dinsdag 27 juni 2017

The Dark Side of the British Seaside Morrissey Graham Greene Martin Parr Photography

The dark side of the British seaside

The British seaside may make you think of sunshine and candyfloss – but its edgy, rule-breaking undercurrent has inspired artists from Martin Parr to Morrissey to Graham Greene.
By Arwa Haider
26 June 2017

At the entrance to Margate’s newly reopened Dreamland theme park, there is a sculpture created from the salvaged scraps of former fairground rides. Entitled Be Entranced, it is a colourful mash-up of coastal carnival motifs. At its heart is a red devil rising from flames poised to make mischief.

The image feels apt. The British seaside has cast a spell on pop culture over many generations, but it has never banished its demons. Despite a ‘candyfloss culture’ of sweet treats, bright sun and giddy day-trippers, it also has an edge: the promise of escape and excess. That edge is exactly why artists, writers and film-makers seem to find it so alluring.

That has been due in part to a stumbling economy. Once-booming coastal resorts fell into decline around the 1960s and 1970s, suffering from the closure of railway lines and from a new wave of affordable flights abroad. More recent recessions hit seaside towns including Margate, Blackpool and Hastings particularly hard, with the Office of National Statistics reporting increasing deprivation in the poorest spots. At the same time, seaside towns have seen the arrival of high-end art venues such as Margate’s Turner Contemporary and Hastings’ Jerwood Gallery – as well as the multi-million-pound revival of Dreamland, which originally dated from 1920, but had closed in 2003.

That tension between ‘respectability’ and grittiness is deeply felt – particularly by artists and writers.

The seaside’s portrayal in pop culture traditionally has been dark and heady, not least in Graham Greene’s 1938 novel Brighton Rock, featuring cold-blooded young killer Pinkie. Somewhat quaintly, the introduction to the 1947 film version seems anxious not to taint the reputation of this “large, jolly, friendly seaside town in Sussex”, displaying the disclaimer that rather, it recalls “another Brighton of dark alleyways and festering slums… the poison of crime and violence and gang warfare… now happily no more”. Brighton would recur as a battleground in the 1979 film Quadrophenia, 1988’s gay coming-of-age adventure The Fruit Machine and Helen Zahravi’s 1991 novel, the feminist revenge thriller Dirty Weekend (which was adapted for film by Michael Winner in 1993).

The 2010 film Brighton Rock, based on the Graham Greene novel of the same name, provides a dark portrayal of the seaside town (Credit: Alamy)

“The seaside encourages and capitalises on transgression,” says Brighton-based cultural commentator Andy Medhurst. “Seaside culture is somewhere [where] the everyday rules of behaviour are put on hold. Compared to the average working week, where most people have to do set things at set times for set rewards, the seaside is a zone where all bets are off. It gives us the opportunity to write our own rules; in some cases, that can mean the usual codes of respectability cease to hold much sway.

Seaside culture is somewhere where the everyday rules of behaviour are put on hold – Andy Medhurst

“Seaside towns are literally and metaphorically on the edge. They give a very particular perspective. When you look back inland, nothing seems as settled as it once did – and those instabilities can be culturally productive.”

Shady side

The clash of brightness and bleakness has coloured the visual art of the British seaside, as well. Donald McGill’s iconic ‘saucy postcard’ illustrations are both provocative and grotesque; now coveted by collectors, they were plagued by anti-obscenity laws in the mid-1950s. Photographer Martin Parr’s hyper-real documentary images (partly inspired by the 1960s holiday postcards of John Hinde) earned notoriety with his mid-1980s series The Last Resort, shot in New Brighton. It was simultaneously praised and panned for its brashly coloured shots of working-class leisure. Meanwhile, Margate’s most famous export, Tracey Emin, reveals a tale of wayward youth (and ultimately, escape) in Why I Never Became A Dancer (1995). “But there were no morals or rules or judgements,” she reveals in the film. “I just did what I wanted to do.”

For both tourists and artists, much of the seaside’s appeal comes from its association with less structure and more freedom (Credit: Alamy)

Margate’s Turner Contemporary has exhibited works both by Emin and by its namesake, 19th-Century landscape artist JMW Turner. “Turner made repeat visits to Margate because of the quality of the light – but it was also the romanticism of the place that captured his imagination,” says gallery director Victoria Pomery. “For many, the seaside is associated with memory, less structure and more freedom – hence its timeless appeal for so many artists.”

Seaside resorts have spawned multi-genre music scenes, though their once-packed piers and pavilions have lapsed into seasons of washed-up entertainers. But that trend may be shifting. Newer big-name programming is taking place at venues from Blackpool Tower Ballroom to Bexhill-on-Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion as well as Dreamland, and British acts including alt-j and The Libertines have announced seaside tours.

Still, Morrissey’s 1988 hit Everyday Is Like Sunday (and its video shot in Southend-on-Sea) lingers as the ultimate catchy seaside lament about “the coastal town/ That they forgot to shut down… Come, Armageddon, come!”

There’s a sense of the ‘end of the line’ – Rebecca Ellis

“There’s a sense of the ‘end of the line’,” says Rebecca Ellis, Dreamland’s director of events and programming. “That feeling of abandonment is where the darker, seedier side of the seaside comes from.”

