22Nov

Our so-called Leaders

First there was Charlie, who raped a poor and depressed Irish nation in the 1980’s. We got over that. We then voted for Bertie, a self-proclaimed socialist, who was well mentored by the aforementioned Charlie. Charlie died, Bertie made a nice speech, all the time preparing his bed along with another Charlie, fluffing his pillows with cash while taking the credit for a booming economy driven by hype and brown envelopes. Bertie too raped the nation, and before anyone actually knew what was happening, his sneaky shadow was gone taking the credit for the peace process and Ireland’s new found wealth.

I voted for Bertie, not because my father voted for his party, but because I believed he would give Ireland a new hope, a new confidence. I was a hopeful twenty-something that trusted him. He wasn’t like Charlie. He was different. He was not.

Now we have Brian and Brian. Their inept and arrogant party have never once apologized, never taken responsibility, have constantly lied and are still, unbelievably,  doing so. The tragic reason being that they would rather save their own pathetic party than do what’s right for the millions of people in this country. For the women and men whose lives would be changed by getting two measly hours help a week with their ailing spouses who have MS or dementia. Fianna Fáil doesn’t care about them. They only care about themselves and people who have money. They care about bankers. They will never change.

Think about this the next time you vote. Tell it to the people you know who vote Fianna Fáil only because their father votes for them and their grandfather voted for them. Tell it to the people who say they don’t understand politics (never bothering to actually think about it). This party deserves the respect they show the poor and weakest in this country. Hopefully in a few weeks we can all show them that.


13Oct

Day 1

After a very quiet summer on this project, I had my first constructive meeting with a group of over 50’s in the Dublin 15 area that will be my first models in my new project. The summer is a quiet time for schools and senior groups, so it all kicked off in September. I had enough to be getting on with however, as in September we screened my debut film The Hidden Garden as part of ABSOLUT Fringe, which was an amazing and beautiful thing. For more information on this, see here.

Today, eleven people called into me at Draíocht. I had met some before briefly when I went to pitch the project to them. Most of them had heard about me and the project from the local newspapers, or through an very proactive and helpful lady called Lillian Harris who has taken a great interest in the project. We started with tea and biscuits which consisted of jam rings – a new unhealthy favorite of mine. I rabbited on about what the project is about and why I was doing it. I also let them know what they would expect to be getting up to if they decided to take it further. The project’s concept is fairly strong at this stage. The actual details of it are still a bit vague. However, by the time we had a very informative and open discussion about getting old and about being invisible (or not), I took them into the studio to introduce them to the concept of studio lighting, and the studio itself.

I was always going to involve the participants in the project, so today seemed like a good day to start. Each took a turn at the camera and photographed one person with the camera hooked up to a studio light. To my surprise, there was very little resistance at either being the photographer or to being photographed.

 

Lillian

 

 

Marion

 

 

Joan

 

 

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Bettie

 

The project is essentially based on one social grey area, which is about older people and their visibility in society. I say grey area, as the area I choose to investigate is older person’s fashion. It could be just a personal taste issue: if you were fashionable in your 30’s then it’s probably not something you’ve lost. If you didn’t care about fashion in your 30’s chances are you don’t care much about it when you are in your 70’s. Maybe there is fashion for everyone, regardless of age. I have a feeling that it’s not as simple as that, although one person today told me that buying clothes is not a problem at all. I would say that most wouldn’t agree with that, but I’ll let my survey decide.

We will all meet on a monthly basis as a group, which will be important in an overall discussion of how the project is going for them. Between now and December 1st, I will meet with each one individually (or as a smaller subgroup) and decide on that basis, how each person would like to be represented.

I still haven’t decided about film or digital.


22Jul

Do you have anything for me?

While working on Wearing Purple, where I turned my camera on the retired people of my hometown in Carrick, Co. Donegal, the idea of invisibility was a common thread in the conversations I had with the people I photographed. Some felt that since they are over 65 and retired, their status in society had been downgraded as such. Some of them commented on younger people not acknowledging them, often looking right past them.

