city’s wild, anarchic spirit

Bright Phoenix: celebrating the city’s wild, anarchic spirit

Rhodri Meillir as Spike

Rhodri Meillir as Spike in Bright Pheonix

‘Why is it only ever one shoe?’

At the end of the week in which the new Everyman building won the Stirling Prize for new architecture my daughter treated me to a meal at The Quarter and a ticket to see Jeff Young’s ‘love letter to Liverpool’, Bright Pheonix at the Everyman.

Young’s play opens with Spike, a one-eyed, shambling drunk haranguing a sharply-suited woman – a member of Liverpool’s new networked elite, no doubt – who is promoting a vision of business redevelopment for the shabby scene of dereliction that greets visitors to the city when they emerge from Lime Street station.  Soon we are inside the building that symbolizes Lime Street’s decay, the derelict Futurist, Liverpool’s first purpose-built cinema, now a mouldering shell in which the only thing that thrives is buddleia.

Encamped in the derelict cinema, kind of Occupy style, are a motley group who were childhood friends in the 1980s, and the play alternates its narrative between the present day and the 1980s in order to develop Young’s theme of a regenerated Liverpool turning its back on the magic and mythic city of the past. Lucas (played by Paul Duckworth returns twenty years after leaving Liverpool and meets up with the survivors of the gang of kids who scrabbled and fantasised in the dirt and decay of 1980s Liverpool.  Like Lucas, writer Jeff Young has spent his adult life leaving and returning to Liverpool, most recently coming back for Capital of Culture year, since when he’s stayed.

For the 8-year-olds playing games of make believe by the Leeds-Liverpool canal there are dreams of travel to distant places, re-enactments of scenes from war films seen after bunking into the cinema, home-made planes and fishing for rubbish in the canal (‘Why is it only ever one shoe?’), kisses and fags. They dream of flying, like the wartime bomber pilots, or the old Standard firework that gives the play its title. One member of the gang in particular is flying-mad – Alan (calls himself ‘Icarus’, played by Carl Au with Meccano wings strapped to his back.  He’ll come to a tragic end. The other members of the group, who call themselves The Awkward Bastards, are Alan’s sister, Lizzie, with whom Lucas falls in love, Stephen (Mark Rice Oxley) who at eight years is already uncertain about his gender identity, and Spike, an imaginative and impulsive boy whose (literal) entanglement with Lucas has terrible consequences. Rhodri Meillir’s terrific, lurching performance as Spike overshadows everything else in the play, making the sensitive but illiterate child, and the damaged alcoholic he becomes, a compelling, sympathetic figure around whom all the other characters revolve.

Carl Au as Alan 'Icarus' Flynn in Bright Phoenix

Carl Au as Alan ‘Icarus’ Flynn in Bright Phoenix

Twenty years later, Lucas, the only member of the gang to leave the city, returns, and is far from being welcomed by the others.  Gradually we learn of the impact that Lucas has had on the lives of the others, including a series of tragic accidents that tore the group apart. The survivors of the eighties fetch up in the derelict Futurist, where Lizzie (Penny Layden) is camped out, attempting to bring the cinema back to life and revive the wild, rebel spirit of their childhood days. ‘Do you live in magical places?’  she asks, a question that goes to the core of Jeff Young’s vision in this play. Bright Phoenix has been described as Jeff Young’s love letter to his Liverpool, populated by the kind of people with whom he feels an emotional kinship, and set in a place for which he holds a genuine affection.In a recent interview, Young said:

My favourite people are people who live on the margins, in the shadows that might get overlooked, as you said, misfits, who are kind of forgotten. The play is about all these kinds of people. There are homeless characters in it, people who are rejected by the educational system. The characters of the play, when they were children, were really wild and rebellious. When we meet them as adults; we meet them three times: as kids, teenagers and grown-ups. When they are grown-ups, they’re still as wild and rebellious as when they were kids. They still don’t fit in, they still don’t belong. There’s a sense about it that they don’t want to. They deliberately live outside the system. It’s a celebration of that spirit, a celebration of that wild, anarchic spirit. They are non-conformist, they’re anti-establishment, and quite happy to cause trouble!