It’s unsurprising that scepticism surrounds the gentrification of coastal resorts and the influx of ‘DFL’ (down from London) hipsters seeking cheap property. In towns like Margate, kitsch vintage boutiques spring up yards from run-down charity shops.

Banksy’s 2015 creation Dismaland brought £20 million to Weston-super-Mare (Credit: Alamy)

But it’s arguable that, even against such forces, the British seaside exudes a defiant strength. The North Yorkshire resort of Whitby (a landing-spot in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula) has drawn international crowds for a bi-annual Goth Weekend since 1994. Street art legend Banksy’s 2015 ‘bemusement park’, Dismaland, transformed a disused lido in Weston-super-Mare into a dystopian satire of death, decay and violence for five weeks – and tourism bosses reported that it brought in £20 million ($25m) to the town.

Back at Dreamland on a scorching summer day, the future feels positive, even with darker histories on display. The seafront site is a survivor of thwarted ambitions (its ballroom building was originally intended to be Margate’s second railway station; its grand cinema still lies dormant; ornate tin ceilings have been left pockmarked by 1980s “modernisation”). It is surreally beautiful, with its 1920 scenic railway, the oldest roller coaster in Britain, repaired from recent fire damage.

Parts of Dreamland still lie dormant or in disrepair, which is part of the attraction (Credit: Alamy)

Its past ghosts still seem at play among the attractions, from Edwardian revellers in the arcade to Antony Gormley’s towering Waste Man sculpture – which was constructed with refugee groups on Dreamland’s derelict site in 2006 and publicly torched for Penny Woolcock’s art project The Margate Exodus.

The British seaside retains its weird and wonderful dark side – and it keeps going, because nobody could go any further.

donderdag 15 juni 2017

Gordon Parks: Humanist with a Camera Exhibition Foam Amsterdam Photography

The legendary American photographer Gordon Parks described his camera as his “weapon of choice.” 

The camera can be a powerful weapon against repression, racism, violence, and inequality. The American photographer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) used photography to expose the deep divisions in American society. Parks was an important champion of equal rights for African Americans and in his work addressed themes such as poverty, marginalisation and injustice. Aside from his iconic portraits of legends like Martin Luther King, he especially achieved fame through his photographic essays for the prestigious Life Magazine and films he directed, such as The Learning Tree and Shaft.

With the exhibition Gordon Parks -  I Am You. Selected Works 1942-1978, Foam presents 120 works from the collection of  The Gordon Parks Foundation, including vintage prints, contact sheets, magazines, and film excerpts.

Gordon Parks is best known for his black and white photographs, but he also produced a lot of work in colour. The exhibition includes many colour photographs as well as portraits, documentary photos and fashion photography. Excerpts from Parks’s films The Learning Tree and Shaft are also shown, which, in combination with the contact sheets and magazines containing his work, portray the social and political context in which he worked. It was a time in American history in which the African-American call for equality rocked the nation.

Gordon Parks -  I Am You. Selected Works 1942-1978 presents the work of a fabulous storyteller. Parks carved out a place for underexposed topics during a turbulent time in the United States. He stands out for his open attitude to the various groups making up a fiercely divided America. Through the striking narrative imagery of his photos and his films,  Parks managed to connect with a wide and diverse audience.

The exhibition was organised in collaboration with C/O Berlin.

The self-taught photographer Gordon Parks came from a family of fifteen children and grew up in poverty in the state of Kansas, USA. At the age of twenty-five, he bought his first camera in a thrift store and began taking on assignments in the fashion industry. Starting in 1942, he worked for the photography programme of the Farm Security Administration, a government programme aimed at combating poverty in the rural areas of the United States. In 1948, Parks gained fame with a photo report on a gang leader named ´Red´ in Harlem, New York. He was the first African American photographer to join the staff of the then most popular photographic journalism magazine in the world: Life Magazine. With his photographic essays, he depicted stories in which African Americans played a prominent role. As a result, a broad audience was introduced to such subjects as poverty, inequality and racial segregation.

Gordon Parks also photographed legendary boxer Muhammed Ali, as well as Martin Luther Ling, Jr. and Malcom X - leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to his iconic photographs and photographic essays, Parks is known for films he directed. In 1969 he made The Learning Tree, which was loosely based on his own experiences as a black teenager growing up in Kansas in the twenties. Shaft (1971) presented the very first black ‘superhero’. It was the start of the popular genre of Blaxploitation: films starring black actors and primarily aimed at a black audience.

See also

LIFE Magazine Gordon Parks Black Muslims Malcolm X Photojournalism Photography

Gordon Parks: humanist met een camera
Tentoonstelling De Afro-Amerikaanse Gordon Parks legde in de jaren ’40 tot ’60 de verdeeldheid in de Amerikaanse samenleving vast. Foam in Amsterdam toont nu zijn werk.
Rosan Hollak
15 juni 2017

Man en vrouw, zondagochtend, Detroit Michigan 1950.
Foto Gordon Parks Courtesy en copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation 


Fotograaf Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was multi-getalenteerd. Hij werkte van 1948 tot 1968 voor tijdschrift Life.

