Day One: Thursday 26 August 2010, London
As I lie here listening to the rain, I think back to 10 years ago… to the last time I was there.
The heat, the crowded bars and dark lonely alleys… and then the images, images everywhere, in convents and on buildings.
I never thought I would return… but I saw it there, alive, definitely alive.
Then I hear a rumour going around. Whispers, and murmurs, spoken out there on the web, that it’s died, yes, it is truly dead… dead.
So I realise as I lie here, that I have to return. To go south once again, to see for myself if it’s true, that it really is dead. But maybe it’s just in hiding, retired or simply in disguise.
I can’t believe it’s dead, I know that in my bones.
So I know I have to return, to head back again.
Day Two: Monday 31 August 2010, London Stansted
Today we leave. We board a Boeing 737 chartered by Ryanair. The last time I flew with that outfit I swore I never would again, yet here I am. Waiting at the airport and watching all the people returning home as I prepare to leave gives me time to think.
There is a character in a novel by David Mitchell who runs a film shop and he muses that the quality of any movie is inversely proportional to the number of helicopters in said movie. It gets me thinking of how this could relate to photographs.
But they’ve just announced boarding, so for now that will have to wait.
Day Two Update: 1am Perpignan, France
Having just returned from the Café de la Poste, the memories are flooding back fast. The characters, the pioneers and the figures that can make a photographer’s dreams come true. And then these wolves. The wolves that surround them.
Strangely many people seem to be here for the same reasons I am – hunting, or rather searching, albeit each for their individual reasons.
We met a young photographer who was told Perpignan can be a lonely place if you don’t know what you’re here for. You have to find your targets, research them and hunt them down.
We leave early as for some reason we don’t feel part of the gang, almost like right now we don’t have the right accreditation. But I’m sure the morning, and a new day, will change that.
We digress, but what we can report is that there is definitely still a hunger here, and a thirst, a thirst of the kind that I don’t believe the Café de la Poste can quench.
Day Three: Tuesday 1 September 6pm, Perpignan, France
We have spent the day wandering the streets, seeing the many exhibitions, which transports us temporarily out of Perpignan into exotic places and cultures. Tomas van Houtryve’s Behind the Curtains: Stories from the Last Communist Holdouts investigates the contradictions of Marxist ideology across the globe from Cuba and Moldova to Laos and China.
© Tomas Van Houtryve / VII Network. Young boys firing pellet guns at a shooting range. Many Cubans who lived through the revolution still believe in its ideals, but younger generations are more likely to be skeptical about State ideology and are quietly waiting for change. Havana, Cuba, October 26, 2008.
© Tomas Van Houtryve / VII Network. A group of Young Communist League girls walking past a statue of Chairman Mao Zedong in front of the Revolutionary Memorial Hall. Yan’an, promoted as the “Revolutionary Holy Land,” has various “Red Tourism” sites supported by the Chinese government. Yan’an, China, November 7, 2009.
From these exotic countries we turn to what is a more familiar place (although often stranger than fiction) – the USA, with a photo story on the majestic Californian redwoods by Michael Nichols, shot for and published by National Geographic. What’s staggering about this show is the one, immense composite photograph of a 300-foot redwood that’s over 1500 years old.
Walking across town to the Couvent Des Minimes, we go to see Stephanie Sinclaire’s study of polygamy in America, a body of work she has spent a great deal of time on, and with an astonishing level of access. In terms of looking ‘Behind the Curtain’, this ripped the damn blinds down.
© Stephanie Sinclair / VII for National Geographic. After the funeral service for Foneta Jessop, an FLDS man is seen linking arms with six of his wives, two of them Foneta’s daughters. “They made these dresses especially for the occasion,” he says, “and chose the same color to symbolize the love they share.” Only men deemed “godly” are approved for plural marriage by the church leader; if the husband is subsequently deemed unworthy, their wives and children may be reassigned to other men.
Next we are in the Bronx with a set of pictures by Antonio Bolfo. One can’t help thinking of the The Wire when looking at Bolfo’s photographs of young and discontented cops of the NYPD’s Operation IMPACT. These officers are sent into the most dangerous and violent areas of New York, at the earliest stages of their careers.
© Antonio Bolfo / Reportage by Getty Images. Officers helplessly listen to a colleague cry for help over the radio. Because IMPACT cops patrol on foot and have no access to police vehicles, they are unable to respond to the officer in need of assistance.
I have seen a lot today but it’s too early to draw any conclusions. What I saw and heard last night tells me that this place is not just about the photographs, there is more. There is something that brings people back.
There certainly is something that is alive here, but what it is I have yet to pin down, yet to fully understand.
This morning, at the Couvent Saint Claire, we were offered a very close insight into the life of Ian Fisher, a young American GI, in the exhibition of work by Craig F Walker. The intimacy of this project is touching, and makes one think about the informative and educational scope of such a simple, yet thorough body of work, similar to Sinclair’s. It reminds us of the words of Henry Luce, when he founded LIFE Magazine:
“…to see man’s work – his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things a thousand miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to; the women men love and many children; to see and take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed.”
© Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post / Polaris. Fort Benning, Georgia, USA, August 13, 2007, 10:24 a.m. Moving up from his PTs and fatigues, Ian is fitted for his Class A dress uniform.
As I continue with my mission, it strikes me that nothing much has changed in 10 years.
It’s still alive, for sure…
But thinking about that worries me, surely it should have changed? Matured? Evolved even?
With this in mind, we scale the Palais Des Congres confront the Gettys, the Corbis’s, the VIIs… the dream-makers. The shamans.
To be continued…