Friday, 2 October 2015


Sugar Factory Road, St Kitts, 2015. © Julian Germain
Customs House, Bute Street, Cardiff.
October 1- 31. Open Tues - Sat 11-5

In 2014 Julian Germain was commissioned to respond to the life story of Nathaniel Wells (1779 - 1852) who was born into slavery on the island of St Kitts in the Caribbean, the illegitimate child of a slave woman and sugar plantation owner. Extraordinarily, at the age of 9, Nathaniel was sent to Britain to be educated and he subsequently inherited his father’s fortune, along with the sugar plantations and slaves, including his own mother. In 1802, at the age of only 23 and a ‘black’ man of African descent, he purchased one of the finest houses in Wales, Piercefield House near Chepstow. From there, he lived the life of a country gentleman and became a magistrate, deputy lieutenant and County Sheriff.

Germain has retraced the steps of Nathaniel Wells from his now derelict estate at Piercefield to his birthplace in the West Indies. The images reflect upon the sugar industry, slavery and colonialism - the ongoing significance of the deep historical links between the two locations, as well as how the social and economic landscape continues to necessitate migration and how this movement of people affects everyday life in Wales.

The exhibition is sited in the near derelict Custom's House in the Cardiff Bay / port area of the city. In the 1950's and 60's, new immigrants from the West Indies would disembark from their passenger ship and be directed to the building for registration.

Hidden Presence is part of DIFFUSION, the
Cardiff International Festival of Photography 

Sugar Factory Road, St Kitts, 2015. © Julian Germain
Remains of the Vambelles Sugar Estate, St Kitts, 2015. © Julian Germain
Brilliant Car Wash, Cwmbran, 2015. © Julian Germain

Hidden Presence, Custom's House, Cardiff, 2015. © Julian Germain
Piercefield House, Chepstow, 2015. © Julian Germain

Thursday, 6 August 2015

NO OLHO DA RUA, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica
Hélio Oiticica Municipal Art Centre, August 1st - 19th September.

The No Olho da Rua Collective, that last surfaced at the Photo Bienial in Brighton nearly 3 years ago, is participating in the group show Album de Familia curated by Daniella Geo at the Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica in Rio de Janeiro. A brand new, 16 page large format No Olho da Rua newspaper is featured and is available free to gallery visitors and NODR flyposters are posted in the surrounding streets.

Front and back cover of the new newspaper (top). NODR flyposters on walls in the surrounding area
The rest of the exhibition features a host of well known artists including, Candice Breitz, Bill Viola, Gillian Wearing, Rosangela Renno and Richard Billingham, to name but a few, and I believe a catalogue will be published soon.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015


This Saturday 23rd May:

I'll be signing 3rd edition of For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness:

Photo London 3 - 4 pm. MACK / Booth P5, Great Arch Hall, Embankment Level, Somerset House, Strand, WC2R 1LA

Offprint 5 - 6 pm. MACK / Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, SE1 9TG.

Offprint is free, just wander in. You need to buy tickets for Photo London.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Curves of the Needle @ Baltic 39 until May 17th

by Julian Germain from The Curves of the Needle - photo © Colin Davison

The Curves of the Needle is a group exhibition of contemporary art inspired by the unexpected resurgence of interest in the vinyl record.The show features a fascinating range of material, from album cover artwork to installations, videos, photographic works etc that explore the cultural significance of the era of vinyl, as well as the actual physical nature of analogue sound emanating from the grooves of a record.

alt.vinyl, Sam Belinfante, The Basement Group, David Blandy, Ralf Brög, Rutherford Chang, Rhodri Davies, Dj78, Graham Dolphin, Benedict Drew, Julian Germain, Rodney Graham, Bruce Haack, Jandek, Philip Jeck/Lol Sargent, Jim Lambie, Locus+, Christian Marclay, Jonathan Monk, Elizabeth Price, Eliane Radigue, Sun Ra, Lathe Revival, Jonty Semper, David Toop, Bartholomäus Traubeck, Michael Wilkinson, X-Ray Audio and a commissioned text on record sleeves by writer Harry Pearson.