Hij publiceerde boeken, zowel fictie als non-fictie. Hij speelde piano, componeerde en hield zich bezig met film.

Als eerste Afro-Amerikaan schreef en regisseerde hij een grote film, The Learning Tree (1969). Hij brak door met de blaxploitation-film Shaft (1971).

‘Ik ben zoals jij, starend in de spiegel van armoede en wanhoop, van opstand en vrijheid.” Het is een beroemde uitspraak van de Amerikaanse fotograaf Gordon Parks. Vanaf vrijdag is in fotografiemuseum Foam in Amsterdam zijn werk te zien op de tentoonstelling I Am You. Selected Works 1942-1978. Wie zijn foto’s bekijkt, ziet het werk van een geëngageerd man.

Als verslaggever – Parks was de eerste Afro-Amerikaanse fotograaf die ging werken bij het gerenommeerde tijdschrift Life – legde hij de verdeeldheid in de Amerikaanse samenleving vast. Maar hij was meer dan een voorvechter in de strijd voor gelijke rechten, hij was vooral een kunstenaar en een eigenzinnige man.

Als vijftiende kind (geboren in 1912) in een arm gezin in Kansas kocht Parks op jonge leeftijd een camera bij de lommerd. Na een tijdje als modefotograaf te hebben gewerkt kwam hij, zonder professionele opleiding, in Washington D.C. terecht bij de Farm Security Administration (FSA). FSA was het fotografisch project dat in 1935 door de overheid was opgezet om de armoede op het platteland in kaart te brengen. Daar werd Parks geconfronteerd met het feit dat hij als zwarte man met zijn camera nauwelijks toegang kreeg tot publieke ruimtes. Toch zette hij door. En met succes, want iets in zijn houding, zijn manier van doen, zijn stem, zorgde ervoor dat mensen hem vertrouwden. Of het nu ging om socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, actrice Marilyn Monroe of bendeleden in Harlem, telkens wist Parks tot hun wereld door te dringen. In de documentaire Half Past Autumn: The Life and Work of Gordon Parks (2000) zegt hij hierover: „De mensen voor de camera zijn het belangrijkste, niet de fotograaf, hoe heroïsch hij ook is. Als zij hun tijd niet aan je willen geven, heb jij geen verhaal.”

Die open houding leverde hem in 1948 een baan op bij Life. Daar concentreerde hij zich vooral op onderwerpen als segregatie, racisme en onrecht. Zo vertelde hij, via poëtische beelden, zijn eigen levensverhaal. Hij maakte foto’s bij de beroemde roman Invisible Man van Ralph Ellison – een verhaal over een zwarte hoofdfiguur die uit het zuiden van de VS naar Harlem reist en beseft dat hij onzichtbaar is voor zijn omgeving. En hij wist door te dringen tot de Nation of Islam, een separatistische Afro-Amerikaanse moslimorganisatie.

Aanhangers van de Black Panther-beweging. Watts California 1967.
Gordon Parks Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

Toch werd hij geen boegbeeld van de ‘zwarte zaak’. Toen hij in 1963 in contact kwam met Elijah Muhammad, de spirituele leider van de Nation of Islam, vroeg deze of hij een boek en een film over de moslimgemeenschapwilde maken. Parks weigerde, ondanks dat hij er een half miljoen dollar voor zou krijgen. Muhammad, die hem al verweet voor ‘the white devil’ te werken, gaf Parks desondanks toestemming om de Black Muslims te fotograferen. Het werd een van zijn baanbrekende reportages.

Parks maakte portretten van Malcolm X, fotografeerde biddende kinderen en maakte de, inmiddels beroemde, zwart-witfoto van moslimzuster Ethel Sharrieff, dochter van Elijah Muhammad, die vastberaden de camera inblikt.

Ondertussen zette Parks zijn camera ook bewust in om armoede en onderdrukking te bestrijden. In 1961 fotografeerde hij het jongetje Flavio met zijn familie in de sloppenwijken van Rio de Janeiro en in 1967 maakte hij een reportage over het noodlijdende gezin Fontenelle in Harlem. Met behulp van deze schokkende foto’s wist Life voor beide gezinnen geld in te zamelen. Zijn camera, aldus Parks, kon op deze manier de verdeeldheid in de samenleving overbruggen: „Er is iets in ons beiden dat dieper gaat dan bloed, zwart of wit. Dat is onze gezamenlijke zoektocht naar een beter leven, een betere wereld.”

Een humanist was hij zeker, radicaal werd hij nooit. Toen activist Eldridge Cleaver, lid van de Afro-Amerikaanse politieke organisatie Black Panthers, hem in 1970 vroeg perswoordvoerder te worden, bedankte Parks voor de eer. In documentaire Half Past Autumn vertelt hij waarom hij de keuzes in zijn werk niet liet afhangen van het oordeel van de zwarte gemeenschap: „Ik heb daar geen tijd voor. Ik bepaal zelf wel wat goed is. Ik ben het racisme en de hypocrisie in Kansas ontvlucht, heb mijn strijd gestreden, en heb het recht om te doen wat ik wil doen.”

Gordon Parks. I Am You. Selected works 1942-1978. 16 juni t/m 6 september in Foam, foam.org. Het gelijknamige fotoboek is te koop bij Steidl Verlag, 35 euro.