In the present-day scenes the old Futurist gradually comes to be populated by a motley crew of anarchic rebels. There’s Spike, learning to read and write, spray-painting poetry on the walls; Stephen (Mark Rice Oxley) is a cross-dressing torch singer who observes of regenerated Liverpool: ‘We’ve got cafes. Cafes with chairs outside. You don’t get that in Paris’; and wandering in and out is Cathy Tyson in an understated role as a bag lady, Elsie, who remembers when she was beautiful.  She has one great song in the production.

These scenes depend critically on staging that convinces the audience that, amidst the dereliction,  there is magic in the air, but it has to be said that few of the sequences really take flight. It ought to work, as Ovid ‘s poetry is graffitied on the walls, as gorgeously-dressed Stephen sings swooning torch songs from the balcony, and  Lizzie’s Free Radio broadcasts rebellion across Liverpool ‘s airwaves.

But it never really comes together.  The production feels sluggish, stuttering from one scene to the next and between the past and the present.  The occupied Futurist seems under-occupied on stage: too few people, too many halting pauses between scenes. The music is good: compositions by Martin Heslop are played with panache by flautist and singer Laura J Martin and multi-instrumentalist Vidar Norheim (who was, the Everyman notes, voted Norway’s most promising songwriter in 2011).

Jeff Young in the bistro at the Everyman (Liverpool Echo)

Jeff Young

In the aforementioned interview, Jeff Young claimed that Bright Pheonix was a metaphor:

It’s a metaphor for believing in certain values and those values are cultural and about community and that collective spirit. That kind of place is about bringing people together and the importance of the crowd, instead of living in isolation. What makes places like that really powerful is not just the films that are being shown on the screen. It’s the fact that there are 50 or 100 people collectively gathered in there and that matters. The energy of the people together in that room.

The trouble with this production was that the energy and collective spirit to which Young refers just didn’t come across.  When the police move in to close down the occupation, you don’t feel any sense of loss. Young has said (in a recent post on Seven Streets) that he wants people to look afresh at their city, and to re-connect with places that form part of his Liverpool mythology: ‘I want people to explore those places and spaces again. To consider what public space is – what is it and how should it be used.’

Dave Sinclair, Bibby's shortly before closure

Dave Sinclair, Bibby’s shortly before closure

There’s certainly a debate to be had about the way the city has changed in the last decade or so – whether it is for the better, how much has really changed, and whether some things have been lost.  But, in my view, Bright Phoenix did not contribute very much to that debate. That Liverpool has changed since the 1980s is indisputable.  Coincidentally, in News From Nowhere this week I came across a book of brilliant photographs of the city in that decade taken by Dave Sinclair, who was working as the official photographer for the Militant newspaper in the city at the time. His book, Liverpool in the 1980s, contains memory-jolting images of the people, streets, derelict factories, docks and protests that gave Liverpool a very different image nationally in those days.

Dave Sinclair, Tate & Lyles, 1980s

Dave Sinclair, Tate & Lyles, 1980s

In a preface, Sinclair tells how, after leaving Alsop Comprehensive in 1976 half-way through his A-levels, he webnt to work at Kwiksave on County Road, stacking shelves.  After three years he went to art college where he learned to draw, but most importantly became interested in photography, initially as a form of note-taking for his drawings. He found inspitation, too, in books:

Liverpool Central Library had a fantastic collection of photography books, and I’d spend many hours after college poring over photographs.  Cartier Bresson was there, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, William Klein, Eugene Smith and many Europeans, too, including Don McCullin.  Loads of brilliant books taking up some serious shelf space.