The Curves of the Needle
Baltic 39
31-39 High Bridge Street
Newcastle Upon Tyne

by Graham Dolphin from The Curves of the Needle - photo © Colin Davison

Friday, 13 February 2015

February Events

There's something in the air. Collaborative art is on the agenda!

Saturday 14th February I will be working on a photographic version of Fred Laidler's painting, 'Fish and Chips', from 1948. He was one of the now famed Ashington Group of Northumbrian 'pitmen painters' who explored their everyday lives, their surroundings and their culture through art. Amongst the participants will be Fred's granddaughter and great granddaughter! If the photo is good it will be published alongside the painting in the next issue of the Ashington District Star, a new local newspaper / photographic journal being produced with people who live or work in the area.

Wednesday February 18th I'll be participating in an event at Plymouth University, 'Community Engagement: The Observer and the Observed'. A line up of very interesting people Wendy Ewald, Mark Neville, Noni Stacey, Matteo Balduzzi and Oliver Udy. I'll be there to talk mostly about the No Olho da Rua project.

Saturday 21st February I'll be in Utrecht giving a talk at the opening of Fotodok's new exhibition, 'Do You Hear Me?', which features the work of 7 artists, Laia Abril, Simone Engelen, Eric Gottesman, Monica Haller, Jan Hoek, Lucia Nimcova and Julika Rudelius, all of whom make work where the subject has a role in the direction and form of the story in one way or another.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Age and Experience

The exhibition I had at the National Media Museum in Bradford nearly 10 years ago featured a selection of works from several portrait series; ‘Face of the Century’, ‘Generations’, ‘Babybabybaby’, ‘For every minute....’ as well as some of the early Classroom Portraits. I remember being a bit disappointed that I ended up calling the show ‘Lifetimes’ because it’s just seems a bit of a dull title really, but on the other hand, it so clearly describes one of my overriding preoccupations: Life and time, as recorded by photography.

One of my favourite portraits featured in that show is of Mildred Harrison, aged 99, who I met on a visit to a care home in Northumberland in 1999. She was a tiny, hunched figure, almost bent double in her chair. There were a few other people around but she wasn’t in conversation or attempting to watch the TV. I thought she might be asleep but when I spoke she answered immediately and clearly. She was expecting me and she said she had just been “waiting to have her picture taken.” As I set up my camera and tripod I told her about my Face of the Century project and that I’d been searching for someone born in 1900 for months. She understood exactly her place in the chronology of the series. When I asked if she could please look up and in to my camera she did so, but not enough. Her eyes were looking up but she was facing down. “I’m sorry Mildred, but I really want to see your face properly. Do you think you can lift your head a little more?....Just a bit more please?....Just a tiny bit more.....?” Gradually, with considerable effort, she managed to do it for a few seconds. 

Mildred Harrison, aged 99, 1999. From 'The Face of the Century'

As I was there and made the picture, I cannot see this image as just an image, my feelings about it being inextricably linked to the whole experience of meeting as well as photographing her. But I am sure there is something very profound evident in the portrait. On the surface, there is the realisation that I cannot imagine anyone looking older than her and I am drawn in to considering her as she is and imagining her as she has been in the past. Then there is the physical and psychical commitment she makes to the process of being photographed. The strain and concentration of both looking up and presenting herself to camera, looking so directly into the lens and at the same moment into the extraordinary complexity of her 99 year old inner self.

I keep coming back to these existential themes. I seem to be drawn to making connections between the young and the old. Very elderly people fascinate me as do children and especially newborn babies. Lives that have only just begun and others which are in their twilight months and years.
A few weeks ago, on September 10th, William Cameron and Alexander Ramm, both from the Ashington area (also in Northumberland) had birthdays, Bill reaching the landmark age of 100 and Alex being born. In the grand scheme of things there is nothing particularly unusual about either event as there are now about 14,000 centurians in Britain and nearly 1000 babies get born every day. But for the individuals and their families (and simply in human terms) these are truly momentous occasions and by making portraits of them both I am searching for added meaning by their association. Two people at opposite ends of life’s spectrum. I am contemplating the gulf between their experience, Bill having outlived every one of his contemporaries, Alex being perhaps the ultimate enigma, so new to the world and so newly formed that it seems impossible to imagine the life behind his gaze.