The Learning Tree, 1963

In 1969 debuteerde Parks met de speel film The Learning Tree, gebaseerd op zijn gelijknamige autobiografische roman (1963). De film en het boek gaan over de zwarte hoofdpersoon Newt Winger, in het fictieve plaatsje Cherokee Flats, die strijdt tegen onderdrukking en racisme.

Foto Gordon Parks Courtesy and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Om de roman te promoten, publiceerde Parks in 1963 in Life het artikel ‘How It Feels to Be Black’. Passages uit de roman werden afgewisseld met een serie kleurenfoto’s die Parks had gemaakt in Kansas. Het zijn geënsceneerde, dromerige beelden, die de herinneringen uit zijn jeugd weergeven.

Mars door Washington D.C., 1963

Op 28 augustus 1963 werd de ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ in Washington D.C. gehouden.Vanaf de trappen van het Lincoln Memorial hield Martin Luther King zijn beroemde ‘I Have a Dream’-toespraak. Gordon Parks was voor het tijdschrift Life aanwezig.

Foto Gordon Parks Courtesy and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Toen King in 1968 werd vermoord, schreef Parks in Life een woedend en bitter artikel, getiteld ‘A man Who Tried to Love Somebody’. Later zei Parks hierover: „Dat was het moment waarop mijn woede zich bijna omzette in haat.”

Segregatie in het zuiden, 1956

De camera als wapen is een motto dat Parks zijn hele leven hanteerde . Zo ook toen hij samen met verslaggever Sam Yette voor Life naar het plaatsje Mobile in Alabama ging om daar de raciale spanningen vast te leggen.

Hij kwam in contact met de familie Causey, een Afro-Amerikaans gezin met vijf kinderen. Gedurende enkele weken fotografeerde Parks de familie en liet zien met welke vormen van racisme de Causeys in die tijd werden geconfronteerd.

Foto Gordon Parks Courtesy and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Nadat het verhaal in 1956 in Life was verschenen, kreeg de familie te maken met wraakacties. Ze raakten hun bezittingen en huis kwijt. Life zorgde ervoor dat ze een vergoeding kregen van 25.000 dollar.

Foto Gordon Parks Courtesy and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Ella Watson, 1942

In 1942 was Gordon Parks bij fotoproject FSA leerling onder econoom en fotograaf Roy Stryker. Als Afro-Amerikaan werd hij in Washington D.C. geweigerd in restaurants, de bioscoop en niet geholpen in warenhuizen. Gefrustreerd door deze situatie bedacht hij American Gothic (genoemd naar het schilderij van Grant Wood met de titel American Gothic).

Op de foto is een zwarte vrouw te zien, Ella Watson, die in de schoonmaakploeg van het FSA-gebouw werkte. Parks liet haar poseren voor een Amerikaanse vlag, met een bezem in de ene hand en een zwabber in de andere.

Toen hij de foto aan Stryker liet zien zei deze: „Mijn god. Je beheerst het vak, maar straks worden we nog allemaal ontslagen.”

woensdag 14 juni 2017

Views & Reviews The Baseball Photographer Trading Cards Mike Mandel Photography

Album description
135 cards originally sold in randomly sorted packs of ten, 3.5” x 2.5”
The project satirized the phenomenon of the fine art photography community being consumed by the larger art world and commercial culture. I photographed photographers as if they were baseball players and produced a set of cards that were packaged in random groups of ten, with bubble gum, so that the only way of collecting a complete set was to make a trade. I travelled around the United States visiting about 150 photographic “personalities” and had them pose for me. I carried baseball paraphernalia: caps, gloves, balls, a mask and chest protector, a bat, as well as photographic equipment, and made a 14,000 mile odyssey. Out of this experience came 134 Baseball-Photographer images. I designed a reverse side for the card which would allow for each photographer to fill in their own personal data that in a way referred to the information usually included on real baseball cards: Favorite camera, favorite developer, favorite film, height, weight, etc. I used whatever information each photographer provided me. In a sense, each of their responses provides an insight about how they each approached their participation. I had 3,000 cards made of each one: 402,000 cards plus 6,000 checklists. The cards were packaged in polyethylene bags, with bubble gum, in random groups of ten. I sold cartons of 36 packs to museums and galleries all over the country. I received press attention from Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, and all the major print media. Thus, the cards were a media event even though they were intended to satirize the media’s impacts.

Mike Mandel: 'The Baseball Photographer Trading Cards' 
by Aaron Schuman 
May 2010

This essay was originally published in Aperture #200, Fall 2010.

      In 1974, just a year before Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan, classmates at the San Francisco Art Institute, were awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts to pursue what eventually became their seminal project, Evidence, Mandel found himself becoming frustrated by the growing competitiveness within photographic circles. “[In the Seventies] it seemed that the photo community was comprised of a group of dedicated artists, who. . . had been snubbed by the art world for having the audacity to negate the imperative of the unique, precious object,” Mandel wrote in 1999, “But a strange thing happened about that time: the art world discovered photography. . . Competitions for NEA grants and university jobs began to revolve around the hierarchy of art world professionals.”