I wish those who now advocate library closures could read that.  Sinclair became especially interested in Liverpool’s urban landscape while studying.  In 1983, he went to Newport in South Wales to study photography and by the beginning of the Miners’ Strike in March 1984 he was spending a lot of time in the Welsh Valleys ‘which was going through something very similar to Liverpool economically, albeit with more hills and space’.  Although his photographs of striking miners were being published in socialist newspapers, the college lecturers didn’t regard them as art.  So he left, and was soon working for the Militant newspaper, travelling the country documenting struggles and strikes.  But he was ciontinually drawn back to his home town where Militant councillors had taken over the leadership of the Labour council, and were coming into conflict not only with Margaret Thatcher’s government, but also with the Labour party leadership for refusing to set a budget. The book contains 160 superb photos taken during the hours that Sinclair spent walking around Liverpool, exploring the landscape of dereliction, but gaining increasing confidence in capturing people.

Dave Sinclair, Chucking rock in Leeds Liverpool Canal '82

Dave Sinclair, Chucking rock in Leeds Liverpool Canal ’82

In the days before different attitudes toward photographing children in the street, many of the photographs feature children like the young gang in Bright Phoenix – the one above could almost be a scene from the play.

Dave Sinclair went on  to work as the official photographer for Tower Hamlets council in London.  When he went part-time in 2007 he had the opportunity to catalogue his archive, which he placed on the photo-sharing site, Flickr. The photos in the book have been selected from his Flickr photostream.

Dave Sinclair, Everton drunks, 1980s

Dave Sinclair, Everton drunks, 1980s

Liverpool has changed – our walk from my favourite restaurant to the Everyman reflected this fact in microcosm: the bustling restaurants (with chairs outside!), LiPa, the street art, the Philharmonic Hall renovation, the huge student apartment block going up on the corner of Hardman Street, and the new Everyman itself.  There’s a debate, of course, about how much this is for the better – there may be plenty of new jobs in the city centre in those restaurants, cafes and hotels that cater for the tourists who now flock to the city and the thousands who pour forth from the cruise liners that dock here weekly.  Down river dredging works have started for the Liverpool2 superport which will allow access for post-Panamax size container ships, reversing Liverpool’s long decline as a port.

Surprisingly, much of Liverpool’s renaissance – symbolized by Capital of Culture year – has held up, despite the banking crash that started that same year.  The rub is that in this new economy, many of the jobs in services and tourism are low-paid, part-time or on zero-hours contracts. But what is mostly taking the shine off the city’s renaissance is the government’s policy of austerity and public spending cuts.

Meanwhile – does anyone want to buy an iconic but derelict cinema on Liverpool’s most mythical street?

The Futurist in 1954The Futurist interior

The Futurist in 1954

The Futurist interior todayThe Futurist today

Inside the Futurist today

The Futurist opened on 16th September 1912 as the Lime Street Picture House, an upmarket city centre cinema. Until its closure in 1982, the Futurist was considered to be one of the most luxurious cinemas on the circuit, originally housing a full orchestra to accompany silent films and a prestigious first floor café, with a foyer lined with Sicilian marble. It was the first in the city to show wide screen Cinemascope films. With a Georgian-style façade and a French Renaissance interior, the auditorium was designed to have the effect of a live theatre with rich architectural detailing and plaster mouldings. Now the interior is probably unsalvageable. Whether the façade can be preserved, and Lime Street rejuvenated is another matter. Perhaps we need some artistic and determined young people to occupy it?

And does a building hold the memories of those who have spent time within its walls? Maybe so.  I certainly have memories of seeing films at the Futurist in the seventies.  But I have even stronger memories of times spent inside another of Liverpool’s iconic buildings, also now derelict, in the 1980s – a building I revisited last week.  More in the next post.

Alex Cox gets into the Futurist

See also

Along the Cast Iron Shore

Along the Cast Iron Shore
Mother and Child, Moreton Shore by Ken Grant from series ‘No Pain Whatsoever’

Is there more than one Cast Iron Shore?  The question arises after reading a feature in today’s Guardian – Ken Grant’s best photograph: a child on the Merseyside coast – in which the Grant talks about photographs taken as he walked between his home in New Brighton to ‘a place known as the Cast Iron Shore, because there was an iron foundry there’.

