So I joined Panos.
Why would anyone join an agency today? Do we really need one? Can't we all just do some Social Media strategy and simply reach everyone by sharing what we've done? Can't we just produce amazing work and let it do the talk? Can't we work less but keep all the earnings for ourselves?
Ever since I started doing photography I wanted to work with an agency. Who didn't want to be a Magnum photographer? Who didn't want to join VII when VII was super cool?. Vu was a dream for those working in the 80's, Corbis was large and hi-tech. I got to join Reportage by Getty years ago, a reportage agency backed by the absolute leader of commercial photo sales. Institute? cool, real alpha male in the jungle.
Panos was always an agency unique in its kind. Coming from an NGO background, really focused in social issues, with a special taste for underreported, and non obvious subjects. Many of the photographers I always took as references are Panos members. Some of them have been my friends, or I have been it touch with for years. Others have been in my radar, and now they are in my arm reach. Am I saying this because I want to look like a nice guy in front of the eyes of my new colleagues? No, but yes, I want them to know how good I feel after spending a couple days with them in London for the Annual General Meeting. I got to know the amazing Panos production crew, I heard some very inspiring talks, and I can confirm I do feel like I might have found the right place for me.
What I percieve as the main feature of this agency is that the typical Panos photographer is basically a lone wolf who loves to have a gang to gather with now and then. Self-driven, proactive, imaginative and engaged people who are also able to share their knowledge. I like how Panos lets photographers go solo when they want to, but offer their support if required. Staff is smartly shifting the agency strategies towards a more broad-minded production house, able to enlagre its horizons in terms of project concepts, type of clients and cross-over productions. I think Panos has understood where is the documentary visual world going to and are ready to create their own standards.
Do I need this for working as I have been doing so far? Not really. Do I need this to make a better version of me and be part of something bigger? Yes, I think so. I will keep working in personal projects, making photobooks, exhibitions, videos, editorial features, and all the rest, but now I can count on a larger body, to be part or drive bigger projects and reach a bigger audience.
So here we go. Let's see what happens next.
I was in Cologne for the opening of the PhotoBook Museum, a project that is finally coming to life thanks to publisher Markus Schaden and his wonderfully and strongly motivated team, including Frederic Lezmi who almost failed to make it to the opening. I heard about the project about a year ago, and during all this time, we have been planning, designing exhibitions and crossing our fingers so that the project would one day be real. I arrived to Cologne a few days before the opening to set up my exhibition in a container. Carolyn Drake, Todd Hiddo, Cristina de Middel, Ricardo Cases, David Allan Harvey, Andrea Diefenbach, Stephen Gill, Ed Templeton and a few more great photographers joined in, and we had a great time during the long working days. It seemed to me that things were too much upside down just a couple days before the opening, but Markus seemed completely confident. And he was right, as usual. It was magic to see how they were able to reproduce the famous Café Lehmitz and really use it as a bar. The opening was quite busy: maybe up to 2.000 people joined the event.
There were different exhibitions, set in various areas and structures. In the central area there were a group of shipping containers, each one containing an exhibition. The Pigs was in one of them, and I was super happy to see the container always crowded, full of people.
Just to give an idea of what the mood was like, I’ll only say that I danced to club music. The last time that had happened before, was when “club” was a word used mainly for men-only cigar smokers associations. Needles to say that the presence of Emaho Magazine editor, Manik Katyal and dancing king Wolfgang Zurborn was a decisive circumstance. I finally met Federica Chiocchetti who teamed up with other italian mobsters such as Andrea Botto. I met and had a nice conversation with Andrea Diefenbach and spent a lot of time with Marco Cortesi, director of Lugano FotoDays Festival, where my little pigs are travelling very soon.
I know what you're thinking: "are you ever going to stop dropping names?" Yes, I'm done.
I was also part of the jury for the Kassel Dummy Award. We met, we discussed, and we chose the 1+2 winners. Among the shortlisted there were grteat dummies. Some of them too overworked (don't do that, people) and others too amateur-looking on purpose (don't do that either). Kassel's director, Dieter Neubert wrote a short text containing the jury's basic outputs.