Mandel’s response was to embark on The Baseball Photographer Trading Cards, a collection of 134 informal portraits of photographers posing as baseball players, which were produced in the manner of ordinary trading cards, complete with index numbers, accompanying statistics and quotes on the reverse side, and were then sold in packs of ten—complete with bubble gum donated by Topps, the leading producer of sports-related cards at the time. “I wanted to lampoon the newfound celebrity-hood of photo personalities in the art marketplace,” Mandel explains, also remembering that during his own baseball-card collecting childhood, “cards made the players more accessible—in fact, public property.”

      Today, the persistent debate surrounding photography’s validity as Art (with a capital A) can seem dated and tiresome, yet the underlying sense of inferiority that many worthy, accomplished, and celebrated photographers have suffered over the years is well evidenced throughout the medium’s history, in both imagery and photo-related writings. Reassuringly, alongside this streak of angst there has also always run a vein of confidence in the medium as a relevant pursuit in its own right, without need for comparison or justification in relation to the traditional arts. In 1913, after spending several decades doggedly defending the artistic merits of photography, Alfred Stieglitz bluntly summarized his argument: “Photographers must learn not to be ashamed to have their photographs look like photographs.” Several years later, encouraged by Stieglitz’s call for “straight photography”, Paul Strand famously rejected the conceits of Pictorialism—the art-photography of his day—dismissing it as “fuzzygraphs” that ultimately expressed “an impotent desire to paint.” Similarly, Lewis Hine rejoiced in the fact that his documentary work had been recognized for conveying “the value of realistic photography, which has for some time been displaced by the fuzzy impressionism of the day.” And even as late as 1971, Walker Evans was championing photography in the face of its straggling doubters: “[P]hotography, a despised medium to work in, is full of empty phonies and worthless commercial people,” he remarked. “That presents quite a challenge to the man who can take delight in being in a very difficult, disdained medium.”

      From these examples and many others, one gets the sense that photographers—at least a certain kinds of photographers—have always taken pleasure in inhabiting the role of the outcast, the charlatan, the underdog. It is not surprising, then, that during the latter half of the twentieth century, when photography finally began to be embraced rather than rejected by the art world, mixed feelings were stirred, and a certain sense of mistrust arose among many practitioners. In response, a number of photographers rapidly turned away from notions of the medium as one of fine craftsmanship and purist aesthetics, and sought refuge in more vernacular territories, experimenting with popular rather than “artistic” forms of photography. In 1963 Ed Ruscha (#22 in The Baseball Photographer Trading Cards, shielding his eyes from the bright sun in search of an imaginary fly-ball) adopted an intentionally amateurish, “snapshot” approach in his Twentysix Gasoline Stations, and later adapted conventional aerial photography for his own conceptual purposes in Thirtyfour Parking Lots (1967). In the late 1960s John Baldessari began incorporating intentionally “bad” or “wrong” photographs into his canvases, instantly imbuing them with artistic merit. In 1971 Stephen Shore produced Amarillo: Tall in Texas, a series of ten generic-looking, geographically unspecific commercial postcards, which he then surreptitiously distributed in various stores and postcard-racks across America.

      Mandel’s Trading Cards sit comfortably within this movement—the half-ironic, half-sincere reappropriation of everyday images and photographic contexts—and also reflect an almost exaggerated unpretentiousness through the performances of many of their subjects. A baby-faced Larry Sultan (#13) poses satirically pious as an altar boy, his two hands clasped around a baseball, his wide eyes aimed toward the heavens; a grinning Beaumont Newhall (#103) is subsumed by a face-mask and chest protector, jokingly playing the umpire-in-chief behind home-plate; on the back of her card, Joyce Neimanas (#37) proclaims: “You should bunt to sacrifice yourself to the runner”; and on the front of another, Bill Owens (#31) does just that, bunting the approaching camera back down toward the ground; a bemused William Eggleston (#126) looks at his glove, apparently surprised that the ball has actually managed to land in it—the back of his card reads “No comment.” Even Mandel’s own card (#24) shows him releasing a curveball, subtly implying that although he may appear to be aiming straight at the target, his delivery will deliberately veer away from the strike-zone at just the last second. It’s as if all these newfound “photo-celebrities” are reminding the viewer—and perhaps more importantly, one another—that despite their impending art-stardom, at heart they’re still just goofy kids with cameras who don’t  take themselves too seriously.

      Of course, today these cards no longer convey accessibility or lampoon the celebrity of their subjects. Instead, they have become coveted icons in their own right, treasured totems to heroes of previous generations. Eggleston’s cool bemusement is now legendary, the disorientating break of Mandel’s artistic pitch is now venerated, and the overall wit and comedic self-mockery of 1970s Conceptual photography is much revered. Mandel fully acknowledges this: in the last several years complete sets of the cards have been auctioned, by Mandel and others, for thousands of dollars. “I find myself in the position of selling these at a premium, participating in the same commercial matrix that the cards originally intended to parody,” Mandel has written. “I can accept that. Now they are historic artifacts of an earlier generation of photography.”