The place that Grant remembers as the Cast Iron Shore is the stretch of the Mersey shore between Leasowe and Meols (which I have described here).  But I think he must have mis-remembered: I can find no reference in Wirral histories to the term being used for this location, or of there being an iron foundry.  If the place deserves any name, it would be the Concrete Shore since the shoreline is firmly encased in a concrete embankment, first constructed by the Corporation of Liverpool in 1829.  It was needed as much of the ground on the landward side is below sea level and would be submerged by high spring tides.  The original embankment has been extended and strengthened several times since 1829.

Despite the concrete, this can be an exhilarating place to walk, with fantastic estuary views and dazzling displays of aerobatics by flocks of seabirds rising from the sandbanks offshore.  I photographed it in pretty dismal conditions last December.

Leasowe embankment
Leasowe embankment on a wet December day

Ken Grant’s photos were taken in the 1980s and 1990s and document, as Brian Viner expresses it in an appreciation in the Independent, ‘the humdrum realities of everyday working-class – or more accurately, unemployed – existence’. Grant was born in Liverpool and raised on the Wirral. Viner explains:

He worked as a labourer after leaving school, and knew intimately the world he was capturing, which perhaps explains why he did it so brilliantly, with such empathy. As he says now, there were plenty of pictures of vessels being grandly launched from the Cammell Laird shipyard, but his instinct was to chronicle the workers on their tea breaks, or clocking off. ‘I like photographing people’s circumstances,’ he says. ‘Not the celebratory stuff, but the quieter times.’ It is the instinct of the social documentarian, and Grant deserves to rank alongside the better-known Martin Parr as one of the best.

Ken Grant: Family on the Merseyside coast

This is the picture featured in The Guardian, taken in the summer of 1996.  It’s one from a brilliant series, ‘No pain whatsoever’ which can be seen here on Ken Grant’s website.  Grant explains:

I’ve photographed in and around Liverpool since I was a teenager, rarely moving more than a few miles from the Mersey. I tend to go back over familiar ground and photograph the same places repeatedly. Sometimes, I walk all day and find very little; other days, everything falls at your feet. It’s rarely straightforward, but then good photographs don’t come easily.

The family in this picture are out for the day, using a breakwater to shelter from the wind: even in the summer, it can blow in from the Irish Sea with some force. Away from the city, the winds keep the coast a little cooler, and I’d go there to photograph those people – like me – who were drawn to the sea for a few hours’ respite.

Grant, who now teaches in South Wales, has published a collection of his Merseyside photos in The Close Season, which features text by writer James Kelman.

Dingle Point c1890
Dingle Point photographed c1890

In Liverpool, the Cast Iron Shore (more commonly ‘The Cazzy’) is known as the stretch of the Mersey shore from the Dingle to Otterspool in south Liverpool.  It gained its name from an iron foundry – the Mersey Foundry – that operated throughout the 19th century on a vast site near Grafton Street in the Dingle. The shoreline was stained red from the ferric oxide left in the sand.  There’s a church at St. Michael’s constructed from iron forged at the Mersey Foundry.

St Michaels
St Michaels church

The Cast-Iron Shore is referenced in John Lennon’s lyric for the Beatles’ Glass Onion and recalled in ‘Norra Lorra Otters’, by local poet Justine Tennant:

I’ve never seen a otter
Down at Otterspool
I’ve rode me bike
An flown me kite
An even bunked off school
Burrive never seen a otter
On the banks of Liverpool
I’ve never seen a otter
Down on the Cast Iron Shore
Me ma’s seen one around der
but long before the war
No, I’ve never seen a otter
Cos, ders none der any more!