All in all I had a wonderful time, and I’m pretty sure that the PhotoBook Museum will have a long and healthy life after the temporary set will start its itinerancy. Keep your eyes open, and follow the containers trail. It won’t be difficult, as you may simply find them round the corner in one of the main photo meetings next year.
Barely 3 weeks from now I will be in Cologne for the grand opening of the PhotoBookMuseum, an initiative by Markus Schaden and his team, that is destined to be one of the most significant events related to the photobook culture. “The Pigs” will be exhibited in a container, along with David Alan harvey’s “Based in true facts”, De Middel’s “Afronauts” and many other great books and photographers. There are going to be workshops, talks, a bookshop, and most importantly, this great exhibition is going to start a World Tour for the next two years. Will the PhotoBook Museum become a reference for the coming photographers, designers, publishers and everyone involved in the peculiar business of photo book making? It looks like this could be the natural development of events.
Earlier this summer I went to Dublin to attend the PhotoIreland Festival, which I found very nice in all aspects. Nice exhibitions, very nice talks, and interesting open debates. Of course, as usual, a lot happens too after the formal talks, around a Guinness. I felt like in a cozy, privileged insider's meeting.
Right after that, my family and I went to Arles, where I met most of the people I wanted to meet, and saw some interesting things. The one I liked best was the the exhibition of chinese books curated by Martin Parr. The use of torches to see in the darkened building was particularly nice for my 5 years old child, who otherwise wouldn’t have endured such a thoughful activity. For me it was a needless sophistication, but all in all it was good.
As everyone has already said, the Cosmos meeting point was the place to be, and the Archive of Modern Conflict had the most trendy display, with those old suitcases. And I liked their book “The night climbers of Cambridge".
If I am forced to say what's the one thing I would save in an earthquake, I would say Patrick Willocq amazing photos.
From a personal point of view, It was great. I was awarded the lacritique.org - Voies Off Award, and that makes me clearly happy.
Ok, but where is the controversy?
Calm. Here it goes.
During this summer I have been asked 4 times wether I had taken the photos in The Pigs, or they were collected from Internet. The first time I was asked this question, I looked at the young girl like “Wtf are you talking about?, are you serious?”. Yes, she was serious as a brain tumor. My first reaction was a bit like: “you see, I’m very old fashion, and I love to take my own photos. The love of shooting is the root of me being a photographer. Otherwise, I could go back to my old advertising agency job and get a salary for picking other people’s photographs”.
In Lausanne, Dublin and Arles I have seen really many books made out of photos taken by others. Something that used to be a taboo, like taking other people’s work and present it like yours, is now not only well accepted, but encouraged and super trendy. The idea that taking photos is no longer needed nor necessary, because photography has become a commodity lies in the base of the principle that promotes this trend. The idea of remix vs the idea of creation from draft is clear, and easy to understand. Somehow, it has been around for more than 100 years, when Duchamp first declared that everything can be art, if we all accept it is. So, nothing really new. Just a new way of avoiding one of the most difficult tasks for a photographer: go out and make damned good photos. Making good photos (relevant, pertinent, well crafted) has always been extremely difficult. Contrary to the popular belief, today is not easier than it used to be. Today is a lot more difficult, because the average standard has risen so high, that for photographers, to do something that makes sense, they really need to squeeze their brains a lot harder than they used to.
I’m a big fan of conceptual works. I love projects when they have really deep conceptual foundings. But that said, I don’t remember any experience similar to knowing that you have just captured in a frame exactly what you were expecting to capture. This is no conceptual matter. This is like going downhill on a bike, or drinking cold beer in summer. This is epidermic pleasure. Almost animal, primitive.
Does that mean I don't like Andrea Botto's 19-06_26-08-1945? No. First, because it's a very nice book. Then, because he is a very nice guy, and then because he also has Ka-Boom, which is an explosion of photography.
It’s great that art directors, designers, critics, theorists, curators and teachers play with photography. But guys, try to go out and shoot. Try until you make one photo that makes you thrill. There is nothing like that. And there is also no shortcut, no way around. There’s only you and the world in front of you. No intro text will replace the power of a perfect (to you) image, the same way no DJ will ever feel like a piano player.