      Yet it is important to recognize that these are not just individual artifacts of particular practitioners. Collectively, Mandel’s Trading Cards testify to the humble, joyous, and ultimately supportive spirit of a small, tightly knit network that truly shared a passion for a once “distained medium” at a particularly awkward point in time, and mutually refused the egotism and envy that can so easily accompany the approach of artistic success. Now that photography, the art world, and the “commercial matrix” have fully merged to form a severely competitive atmosphere around the medium, one hopes that Mandel’s Baseball Photographer Trading Cards will not only be relegated to the collectibles market, but might also serve as a quiet reminder that photography thrives best on community and collectivity, rather than through fierce competition. To quote Yogi Berra: "It ain't the heat; it's the humility."

By Ian Crouch   November 19, 2015

Photograph by Mike Mandel

When you think of the photographer Ansel Adams, you might imagine majestic scenes from Yosemite or the Tetons, conveyed in glorious, high-contrast black-and white. You’re less likely to picture the man himself, and certainly unlikely to imagine him dressed for a baseball game, wearing a catcher’s mask and a chest protector. But that’s how he was captured, in the nineteen-seventies, by the photographer Mike Mandel. Then a graduate student at the San Francisco Art Institute, Mandel took pictures of Adams and more than a hundred other photographers, and turned them into figures on baseball cards. He printed nearly half a million cards in total, put them into packs of ten, and even included a familiar stick of bubble gum, which he got directly from the Topps trading-card company.

In a recent interview with Smithsonian, Mandel explained that he intended the project as commentary on photography’s growing legitimacy in American culture at the time; as the medium gained recognition as a serious art form, individual photographers were becoming stars.

I wanted to make fun of the fact that this was a double-edged sword. It was great that photographers were . . . getting long overdue recognition, but at the same time there was this other half that came with it, which is this popular celebrity-hood which keeps people from being accessible.

The cards have since become collector’s items, and facsimiles from the project are included as part of the new box set “Good 70s,” which collects Mandel’s work from the nineteen-seventies. In addition, the collection includes an original pack from 1975. (Lucky fans might get Imogen Cunningham, wearing a Mao cap, and tossing what appears to be a nasty hook.) The cards feature all the vital stats you’d expect on a trading card, and some you wouldn’t: favorite camera, film, and paper, and, in most cases, a quotation from the subject.

Several of the photographers, like many ballplayers, don’t have much to say. Harry Callahan, pictured squinting up at the sky, as if at a fly ball, offers only, “To make a statement would be against my nature.” John Divola, wearing a Dodgers cap and captured in blurry mid-dive for the ball, says, “Statements are hard to make.” Bill Eggleston, in a Sox hat and striped scarf, gazing at a ball held in his outstretched lefty glove, looking a bit like Hamlet with the skull, demurs with “No comment.”

Other statements sound like slightly more off-kilter versions of the famous aphorisms of Yogi Berra. Ed Ruscha, in a work shirt and Dodgers cap, pronounces, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is right in your own backyard.” Todd Walker, handling the bat gingerly, like a conductor’s baton, maybe getting ready to lay down an especially dainty, or precise, bunt, offers advice that could apply to baseball, photography, and life: “Shoot straight and, as they say in golf, keep your eye on the ball.” Minor White, showing off his righty stance, and hiding his body and the strike zone beneath a shawl, proclaims, cryptically, “Baseball is an amusing anecdote about beautiful women.” Even Yogi couldn’t have managed that one, nor would he have, as Frederick Sommer does, thought to make doggerel out of Shakespeare. “Nothing methinks is marvellous and hairy like a face or tender ass.” Play ball!

Then there’s Mandel’s own card, which captures him in an elegant follow-through, looking a bit like Sidd Finch. He throws left, the card informs us, and has a preference for Kodak Tri-X film.

Ian Crouch is a contributing writer and producer for newyorker.com. He lives in Maine. 

That Time When Ansel Adams Posed for a Baseball Trading Card
In the 1970s, photographer Mike Mandel asked his famous colleagues to pose for a pack of baseball cards. The results are as amazing as you’d imagine

(Photography by Mike Mandel; Graphic by Shaylyn Esposito)

By Brad Balukjian
SEPTEMBER 15, 2015

Forget that 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck card or your 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, the real baseball card prize is the Ansel Adams rookie. How many of you can say you have that in your parents’ attic?

The Adams card is one of 135 cards in the “Baseball Photographer Trading Cards” set, a whimsical and unique collectible that’s equal parts art and spoof. It was the grad school brainchild of Mike Mandel, a photographer and professor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and features images of 1970s photographers in baseball gear and poses. The cards are being reissued this fall by D.A.P./J&L Books as part of a boxed set of Mandel’s work called Good 70s.

Mandel’s maverick streak was evident early—at the age of seven while growing up in Los Angeles, he received a San Francisco Giants hat and transistor radio from his grandmother following her trip to Northern California. The Giants were fresh from their move from New York, and Mandel would lie awake, feigning sleep and staying up late to listen to Giants games on the radio.

“All my friends were Dodgers fans,” he says. “I was kind of the antagonist.”

Like many other boys of his generation, he collected baseball cards throughout his childhood. By the time he reached graduate school for photography at the San Francisco Art Institute in the mid-1970s, the country had changed dramatically—the scrubbed façade of the 1950s had been exposed by the counterculture movement, changing many facets of American society, including the art world. Up until that point, photography had been considered a derivative, sideline pursuit, the podiatry of the art community.