For this work, my research begins at an important source of our collective obsession with youth – the fashion-advertising image. Most of us are obsessed with youth and avoiding the reality at all costs, which keep the advertising and cosmetics industries very happy. The advertising industry predominately targets a younger audience with younger skinner beautiful models, with fashion also geared to that genre. In my previous blog entry I introduced the question, ‘do older people abandon fashion, or does fashion abandon older people?’. in other words, are older people invisible also to the fashion industry?

I want to look nice too

I have no idea what the answer is. Perhaps it’s a comfort thing; perhaps it’s a case of no longer caring what anyone thinks; perhaps it’s because they can’t find stylish clothes ‘for their age’; perhaps it’s down to financial concerns. Either of these or a combination of these is possible for a lot of people, but even as I write this, I am reminded of some sharp dressed ladies in their 70’s with lots of style at a recent funeral I attended. Perhaps the idea of the uniform: the elastic skirt, cardigan, pullover, pants and so on, is something too that will be confined to history as older people refuse to conform to our societal norms. I created this survey for older people to complete – it’s 10 questions that attempt to draw some conclusions on the concept of the uniform in the older person’s closet.

I had a very interesting chat with a 64 year old woman today. We talked about how we sometimes think it’s OK to treat some of our older and most-alive demographic as children; about why we expect them to do certain things, to act a certain way, to avoid certain things and dress a certain way just because they’ve pushed on 5 or 10 years; and when they refuse to be pushed into that little box we make for them, why do we then label them as daft and ‘away with the fairies’? She also talked of another fascinating thing we as a society tend to do. We have this idea that as we get older, we adopt a completely new personality and become re-born. We’ve all heard the saying ‘God, didn’t he get very cranky in his old age’. Chances are he was a fairly cranky 30 and 40 year old too.

I talked about getting rid of this metaphorical box before, in relation to my work photographing older people. I want to use the idea of printed media, the glossy magazine, the Vogue’s and various other fashion shoots celebrating youth and promoting glamour, as the inspiration for giving older people a stage to look as beautiful and glamorous as their youthful counterparts. In the next few months, I will re-create fashion shots with older people, and in the process, address what we as a society perceive to be ‘beautiful’.

My darkroom is almost built, my studio, almost ready. So … film or digital …


13Jul

Some notes on Fashion Photography

Edward Steichen

My latest work has me digging in books about fashion, and how it has changed and adapted to suit the social climate and current trends of the time. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next two decades in relation to one particular social change of our time, which is that we’re living a lot longer than we were 50 or 60 years ago. I’m pondering a question I read by someone, whose name now escapes me (perhaps Pamela Church-Gibson), which went something like ‘do older people abandon fashion, or does fashion abandon older people?’. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m going to do some more digging and report back in six months or so!

Since its beginning, very early on in photography’s history, the fashion industry began to see the potential with photography to advance its own goals. Photography took over the fashion illustrations that existed in the 20’s, to give women something tangible and real; something a little less conceptual.

Fashion imagery of the 1930’s lacked any form of narrative. Women had their place in society, and fashion advertising’s role was to create an ideal that women could aspire to. The Second World War and Hollywood had a huge impact which generated new codes of representation, narratives and fantasies. The concept of the ‘real’ person was introduced by photographers such as Lee Miller, who photographed women in everyday situations in wartime Britain.

Post WWII moved outside of the studio. The 60’s and all its revolution changed the way women saw themselves in society, and in fashion photography, it changed the way they saw themselves to men and to society itself. The static woman in the studio was beginning to be replaced by a more energetic woman on the move, outside. This was a time of huge change worldwide, both socially and culturally.  People like David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy created a certain type of realism, looking at the woman inside the clothes. A theme that followed this type of realism was one labelled ‘brutal realism’ deployed by photographers like Guy Borurdin, often commenting on the eroticism of women and underlying tensions and movements that reflected the period.

Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin

As the 1980’s arrived, subcultures such as the punk movement offered up some ideas that were translated into both a commerce solution and a social document of the time. People were photographed in the street in ‘normal’ conditions. In the decades that followed, a new ideal was created. This ideal was almost super human, and set a new definition for ‘beauty’. This unattainable ideal of ‘beauty’ had burdened photography with a whole new type of representation, one that affected a whole wider social context. The supermodel was born.