Also, consider this: when you are about to die, you may remember some of your great shots. I seriously doubt that you will remember your artist statement that explains why and how you didn’t take a photo of something.
Last weekend I was in Lausanne for La Nuit des Images, organized by Le Musée de l'Elysée. It was good to show The Pigs on a screen to a very educated audience, although the rain made the screening a bit challenging. The atmosphere was kind, clean and super polite, as everything usually is in Switzerland. Children were taken in more consideration than adults, and that should be taken as a real compliment, because that makes adults very happy. The only way to make parents go to cultural activities is to think about children as one of the core matters to take care of, not like something you can solve with a baloon clown. Besides that, food was good, and drink comes in bottles, so it's good everywhere.
I won't mention any names, because anyway can't remember them, but some of the screenings I saw were a bit boring to me. Ale hop. I said it. Maybe I am becoming like old men, who need to eat extra salty and spicy to feel any taste. Or maybe they are serving tasteless vegan food too often.
Instead, I saw one of the most astonishing films I have seen so far: Roger Ballen's Asylum of the Birds.
Ever asked yourself wether Roger Ballen photos showed real people or staged fake freaks? Here you have your answer. Just one thing: don't show this to ultra sensitive people or children. You would create an impossible to erase trauma for no reason. For the rest of us, already half the way to the grave, it's just amazing.
Oh, yes, the good old times -when I used to write posts telling the world my photowisdom- are gone.
Now this in no longer a blog. This is a news page where I share whatever I am doing (and I'm proud of).
That is why the front page stays unchanged for weeks and weeks. One can't be doing cool stuff all the time. No matter how hard I try, I am always trapped between the last cool thing I did and the next one. In between there is a lot of email writing, researching and of course, real life.
A few days ago I was in Barcelona for the opening of the Foto Colectania Foundation exhibition "Here and Now: spanish photobooks".
I particularly loved the place. Not enormous, not small either. A nice size, able to hold an 8 photographers exhibition without feeling overcrowded.
I'd say some 100 people came to the opening. We had an open debate between the photographers and visitors, among them Joan Fontcuberta, Ramón Reverté, Jesús Micó and other well known names among photobook lovers.
The conversation was mainly about wether this photobook boom is a real thing, or just another (PIGS style) bubble that is bursting at any moment. We also discussed how to make the non-insider buy photobooks. There were more that two opinions regarding this. From where I see it, a photographer should focus in matters that are interesting for everyone, try to package the story in a viewer friendly and not too expensive way, and of course, spend some time promoting the book. Whoever is not willing to include the viewer when thinking a new project should not complain if they sell less than 200 books.
I spent a few minues talking abouth The Pigs to journalists. They reacted with a few discreet laughs. I believe no matter how serious, or even sad your story is, people always enjoy funny anecdotes. You know what they say: people forget what you say, but they don't forget how you make them feel. So I try to make them feel ok.
I have translated The Pigs into an exhibition by photographing the magazine itself at two different distances. In one you see the whole spread, so the image is there, and the paper is there too. The paper form of the project is always present. The other close up is more dramatic: you can see the printing pattern, and even the macro details of the paper. I show 3 important things together: the image, the paper, and the detail you should pay attention to. Of course, anyone is welcome to think they would rather focus on some other parts of the photo. This will eventually lead me to make more closeups, and make the exhibition larger. One interesting thing is that you will never get the real aspect of the exhibition if you don't see it in person. A computer screen will always blend the dots of the printing grid, so there you have a reason to fly from wherever you are, go to Barcelona and spend a few minutes in front of The Pigs On a Wall.
10 months after The Pigs was published, after dozens of reviews on some of the most reputed publications and a couple awards, The International New York Times has published a "Page Two" about it. This makes me happy, so I'm sharing it.
I was invited to present a project at the Winterthur Fotomuseum Plat[t]form 2014 event.
During a weekend, a group of selected artists show their work to a group of experts, while general public can freely walk around and have a look too.