(Mike Mandel)

“There were very few photographers that were getting any kind of national recognition as far as artists go,” Mandel explains.

“Photography was always seen as this reproducible medium where you could make tens of thousands of photographs off the same negative, so it didn’t have that same aura of the original,” he says.

That lack of respect traces back to the early-20th century, when art theorist and philosopher Walter Benjamin “talked about how the art object had a very particular aura that was very specific. If you saw the original artwork in a museum it was really a very different kind of experience than seeing it reproduced in a book or some other way,” Mandel says.

“Photography was utilitarian,” says Shannon Thomas Perich, curator in the photographic history collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“Where there were famous photographers, they were photojournalists and war photographers—Margaret Bourke-White, those photographers that were featured in LIFE magazine, Robert Capa—even though you had lots of great photography coming out of the WPA [Works Progress Administration] and those photographs were very visible, photography was still very functional, and there wasn’t a lot of art photography that was seen widely,” Perich says.

But with the social foment of the 1960s, photography became a critical tool for depicting the injustices that fueled the decade’s outrage.

“If you go back to the ‘60s and the counter culture, you see images of the Vietnam War and recognize how photography was so important in communicating what was going on in the world,” says Mandel. That, coupled with vast improvements in the quality of 35 mm cameras, spurred a surge of interest in photography, especially in the academic community. Photography was finally taken seriously as art, and university art departments started churning out a new generation of photographic artists.

Sensing the shifting winds, Mandel wryly commented on photographers’ new legitimacy by combining their portraits with the ultimate symbol of commercialized Americana—the baseball card. With the help of his graduate advisor Gary Metz and Robert Heinecken, who established UCLA’s photography program in 1964, Mandel and his girlfriend at the time, Alison Woolpert, made a list of 134 photographers around the country who they wanted to depict in their set of cards.

“I wanted to make fun of the fact that this was a double-edged sword. It was great that photographers were being recognized as artists and that they were getting long overdue recognition, but at the same time there was this other half that came with it, which is this popular celebrity-hood which keeps people from being accessible,” Mandel says.

He started by approaching photographers in the Bay Area, landing such greats as Imogen Cunningham, whose card shows her throwing a nasty change-up while wearing what may seem like a Houston Astros hat but is actually a Mao cap, revealing her extreme political proclivities. Getting big names like Cunningham opened the floodgates, as other renowned artists like Ansel Adams signed on. Despite Adams’s celebrity, back then enlisting him in the effort was as simple as finding his number in the phone book and making a call.

“He thought it was a great idea, was very congenial and had a good time with it,” Mandel says.

Most of the artists he approached shared Adams’ enthusiasm.

“They were kind of making fun of themselves. They were in on the joke that photography was becoming a bigger enterprise, a popular cultural enterprise,” he says.

Mandel and Woolpert took their show on the road in the fall of 1974, cobbling together $1,700 in savings and embarking on a 14,000-mile cross-country road-trip to shoot their subjects. Once back, he took on the task of publishing 3,000 copies of each card for a total print run of 402,000. He carried his spoof to the extreme, including such vital statistics on the backs of the cards as “Favorite Photography Paper” and “Favorite Camera” and bits of wisdom from the photographers themselves (“Baseball is a an amusing anecdote about beautiful women,” said Minor White).

Mandel randomly sorted the cards into packs of ten and bundled them in plastic sleeves. The only thing missing was that key staple of all baseball card collecting—the bubblegum.

But Topps, the main manufacturer of baseball cards, gladly obliged Mandel’s plea for assistance, and before long his garage smelled like a cotton candy stand at the circus.

“I can’t recall how much it weighed, but I had 40,000 pieces of gum in these cartons that I stored in my garage,” he says.

He inserted one stick of gum per pack and distributed them to museums and art galleries around the country where they sold for a dollar apiece.

Coverage in Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and others generated such a buzz that museums began holding card trading parties where they could try and build complete sets. At one event at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Mandel held a card flipping contest, awarding the person whose card landed closest to the wall with a carton of 36 packs.

Given their popularity and limited run, the cards have since become a rare collector’s item. Mandel still sells original complete sets for around $4,000. But a much more affordable option is the re-issued set that comes as part of the Good 70s boxed set, for which all of the original negatives were re-scanned.

“The cards look ten times better in terms of their detail than what we had in 1975 in terms of technology,” he says. The set also includes reproductions of his other work from that era, some of it never-before-published, and a pack of the original cards from Mandel’s remaining collection. Just don’t try chewing the gum that’s included.

“I contacted the Topps people and the guy there in public relations remembered the guy from 40 years ago [who had donated the gum in the original project]. He inquired whether or not they had any gum because now they don’t even make gum except for some esoteric projects. They just make the cards. But he actually connected me to a guy in New Hampshire who makes fake gum from Styrofoam material. It’s pink, and it looks just like the gum from the packs of that era. We bought it from the guy and printed on the backside ‘this is not gum.’”

But keep your dentist’s phone number close, just in case your nostalgia gets a little carried away.