Cast Iron shore
The Cast Iron shore today

Pre-war when I was a kid, The cazzy was a great day out.There were steps going down to the shore, at the end of the steps was sewer outlet (not very nice). To the left of the steps was a high sandstone wall about 100 metres long. At the centre of the wall there were two old large gates set into the wall; my theory is they would be a place to store fish during the 18th and 19th century as there were no freezers back then in the old days. The wall ran on towards Otterspool; at the end of the wall the beach widened to Jericho Lane, where there were the old fisherman’s cottages. Before the war, at the back of the cazzy, was a nine-hole golf course, in which they sunk large holes to allow large oil tanks to be place at ground level. This was to camouflage the tanks during hostilities. “O happy days they were”.
– Jack Stamper on Liverpool History Society forum

A local group has uploaded this video, inspired, they say, by a song about another Cast Iron Shore in Vancouver.  The video is shot a bit further up-river, at Cressington Park.

See also

McCullin: a conscience with a camera

McCullin: a conscience with a camera

He has been called by his former editor Harold Evans, ‘a conscience with a camera’ and by Henri Cartier-Bresson as ‘Goya with a camera’.  Certainly, that is how photographer Don McCullin –  whose haunting images in the 1960s and 70s helped define my generation’s perception of modern war – comes across in the stunning documentary McCullin that I have just seen. Continue reading “McCullin: a conscience with a camera”

A Long Exposure: 100 years of Guardian photography

At the Lowry today I explored the exhibition of Guardian photojournalism – A Long Exposure.  The exhibition, curated by Denis Thorpe, includes striking work taken since the paper appointed its first staff photographer, Walter Doughty, in 1908.

This is the exhibition review by Natalie Bradbury on Liverpoolconfidential:

Photography, especially when it’s presented in the bold contrast of black and white, offers heightened snapshots of what’s around us. It often points out something that’s obvious, but we might have missed the significance of somehow.

A retrospective of Guardian photography celebrates the newspaper’s staff photographers, who were based at the Guardian’s Manchester office. It starts with the Guardian’s first staff photographer, Walter Doughty, who was appointed in 1908 and continues through the six staff photographers who came after him, ending with Neil Libbert. A historical aspect is given to the collection, which spans the twentieth century, by the inclusion of vintage photography equipment such as the Muirhead Wire Machine, which enabled photographs to be sent by fax.

Walter Doughty’s photographs are strewn with the rubble of the early twentieth century, from memories of the First World War to the paranoia felt at start of the second, which is encapsulated in a shot of Manchester road signs taken down to confuse the enemy. Doughty’s photos encompass major events of the twentieth century including the 1926 general strike and early aviators.

Highlights include a set of glass plates taken by Doughty during the Irish civil war discovered by McPhee, who “thought they looked interesting” as they were being carted out of the old newsroom when the digital age caused the ageing wetrooms to be closed down. “It took a long time to find exactly what they were – there wasn’t really very much to go on,” says Thorpe, who eventually discovered they were sets taken in Cork (in 1920) and Dublin (in 1922). “They are superb pictures, really good news photographs from the time,” he adds. “Some of them are quite dramatic. It’s a tremendous record.”

‘Irish Civil War Dublin 1922’ (below) frames a man’s rear profile, stood in darkness, in a murky window pock marked with bullets.

Denis Thorpe, who curated the exhibition, closes in on fleeting facial expressions, from rollerskaters to a bride on her big day. Tiny children are caught unaware learning the violin with the Suzuki method, and mid-yawn whilst eating toast and soup. Thorpe’s camera engages with both personal issues, such as the tiredeness of a weary miner, and important events like the 1990 Strangeways siege.

Tom Stuttard keeps an eye on the bigger picture, showing Chamberlain and Churchill in the 1940s, as well as everyday people and their eccentricities. A wonderful portrait (below) depicts ‘Mr and Mrs Bromley, Clock Collectors, Derbyshire, 1959’ in bed, fenced in by their collection of clocks. An aerial view shows the road from Manchester to Sheffield blocked by snow.

Don McPhee‘s political portraits set Enoch Powell and Nelson Mandela out against a black background. Enoch Powell is particularly striking, his hands raised in front of him. ‘Boxing Day Cowboys, Salford, 1973’, however, is the type of token that can be found in any family album, zooming in on two serious little boys dressed as cowboys in a timeless moment of childhood. Often, the most enjoyable photos are chance snaps which elevate everyday life as we know it to a work of art, such as Don McPhee’s snap of two farmers at a Yorkshire shire horse sale, clad in tweed, Wellington boots and warm woolen cardigans. Standing facing each other, hands in pockets, the shape between their two protuding, well-fed stomachs resembles an egg timer or the Rubin vase optical illusion.