Elliott Smedley claims that fashion photography can confront problematic issues and force us to ask questions and address wider concerns, something that was once in the realm of photojournalism.[1] While he also touches on the point of fashion imagery ignoring the non-slim, the non-young and those who are not able-bodied, it’s difficult to see how fashion photography can, in any way, make us confront problematic issues when it is so selective in the ‘real’ problems it claims to confront. The advertising machine cannot ignore any demographic of people who have money to spend. That’s probably rule number 1 of Capitalism. One demographic that fits that bill in the West is our older population. This demographic does not fit into the historic, and current, super human ideal of beauty. If history is anything to go by, one can only surmise that fashion photography will continue to adapt to the relevant and current social trends. Will fashion for old age be one of them? For how much longer can the the fashion industry and retail outlets ignore the over 50’s?

Pamela Church Gibson argues, “the only industry really geared up to respond to the needs of the ageing population is … the beauty industry. Cosmetic scientists and surgeons are set to maximise their profits and allay the fears of their customers”.[2] There in-lies a twisted paradox.


[1] Smedley, Elliott, ‘Escaping to Reality: Fashion Photography in the 1990’s’ in Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis. Bruzzi, Stella and Gibson, Pamela Church (ed.). Routledge, London, 2000, p. 155

[2] Gibson, Pamela Church, ‘Invisible Women, Ageing and Fashion’ in Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis. Bruzzi, Stella and Gibson, Pamela Church (ed.). Routledge, London, 2000, p. 83


08Jun

Two Weeks in Scoil Bhríde

My introduction to the book I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. The book can be previewed here here on Blrub.com

Hockey

At the beginning of May I made my first visit to Scoil Bhríde, and met the class that I would be working with to produce this book. After possibly one of the quickest introductions to the idea of a photographic narrative ever given, their brief was to document the school building and to tell their personal story of their experience with the school. Their stories were to include even the no-go areas; something every school has and something every student body will not ignore.

As the weeks progressed, the pupils’ composition skills were tuned, and soon a rich narrative of school life began to form. It was impossible not to have these girls be part of this story; it was after all, their story. In three groups, they documented the corridors and gym, the classrooms, and the areas outside. Each of these spaces had some contribution to the girls’ social makeup over the eight years they had been taught at Scoil Bhríde. The school corridor, for example, is a sort of in-between place linking the classroom to the world outside, where the concepts of queuing and patience were introduced. The classroom, which dominates school life, is the place of learning, obedience and where respect is shown to both teachers and pupils. The yard and outside environment are locations where social skills such as co-operation, leadership and creativity are fostered.

The group of 27 students began this project with no photographic experience other than perhaps the snapshots that populate most family albums. After some compositional tips and suggestions for image improvement such as using flash and backlighting, they continued to make over 3,000 images that documented almost every inch of the school in two weeks. Like a fine-tuned military operation, no person or place was exempt, even the caretaker’s office.

From these, the photos were edited down to a small pile for each of the three groups. They carefully decided on what to include and, most importantly, what to exclude. They decided together how this book should be structured, from the title down to the school’s red and white colours of the opening page. Each pupil was asked to write a short story about a personal memory associated with the section of the school they were assigned to photograph. Selections of those stories are presented alongside the imagery in this book. To me, they tell a story that we all have of school, of being 12 and about to enter the second phase of our education. The stories capture something beautiful, uncensored, almost vulnerable, and celebrate the free spirit we each had as children; something often suppressed as we get older.

The principal, Dr Déirdre Kirwan, has written about the importance of this publication for pupils, historians and the school itself. I feel that its importance extends even beyond that: anyone picking up this book and flicking through it will inevitably be reminded of their own corridors, classroom and yards – their own stories.

For the authors of this book, it will forever be a testament to their creativity and free spirit. It will also no doubt be an enjoyable reminder of their final few weeks in May 2010, photographing the length and breadth of Scoil Bhríde. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each student who participated, who gave their full attention, enthusiasm and creative energy into producing this rich visual account of school life, and to wish them the very best on the next leg of their education.

These stories and photographs give us a rare gift – a universal account of school, which the girls of Scoil Bhríde invite us to revisit.

The book can be found online here.