About Brad Balukjian

Brad Balukjian is a science writer and a biology professor at Laney College in Oakland, California. He just completed an 11,341-mile road trip to track down all the players in a single pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards for his upcoming book, Wax Pack. Read more at waxpackbook.com and follow him on Twitter @waxpackbook.

donderdag 8 juni 2017


Beat in Liverpool.
Frankfurt am Main, Europäische Verlagsanstalt/Europaring, 1965/1966. Cloth-covered boards (hardcover) with pictorial dustjacket (slightly worn to edges but complete), 20,5 x 20,5 cms., (20) pp. text with illustrations, (160) pp. photographic grainy plates photos in black-and-white giving a claer image of youth and Beat scene in Liverpool in the early sixties, including bohemianism, music, pop art. Dutch first edition of this 'sixties'-book published 1966 by Europäische Verlagsanstalt / Europaring. Accompanied by a 7? vinyl record in picture sleeve held by a black cloth band at the back of the book. The single features the Clayton Squares recorded at the Cavern Club on the A-side, and the B-side has The Hideaways recorded at the Sink Club. *Book (apart from d/j), sleve and record in very fine condtion.


Stewart Bale Double Decker Bus at Edge Lane Depot 1946

To coincide with Liverpool’s 800th anniversary celebrations, this major exhibition investigates how the city has influenced and inspired a diverse range of important post-war artists. Centre of the Creative Universe, which takes its title from a statement by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, explores how artists have contributed to an external view of Liverpool in people’s imaginations, and reveals, as well as challenges, myths of the creative scene in the city over the past four decades.

In that time Liverpool has emerged as a centre of global pop culture, a source of inspiration for documentary photography practice and politically motivated tendencies, and played host to a series of major avant-garde artists and movements ranging from Pop to Conceptual Art. As a result, Centre of the Creative Universe will include some of the most prominent artists of the last fifty years such as Keith Arnatt, Bernd & Hilla Becher, the Boyle Family, Jeremy Deller, Rineke Dijkstra, Adrian Henri, Candida Höfer, John Latham, Yoko Ono, Martin Parr, Bob and Roberta Smith, Sam Walsh and Tom Wood. The exhibition brings these key figures together in Liverpool, and through the interplay of their works, presents an ambitious history of the visual arts in the city, and explores the city’s status as a work of art in the mind of the artist.

Beat City
In the 1960s a cultural revolution emerged from Liverpool. It was centred upon music and especially the Cavern on Mathew Street, as seen in Daniel Farson’s film Beat City 1963, and the photographs for German magazine Stern by Max Scheler and Astrid Kirchherr.

However, other art forms played an equal part, from fashion to theatre to poetry and the visual arts. Involved in many of these forms was Adrian Henri. Henri staged happenings and poetry events at the Cavern and Hope Hall, wrote poetry and painted pop paintings, such as The Entry of Christ into Liverpool 1962–4.

A key site for artists was Liverpool 8. Among the artists who lived and worked there were Henri, pop artist Sam Walsh, John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe. This postcode came to signify a bohemian spirit as creative people came to visit and stay in the area. One famous visitor was Allen Ginsberg, who in 1965 proclaimed ‘Liverpool is at the present moment the centre of the consciousness of the human universe’.

Less well-known is the visit of German photographer Candida Höfer, who took some of her earliest exhibited images on a trip to experience the vibrant poetry scene in 1968. Höfer later studied with conceptual photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher who themselves visited Liverpool in 1966, capturing the Albert Dock in long-exposure shots.

Stewart Bale Caronia (undated) © University of Liverpool Library

Edward Chambré-Hardman Mersey Tunnel Interior (undated) © The National Trust, Edward Chambré-Hardman Collection

Henri Cartier-Bresson Liverpool 1962 © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos  

Adrian Henri The Entry of Christ into Liverpool in 1964 (Homage to James Ensor) 1962–4 © Catherine Marcangeli

Bernd & Hilla Becher Prince Albert Dock, Liverpool, GB 1966 © Bernd & Hilla Becher

Keith Arnatt Liverpool Beach Burial 1968 © Keith Arnatt

Sheridon Davies Yoko Ono Bandaged 1967 © Sheridon Davies

Martin Parr England, Liverpool 1983–6 © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Tom Wood Stanley Road, Bootle 1989 © Tom Wood

Tom Wood Pink Lipstick 1982–6 © Tom Wood

Dr Vanley Burke Society’s Problem Punkband  with Bullet Belt and Union Jack T-Shirt c.1980 © Dr Vanley Burke

Dr Vanley Burke Toxteth, not Croxteth c.1980 © Dr Vanley Burke

Rineke Dijkstra The Buzzclub, Liverpool, UK/Mysteryworld, Zaandam, NL 1996–7 © Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra The Buzzclub, Liverpool, UK/Mysteryworld, Zaandam, NL 1996–7 © Rineke Dijkstra

Alec Soth Laura and Steve, Liverpool, United Kingdom 2004 © Alec Soth/Magnum Photos

Neville Gabie Playing Away UK  Liverpool 1998–2005 © Neville Gabie

Jeremy Deller and Paul Ryan Drawing for ‘Brian Epstein’s Liverpool’ from Sketchbook 71 2006 © Jeremy Deller and Paul Ryan