The exhibition shows how much has changed between 1908 and now, not just in photography – almost all of the photographs on display are in black and white – and the political climate of the country, but Manchester and Salford. Doughty’s misty shot of St Ann’s Square in 1921 is almost unrecognisable, as are the rundown Salford streets seen through the doorframes of derelict houses.


Philip Jones Griffiths

It was reported today that one of the great photojournalists, Philip Jones Griffiths, has died.  He was born in Rhuddlan, near Rhyl and studied pharmacy in Liverpool before moving to London where he worked as a part-time photographer for the Manchester Guardian. He started work as a full-time freelance photographer in 1961 for the Observer, travelling to Algeria in 1962.

Griffiths arrived in Vietnam in 1966, working for the Magnum agency.  Of the image above, shot in 1967, he wrote:

This was a village a few miles from My Lai. It was a routine operation – troops were on a typical “search and destroy” mission. After finding and killing men in hiding, the women and children were rounded up. All bunkers where people could take shelter were then destroyed. Finally the troops withdrew and called in an artillery strike on the defenseless inhabitants.

Liverpool school outing: a group of school children and their teacher waiting to board a bus 1952.
Liverpool school outing: a group of school children and their teacher waiting to board a bus 1952.

John Pilger wrote in tribute to Philip soon after his death: “I never met a foreigner who cared as wisely for the Vietnamese, or about ordinary people everywhere under the heel of great power, as Philip Jones Griffiths. He was the greatest photographer and one of the finest journalists of my lifetime, and a humanitarian to match…. His photographs of ordinary people, from his beloved Wales to Vietnam and the shadows of Cambodia, make you realise who the true heroes are. He was one of them.”

On the Magnum website there is this tribute from fellow-photographer, Stuart Franklin:

The world that I grew up in will be, from today, a poorer place. It is with great sadness I have to write that Philip – a monumental, irrepressible force in photography and in life – and a courageous fighter against the cancer that finally defeated him – passed away early this morning.

Philip’s passing is an enormous loss to us all at Magnum, and I am sure to everyone who knew him. It was a privilege to have brushed, even lightly, against his charm, his brilliance and his passion for photojournalism. Those who only know him through his work will have missed his skills as an orator, raconteur, wit and polemicist. He remained the lovely man that he was – graceful and welcoming – especially to young people trying to make a start in photography. He had much to pass on, not just about the importance of “real” photography, but about the art and craft of picture-making.

Philip was born in Rhuddlan, near Rhyl in Wales on 18th February 1936 and it was there, at the age of 16, that he learnt an early lesson about photography – from Henri Cartier-Bresson: “The first picture of his I ever saw was during a lecture at the Rhyl camera club. I was 16 and the speaker was Emrys Jones. He projected the picture upside down. Deliberately, to disregard the subject matter to reveal the composition. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.”

It was Philip’s consummate skill as a picture maker, carefully able to draw the viewer closer and closer to his subjects through his emotionally-charged compositions that lent such power to his work. Philip was always concerned with individuals – their personal and intimate suffering more than any particular class or ideological struggle. And the strength of his vision, that inspired so many of us, led Henri Cartier-Bresson to write of Philip: “not since Goya has anyone portrayed war like Philip Jones Griffiths.”

Philip’s iconic work on the Vietnam War, an unprecedented work, published in 1971 under the title ‘Vietnam Inc.’ is arguably the most articulate and compelling anti-war statement made by any photojournalist ever. Indeed it led Noam Chomsky to comment that: “If anybody in Washington had read that book, we wouldn’t have had these wars in Iraq or Afghanistan”.