Each artist has a set of tables on which they display whatever they want to show. Some people display prints, other have books, monitors, ipads, objects, or all of these together. Many are giving brochures, info sheets or simply cards, so the viewer and potential client can take something with them to remember and consider when planning a festival or an exhibition, be it in a commercial gallery or an institution. Basically it’s like a temporary market, where artists show their best and have the chance to carefully explain their work and plans to people who are usually too busy to see emergent artist’s works.
Tiago Casanova presenting to Simon Baker, Shirana Shahbazi, Laurence Vecten and Duncan Forbes
This is not a portfolio review like the ones we are all already tired to see. Wether you are showing your stuff or seeing other people’s things, portfolio reviews happen too fast, and the best you can get or give is a tap on a shoulder, a contact card and a polite smile.
Instead, the Plat[t]form model allows each artist 2 hours to show artwork and be very specific about what they want and need. The reviewers will spend enough time, and will see more than a box full of pictures. All the artists I’ve seen there –including myself- had carefully prepared their presentations. Our speeches were concise and straight. I clearly stated that I have translated The Pigs into an exhibition, and I am looking for the right institution or gallery to produce and show it. I have many other goals in life, but in that context this was the one I needed to talk about.
Xiaoxiao Xu (CH)
I made good friends with the Osservatorio Fotografico team – Silvia Loddo and Cesare Fabbri- from Ravenna, Italy. I finally met Max Pinckers and we swapped books. My “first friend” around was amazing artist Charlie Koolhaas, who was Morten Barker “first friend”. Morten presented his work in a way I won't forget. I also met Tiago Casanova, Mathieu Asselin, and other artists. I will spare you the polite-listing. There were also people I didn’t even exchanged a word with, mainly unpurposedly. Everybody was quite busy seeing other people’s work and preparing their presentations.
Ravenna Postacrds by Osservatorio Fotografico (Moira Ricci)
My presentation was apparently not too bad. I got one of the 7 mentions, which means I have a star on Plat(t) form website. I don’t know any serious photographer or artist working for medals or badges, but it was funny to speculate about this sort of student-like hope.
Plat[t]form reviewing model is very interesting, because it’s a curated event. Artists showing their work have previousy been nominated by trusted people in the photography world oll around the globe, and then only a part of those nominated get access to it. So whatever you see in Plat[f]form has a minimum of quality and prefessionalism. You won’t find many weekend artists, or the extremely young students, there. You’ll find people who have already published books, had exhibitions, but want to give a step forward.
Max Pinckers autoportrait in his "The Fourth Wall" book.
The other striking thing is that there is actual public there! People from Winterthur and Zürich go the Fotomuseum and see what’s going on. It’s not just the usual photographers and their friends. It’s everybody and their sons. And I just love to see non related-people watching art and asking about it.
Mathieu Asselin - shooting "Monsanto a photographic investigation."
One can never know if after the talking comes the making, but you do know for sure that you had the chance to say yours to a very qualified audience. After all, this job is a lot about seeding, leaving traces, and hoping that the sun comes after the rain so the work ends up blooming.
Milou Abel (NL)
Duarte Amaral Netto (PT)
Mathieu Asselin (FR)
Phillip Aumann (DE)
Morten Barker (DK)
Máté Bartha (HU)
Sara Bjarland (FI)
Justine Blau (LU)
Sarah Carlier (BE)
Tiago Casanova (PT) *
Yves Drillet (FR)
Cédric Eisenring (CH)
Robert Ellis (IE)
Krisztina Erdei (HU)
Michael Etzensperger (CH)
Anna Fabricius (HU)
Julie Goergen (LU)
Adrien Guillet (FR)
Annabel Hesselink (NL)
Viivi Huuska (FI)
Sophie Jung (LU)
Charlie Koolhaas (NL)
Joëlle Lehmann (CH)
Osservatorio Fotografico (Silvia Loddo & Cesare Fabbri/IT)
Tom Lovelace (UK)
Sara-Lena Maierhofer (DE)
Theo Michael (GR)
Benjamin Mouly (FR)
Sabine Niggemann (DE)
Hannah Perry (UK) *
Max Pinckers (BE) *
Stef Renard (BE)
Sevim Sancaktar (TR)
Theo Simpson (UK) *
Carlos Spottorno (E) *
Sebastian Stadler (CH) *
Andrzej Steinbach (DE)
Sutercaputo (Linda Suter & Paola Caputo/CH)
Anna-Stina Treumund (EE)
Stuart Whipps (UK)
Xiaoxiao Xu (CN/NL) *
The primary experts:
Simon Baker, Curator of Photography, Tate Modern, London;
Karol Hordziej, artistic director, Photomonth Krakow;
Shirana Shahbazi, artist, Zurich;
Laurence Vecten, collector, photoblogger and publisher of photobook, Paris;
Pro Helvetia Guests Plat(t)form 2014:
Arnis Balcus, Riga Photo Month Latvia
Pablo Bartholomew, photographer, New Delhi, India
Maha Maamoun, The Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo, Egypt
Thyago Nogueira, ZUM Magazine, São Paulo, Brazil
Duan Yuting, Lainzhou Photo Festival, China.