Alexander Ramm, born September 10th 2014

William Cameron, born September 10th 1914

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

"For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness" at the PhotoBookMuseum, Cologne. August 19th - October 3rd

Launch of the PhotobookMuseum, Cologne © Daniel Zakharov

The ongoing elevation of the photobook from it's lowly perch on the margins of art (admired and collected by a relatively small group of enthusiasts) to being widely accepted and even fashionable, has received another boost thanks to this summer's launch of the PhotoBookMuseum in Cologne, Germany. At the moment it’s actually a large scale temporary exhibition in a vast industrial space, but the organizers have serious ambitions to establish a permanent institution dedicated to the appreciation of artist's photobooks. 

The PhotobookMuseum, Cologne © Daniel Zakharov

Photographs and books were made for each other. The Pencil of Nature by William Henry Fox Talbot was published as early as 1844, only 5 years after the birth of the medium. Photos are generally modest in size, inherently and easily reproducible and they naturally lend themselves to story telling by assembling images into series’ and sequences. Careful placement within the pages of books enhances this potential and Gerry Badger’s now famous proposition that the photobook sits somewhere between the novel and the film as a means of expression, perfectly describes the enormous creative possibilities that are offered by the form.

Photographs somehow retain their integrity in the transition from darkroom (or digital) print to being rendered in ink on a commercial printing press. This affinity with the original material can never be true of books of paintings, sculptures, installations, and so on. So while it is possible to produce a beautiful book featuring illustrations of paintings, it is not really possible for that book to actually be the work of art. This is precisely the status the photobook has achieved - an authentic work of art for the price of a book, that ordinary people can afford to buy and keep on their shelves to view at their leisure. 

Despite this, until the end of the 20th century, printing and production costs for a high quality book of photographs were so prohibitive that relatively few were produced. When I was a student at Trent Poly (1981-4) the library’s photography section was a revelation and an inspiration to me - in fact it was probably the most important element of my photographic education - yet there were still only a hundred or so proper photobooks in their catalogue. In those days, a couple of visits per year to the Photographer's Gallery and Creative Camera bookshops in London was all that was required to keep abreast of just about all of the relevant publications from Europe and the US. 

The PhotobookMuseum, Cologne © Daniel Zakharov

Computer aided design (1990‘s), digital printing (2000’s), increased connectivity, a huge expansion of photographic art education as well as other factors, have altered this landscape so completely that the book form is now available to just about anyone and new books by photo artists are released on a daily basis. At this years photofestival in Arles there were several hundred entries for the annual book prize, all of them laid out on a line of tables at least 100 metres long. Books, books and more books snaking their way through the enormous old railway factory exhibition space. It was an impressive and indeed a daunting sight.

Books about photobooks are now amongst the books we want to have. Martin Parr and Gerry Badger have produced 3 hefty volumes since 2004 and there are also impressive publications about the history of the South American, Dutch, Japanese and Spanish photobook as well as books about private collections and critics choices. There is also the excellent Errata Editions, a publishing house dedicated to re-presenting “rare photography books which are unavailable to students and new generations of photographers”.

I’ve already seen a few survey exhibitions of photobooks and, enjoyable as they have been, the challenge is always the paradox between the fact that the primary joy of a book is the one to one intimacy between the object and its reader (the whole work sitting within your hands for you to explore in your own time and space) and the reality of being presented with an array of unreachable objects, displayed behind protective perspex or on screens and monitors. Nowadays, it’s not just the historical books that are too rare and valuable to be touched. If any contemporary book is considered worthy to be included in such an exhibition it will almost certainly have rapidly sold out and be extremely difficult and / or very expensive to acquire, which to me is a shame and somehow against the true spirit of the form.

It’s therefore very pleasing to report that “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness” is going to be back in print in the next couple of months and that it’s included in the show in Cologne. As well as the original book and maquette (in perspex vitrines) there are some other bookworks from the project as well as several framed prints, set against large scale backdrops of Charlie’s photo albums blown up to fill entire walls. It is a pity that these two events won’t coincide but you can’t have everything!

The PhotobookMuseum, Cologne © Daniel Zakharov