Indeed, it was Philip’s passion for peace that led to greatness in his later work. In 2005 he published “Viet Nam at Peace” a 25 year study exploring the long term consequences of the war. The first Westerner to travel by road from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City after the war, and later the Ho Chi Minh trail, he amassed an unparalleled photographic record of the post-war transformation of this country.

Thoroughly industrious and tenacious to the end, Philip had just completed a new book of his less known studies of British life in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, entitled ‘Recollections’, and in the last few weeks before his death, Philip became thoroughly engaged in compiling his life’s work documenting Cambodia.

Philip enriched all our lives with his courage, his empathy, his passion, his wit and his wisdom; and for many he gave to photojournalism its moral soul. He died as he wanted so passionately that we should live – in peace. In his last days he was together with his loving family and friends at his side.

Philip Jones Griffiths and his daughter at an anti-Iraq war protest in New York 2003
Philip Jones Griffiths and his daughter at an anti-Iraq war protest in New York 2003


Susan Sontag dies

Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag died on December 28. This year I read On Photography and Regarding the Pain of Others.

Sontag aroused controversy for remarks in The New Yorker (September 24, 2001) about the immediate aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks. She wrote:

“Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions…[I]f the word “cowardly” is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): Whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.”

In the 1990s Sontag travelled to the then Yugoslavia, calling for international action against the growing civil war. She visited the besieged Bosnian capital Sarajevo in 1993, where she staged a production of the play Waiting for Godot. Two days after her death, the mayor of Sarajevo announced the city would name a street after her, calling her an “author and a humanist who actively participated in the creation of the history of Sarajevo and Bosnia.”

Salgado’s new Genesis project

Marine iguanas are extremely gentle and live in complete harmony with the other animals.

From today’s Guardian: Sebastião Salgado is embarking on the last of his great photographic projects, which will appear regularly in the Guardian over the next eight years. He is seeking out places that are still as pristine as they were in primeval times, places that provide hope.

His previous projects…’ left him questioning his faith in humanity. He had seen so much man-made suffering. The idealist began to have his doubts about our essential goodness. “I was injured in my heart and my spirit. For me, it was terrible what I saw. I came away from this with incredible despair.” He was desperate to find something that would restore faith.

Hence Genesis. Yes, we may already have destroyed 50% of the planet, but Salgado wants to show us what we have left, and what we stand to lose if we don’t take care.

In the end, the only heritage we have is our planet, and I have decided to go to the most pristine places on the planet and photograph them in the most honest way I know, with my point of view, and of course it is in black and white, because it is the only thing I know how to do. I want to see if I can put a kind of virginity in these pictures, if you can say that, and to show 100% respect to nature and the animals.”‘

Heaney on Milosz

Also in today’s Guardian Seamus Heaney remembers Czeslaw Milosz: ‘though he confronted the brutality of the modern age, Czeslaw Milosz believed in the joy-bringing potential of art’.

See earlier blog on 22 August.

Susan Sontag essay: Iraq torture photos


Susan Sontag has a brilliant essay in today’s Guardian What have we done? evaluating the meaning of the Iraq toture photos and what they reveal about contemporary American society:

You ask yourself how someone can grin at the sufferings and humiliation of another human being – drag a naked Iraqi man along the floor with a leash? set guard dogs at the genitals and legs of cowering, naked prisoners? rape and sodomise prisoners? force shackled hooded prisoners to masturbate or commit sexual acts with each other? beat prisoners to death? – and feel naive in asking the questions, since the answer is, self-evidently: people do these things to other people. Not just in Nazi concentration camps and in Abu Ghraib when it was run by Saddam Hussein. Americans, too, do them when they have permission. When they are told or made to feel that those over whom they have absolute power deserve to be mistreated, humiliated, tormented. They do them when they are led to believe that the people they are torturing belong to an inferior, despicable race or religion. For the meaning of these pictures is not just that these acts were performed, but that their perpetrators had no sense that there was anything wrong in what the pictures show. Even more appalling, since the pictures were meant to be circulated and seen by many people, it was all fun. And this idea of fun is, alas, more and more – contrary to what Mr Bush is telling the world – part of “the true nature and heart of America”.