A few weeks ago Le Monde M published this article about The Pigs.
"Les Petit cochons de l’Europe. La presse internationale les appelle les “Pigs” et montre du doigt ces quatre cancres de l’Europe, Portugal, Italie, Grèce et Espagne. Dans un livre qui pastiche la revue “The Economist”, le photographe Carlos Spottorno donne à voir les clichés qui collent à la peau de ces pays du Sud. Fainéantise, pagaille, archaïsme… Une satire tragi-comique. Par Louise Couvelaire
Dans la langue de Shakespeare, pigs signifie « cochons ». Dans la bouche des néolibéraux anglo-saxons et sous la plume de la presse internationale, c’est un acronyme – insultant – qui désigne les cancres de l’Europe : Portugal, Italie, Grèce et Espagne (Spain en anglais). Dans l’objectif du photographe Carlos Spottorno, c’est un livre, sorte de pamphlet tragi-comique qui traduit en images les stéréotypes qui collent à la peau de ces pays du Sud. Entre caricature et provocation, humour et sérieux. « C’est ainsi, j’imagine, que les économistes nous voient », explique l’artiste, qui vit à Madrid, en première page. C’est aussi ainsi qu’il les renvoie dans leurs buts. En usant des mêmes clichés et en détournant leurs armes. Couverture, papier, typographie, format, logo…
The Pigs est un pastiche de la bible des partisans du libéralisme économique, L’hebdomadaire The Economist, qui fustige à longueur de colonnes leur manque de discipline fiscale. Au fil des pages, on peut voir de jeunes Espagnols jouer au footballboue (version low cost du ballon rond sur gazon) ; une colline en bord de mer, en Grèce, jonchée de détritus ; des logements aux allures de châteaux médiévaux en carton-pâte ; des gens qui font la sieste dans la rue ou sous un arbre ; des vêtements qui sèchent au milieu de ruines en Italie ; des constructions inachevées ; un jeune homme, au Portugal, devant une barre d’immeubles tenant son cheval par une corde… Tous les clichés y passent. La fainéantise, la pagaille, la vétusté, l’archaïsme ou encore l’incapacité de mener à bout un projet. Né à Budapest en 1971, Carlos Spottorno, ancien directeur artistique dans une agence de publicité, s’est converti à la photographie en 2001. Entre deux projets personnels, il shoote les campagnes de marques telles que Nike et Vodaphone. Décrit par le quotidien britannique The Guardian comme « un activiste post-moderne », le photographe, qui a vécu à Rome, Paris et Madrid, peut se montrer lui aussi sévère à l’égard de ces pays qu’il dit « vieux, cyniques et individualistes ». Avant d’ajouter : « A l’opposé d’un guide de voyage, ce livre montre tout ce que nous estimons embarrassant, parfois à raison, et parfois de façon injuste. » La quatrième de couverture clôt cette satire avec une farce : la fausse publicité d’une banque avec la photo d’une Ferrari accompagnée du slogan : « Vous n’avez pas besoin d’argent, vous avez seulement besoin d’un crédit ». Sous le logo de l’établissement financier fictif figure cette phrase : « Vivez au-dessus de vos moyens ». Inventée par l’artiste, la WTF Bank (What The Fuck Bank) dispose d’un site Internet qui propose également d’acquérir une villa en Italie, une équipe de football, un morceau de terrain sur la Lune ou encore la jeunesse éternelle. Un ultime pied de nez à ces financiers qui ont accablé l’Europe du Sud tout en se comportant comme des… pigs."
