Sally Mann is an American photographer who courted controversy with her ‘family life‘ series, due to nude depictions of her children growing up at their home in Virginia. And whether the photographs overtly sexualised children.
I haven’t included those shots here, but if you want to, you can see them by visiting Sally Mann’s website. In my opinion they are beautiful and sensitive. And many of us will recognise moments like them from our own children growing up. The controversy isn’t really about child nudity but more about consent to put them in the public domain.
Regardless of this, Mann’s work is challenging, provocative and defiant. And her compositions raise more questions than answers. Below is a selection of powerful shots I wanted to share with the class.
There were nine muses in ancient Greek mythology. Daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, they were the divine inspiration behind human artistic and scientific endeavour. Calliope is probably the most well known, she is the muse responsible for inspiring heroic/epic poetry. Erato is the inspiration behind love poetry.
Because I love art, a couple of years ago, I promised myself I would do some form of art every day. Whether it be a few lines of poetry or prose, a sketch, doodle or a painting – or even taking a photograph. I think I do two types of art – conscious and unconscious.
When I consciously do something, I think about what it is I want to paint, how I want to paint it, materials, medium, etc. And I have an image in my mind’s eye about what I want to achieve. Invariably, I am slightly disappointed with the finished piece because it never lives up to the ambition of my imagination. The enjoyment was in doing it in the first place.
The second type is my unconscious art. I pick up whatever is at hand and just express myself without thinking about it. Whether it be in words or brushstrokes. I tend to get more satisfaction out of this kind of work because I don’t have any preconceived standard I was hoping to meet in my mind.
And it is this work that I sometimes question whether it is actually ‘me’ who is doing it. Or, rather my unconscious connection to the rest of the energy of the universe that my own sub-atomic particles are inextricably linked with. My Divine Muses, if you like. I am merely a conduit to put the marks on paper, canvas, or pizza box lid. (My muses do like a lot of pizza.)
Yeah, I’m aware that all sounds a bit pretentious and hippy-trippy, but you can’t escape the fact that our subconscious selves have an awful lot to say if you only let them speak.
Anyhoo, here’s what the muses wanted me to say recently…
I am very passionate about the act of ‘doing’ art being the most important aspect of it, rather than the end result. I see the benefits of this in patients with mental illness all the time. Yes, it can be insightful, but it doesn’t have to be. It can just be mindful, cathartic, meditative, expressive. And most importantly, you don’t have to be good at art to do it – it’s about the process, not the result.
Because, when you open yourself up and let the muses in – be they divine, subconscious, or Earthly, that’s when you really feel the joy of doing art.
At the time, all I could do was write a poem as I, like billions around the globe, bore witness to the calamitous event unfolding before us.
I felt impotent. I tried to sell prints of my poem for $1 online to raise funds, to no avail.
I wished I was something useful like a doctor or a nurse, or a rescue worker that could do something practical to help.
Then I thought of all the creative people I had encountered during my long career as an art director in the advertising industry and I asked them for help. The response was phenomenal. I got donations of works of art from all over the world to be put into an auction to raise money for the Red Cross who were working on the ground over there.
Less than a month later, we held the Japan Art Auction at Jonathan Oakes photography studio in Manchester, hosted by The Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. It was an incredible success and, thanks to a great many people, we raised quite a few grand.
A lot has changed in 10 years. As you can see by the photos in The Guardian link above.
Things have changed for me too. I am now a Nursing Assistant at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.
And, whilst my poem did not raise a single dollar, it did inspire Austrian composer Albors Pascal Askari to write this hauntingly beautiful piece of music. All the proceeds from which also went to the Japan relief effort.
And, unbeknownst to me, my poem was on the English curriculum at several schools in London for a couple of years.
My last post was meant to be my last post of 2020.
But I saw something that I wanted to share with you.
I took someone to St. James’ hospital in Leeds the other day. Specifically, the Bexley Wing. Which is actually more like a hospital within a hospital rather than a ‘wing’.
What struck me initially is that they have an art gallery space in the atrium. Obviously, I took the opportunity to peruse the stunning work on display.
What was a little bit awkward was the fact that someone deemed it a good idea to place chairs all along the gallery wall. So, I often found myself standing directly in front of a healthcare worker, (who was taking a well earned break), gawping over their head.
I decided to take a few photos for posterity. And soon realised that the juxtaposition of the art on display and the resting workers/visitors oblivious to it, was art in itself. (Well, it was in my head, anyway.)
I think the fact that the majority of people are on their smart phones adds a certain amount of 21st century irony to the pictures. With the art behind them screaming “Look at me!”
Some people may know how passionate I am about the arts and their ability to help in the healing process. Whether that be mental, physical or general wellbeing.
Anyway, the atrium gallery is amazing. The work is amazing. The staff are amazing. And the NHS is amazing. So, all-in-all, well done, and thank you to everyone at St James’ Hospital, Bexley wing. (You are amazing.)
I came across this story of a girl the same age my daughter is now. She was born on the 15th August 1928 in Poland. And died at the tender age of 14 on 12th March 1943. When I say ‘died’, she was murdered in Auschwitz by the Nazis. Because she lived in an area of Poland earmarked for resettlement.
I was so taken by her image and her story – her absolute innocence, that I felt compelled to write a poem about her. To honour her tragically short life in some way. I know it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference if I write a few pathetic lines of poetry 77 years later. But it matters to me. It could’ve been my daughter, but for circumstance. Or yours. It still could be, the way the world is going.
For Czeslawa Kwoka.
There’s this girl.
Her nose and cheeks are pink,
like she’s just come in from the cold.
She’s looking up at the camera
with fear in her blue-grey eyes.
Her fair hair is roughly shorn,
and she wears an over-sized
blue and white striped tunic,
held together with safety pins.
She doesn’t understand what they are saying,
she doesn’t speak the language.
So the Kapo beats her about the head with a stick.
Her lips are thin and cut
like they’re trying to still a tremble.
There’s a badge sewn over her heart
with the serial number 26947 printed on it.
She has a name though. It’s Czeslawa.
She is 14 years old.
The same age as my daughter.
But she looks much younger.
Like a terrified little girl.
She hasn’t done anything wrong.
Except, be Polish.
Probably typhus or T.B.
The cause is irrelevant.
She’s too ill to work.
So she’s surplus to requirements.
The doctor will see you now.
He’s going to inject a final solution
of phenol directly into her heart.
It will kill her in 15 seconds.
It’s not an exact science.
If he misses the ventricle it could take up to an hour.
Martin Parr would probably groan in pun-staking agony at that headline.
Oh well, you’re here now.
Martin Parr is one of Britain’s greatest photographers. Actually, make that ‘the World’s’.
He manages to capture the zeitgeist of working-class life in all its gaudy technicolour, wherever he goes. Whether that be Barnsley or Brazil.
He’s known for his satirical and ironic documentary-style images that look at our insatiable rapaciousness for consumerism. That, and people eating chips.
I’m not here to write his biography, just show you some of his brilliant work. If you’d like to know a bit more about him, his life, his work, his foundation and his legacy, click here. But if you just want to see more photos of people eating chips, scroll down.
If you want to have a look at some of his most recent projects, have a look here. You won’t be disappointed.