14 limited series prints 100 x 73 of some of the photos originally included in the book China Western were presented to the public, who was curious to know more about this isolated chinese province and the geopolitical matters that are explored within this project.
The day after I gave a workshop on Subjective Documentary Photography to 7 french photographers. It was nice, as workshops usually are.
It's amazing how la Chambre picked China Western for their 2013-2014 program, instead of going to the easier The Pigs, so much on the spot this year. China Western is a project I worked on for about 4 years, between 2006 and 2010, that went almost unnoticed, except for a reduced number of people in my own country. I'm glad it is somehow coming back to life. There will be some opportunities in the coming months to keep the exhibition traveling.
Thank you very much to Emeline Duffrenoy and Christophe Thiebaut, who found China Western in Madrid years ago, and waited the right moment to bring it to their place. Thanks to Stilbé, Etienne, Charlotte and the rest of the team.
Thak you also to Pepe Frisuelos, whose lab Daylightlab produces top level fine art prints in a friendly atmosphere.
I'm interested in power shifts.
Civilizations, cultures, nations just like individuals gain or lose power through the years, but unlike individuals, cultural or national power shifts happen very slowly, so most of the people miss what's going on.
Quoting Wikipedia: "The final dissolution of the Western Roman Empire is widely recognized as occurring on on September 4, 476, when Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed by Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain."
We like dates, so we can locate important facts in History, but in fact it took about 400 years to the Roman Empire to disintegrate. I suppose the 16 generations that lived during this time didn't think often things like "oh, our world is disappearing!". I suppose they lived their lives day by day, and evaluated their surrounding world according to their own situation.
I turned 30 three days after 9/11, and yes that was a shift. My own personal shift from childhood-youth to youth-adulthood coincided with the Western World shift from "we're the best, fuck the rest" to "what the fuck is going on?".
Islam became first page world news instantly, while the Chinese economic boom took a little more to be totally clear in everybody's mind.
If the future was going to be chinese, I had to know more about China, so I traveled there a few times shooting progress, growth and factories, and I eventually did a photo book called China Western, in which I studied China's most likely Achille's heel: Xinjiang. China's thirst for oil and the agressive colony-like presence in a remote and muslim Central Asian province.
Then the financial crisis came, and my place, Southern Europe became the new news. Europe looked like disintegrating and the southern countries, the Pigs, as the Financial Times and The Economist used to say, were to blame. The countries where the very concept of Europe was first shaped, were now Europe's Achille's heels. So I did a book called The Pigs putting together a bunch of stereotypes and again, trying to understand when and how the power shift happened.
This book is doing very well. It is appreciated by many journalists and critics in many countries. A few weeks ago The Pigs was awarded the Kassel Festival Photobook Award, and it is shortlisted for the Aperture/Paris Photo Photobook Award.
Because of this relative success, people are asking me often if I already know what will be my next project. And I don't know what to answer, because it takes a lot of time before I even know I am working on a project. What I do is to follow my intuition, and try not to get very far from the one thing I am really interested in: the power shifts.
The US cannot believe they are loosing their predominancy. Russia was, is and will be a mess for a long time, I think. India and Brazil are doing well, but they still have a lot of people living in tin houses. China is conquering the world through extreme capitalism and a brutal understanding of politics. Europe seems to be heading towards the dismantlement of its most valuable asset, which is the welfare state that has brought peace and a relative social balance for decades. A lot of experts say Europe must work harder, longer and for less, if it wants to compete with China and the other emerging powers.
Well, that looks like a nightmare to me.
I think I am becoming some kind of activist fighting for a more pleasant life. I would rather switch a few lights off, use my bike more often, and plant tomatoes in my garden. I hope Europe changes direction and starts looking againg onto the old Enlightment values: solidarity, culture, love for quality and a very noble disregard for the pure materialistic life.