Photography and censorship. “Gang” and “Gangs story” by Yan Morvan.

From my point of view, Yan Morvan is someone apart in the world of photographers. He never complies with anything and just do what he wants without taking care of any rules. That is the reason why I like him alot.

I first heard of him in the 80’s, when I was studying photography. My favorite topic in those days was social photography and I prised this incredible guy. He was spending his life with the most extreme and dangerous part of the population, I mean the extreme right groups, like Hell’s angels or nazis’fan. On his photographs, he seemed to be very close to them and I was wondering how was that possible to just share time with those guys. He was the bad boy of photography, even taking pictures of who will become a serial killer, Guy George. What was very surprising is a kind of empathy for his subject. This was a fair piece of work which witnessed the underground world of fascist groups and the outlaw world.

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He put his life in danger everyday, in first degree I mean, he had to escape from his own apartment when a few guys wanted to kill him after he published some pictures. But overall, he was/is very honnest and never compromises.

I have to admit that this man fascinates me.

Last year was published a beautiful book of his work on gangs called « Gangs story » by La manufacture des images. On July 26th, the book has been banned by a court, on the request of « Petit Mathieu », who appears in the book when he was 17 years old, claiming in a lawsuit, that it doesn’t fit to his actual mind (43 years old now), and feels prejuidice for that.

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The book will be withdrawn on July 31st from bookstores. We have to thank for that, one of the most stupid law all over the world (by Elisabeth Guigou, socialist party, in 2000), which prevail the individual right over public information. The decision is outrageous for the freedom. We can see on the photograph that he was very proud of his former ideas and that the photo was taken with his agreement. Yan Morvan never pretended anything else than what it was.

This is in complete contradiction with a former judgement from 2004 about some anonymous portraits shot in the subway by Luc Delahaye. In a lawsuit, a man tried to claim some prejuidice but was dismissed by the court (article in French : http://www.scaraye.com/article.php?a=110).

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This comes after another denial of photgraphers’ rights, with the decision, early this year in Switzerland, to forbid the publication of the book of Christian Lutz « In the name of jesus » which documents a Christian community in Switzerland. The work inside the community happened without any problem but they started to be afraid and prosecuted the photographer to ban the forthcoming book ! Which was successful. The Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne finally exhibited the pictures with a band on them, on which you can read the complaint of the « Evangelic Church of Switzerland »

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In 2000, Marval published a book called « Gang » with photographs of the same series, including the one of « Petit Mathieu » and the book had also been banned in 2002 and was finally sold with a warning on the cover « prohibited ». This first book is, happily now, very easy to find on the second hand market.

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Copyright for all pictures (can be removed on request) Yan Morvan, Luc Delahaye, Christian Lutz, La manufacture du regard, Marval.

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Fukushima – Two Japanese photographers witness the area.

The subtitle could be : what is the role of a photographer considering the aftermath of a nuclear disaster ?

18 months – Toshiya Watanabe

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Toshiya was born in 1966 in Fukushima. His parents were still living in the area, when the nuclear disaster happened. He knows perfectly well the area as a former inhabitant of the place. This is the reason why he returned again and again to register the changes of the area. The disaster happened two years ago and we don’t hear anymore about the people who used to live in Fukushima. What have they become ? What does it mean not to be allowed to go back to visit the place where you come from ? How can we register an invisible threat ? In this book, Toshiya tries to answer those questions. The title of the book indicates the lapse of time when the photographs were shot.

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The book is very sober, 15 cm x 21 cm, white softcover with title inscribed in black, 36 pages, 18 color photos, each with a simple caption : a date and a location.

What he shows us is the banality of daily landscapes, a railway, a parking lot, a street, a house… but without human beings. The area is deserted. All the photographs are empty. We are in the middle of the evacuated area and when we see someone, he is dressed in a white security suit, like a ghost wandering in an empty land. The most frightening is probably the picture with the photographer’s reflexion in a window, and we discover that he is also dressed with this suit to avoid radiation exposure (with a loop effect, as the shop was a photographer’s studio). After some outdoor pictures, we follow the photographer to his parents’ former house. They have been evacuated, leaving everything behind. Except for the mess of the earthquake, it seems people were just outside for a while. We could almost hear the phone ringing in vain !

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Toshiya continues to register the evolution of the area and he has started to rephotograph the places. A project which becomes a dreadful photographic survey. I hope that a forthcoming publication will keep us updated… What will be next ? Will this be an everlasting abandonned region ? What will remain as a testimony of a former inhabited area ?

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More info : toshiyawatanabe.see.me/

Bokyaku – Daichi Koda

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The second book on this topic comes from a younger photographer. Daichi was born in 1983 and, as he says, he did not know Fukushima, neither about the nuclear plant. In his statement, he claims that the role of a photographer is to reveal the unseen. That is the reason why he felt necessary to drive to Fukushima to document the area.

The book is a bit larger than Toshiya’s one. 21 x 26 cm, softcover similarly sober. 92 pages, 55 photos, here again in square format.

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All the photographs were shot between 4 kms and 59 kms from the nuclear power plant. Daichi documents the deserted areas, but also people displaced after the disaster. In the zone with a high level of radiation, the pictures are without human beings, just a few animals remain in deserted open landscapes. One stunning picture is the one with a cow, staring at the photographer from the middle of the road. Each photo comes with a caption indicating the date and the distance from the power plant. A little bit farther from the plant, we see people occupied in daily duties, or traditional scenes from Japanese life, but we never forget the threat because of the use of those captions which always bring us back to the reality. All the photographs appeal to the imagination. When we see a tractor working in a field, we wonder what kind of product will grow there and what about contamination. Will these be eatable or will they be thrown away. Same questions with the cows in a dairy. What will be the quality of the milk. And of course these reflexions drive us to what becomes the life of all those displaced inhabitants, and what becomes the life of farmers who completely depend on the environment ? What may be in the mind of the farmer walking in his field who seems to check the quality of the soil ?

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With what is shown here, we feel an invisible threat, all over these photographs. A man puts on a white security suit, a police woman looking at daily instructions, a man pushing an empty wheelchair… All those little details that our mind will fill up with the help of our knowledge of what is a nuclear hazard, even if a very few of us have already experienced one.

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We, as human beings, have a very short memory, repeating again and again the same mistakes. I think that those photographers may help us to remember, and, maybe, try to avoid repeating those mistakes.

More info about Daichi Koda : http://daichikoda.com/


Why have I been disappointed by « She dances on Jackson » by Vanessa Winship.

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This post comes from a chat we had recently on Facebook about what blogs on photography should be and, more over, why are they always very complaisant with books : everything is perfectly fine in the world.

So I am going to introduce a slight circumspection about the book and the exhibition by Vanessa Winship at La Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris.

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The work « She dances on Jackson » is about loneliness and, overall, melancholy through a large trip in America. The melancholy is really predominating in this series. In the portraits, of course, but maybe even more in the landscapes photographs. In my mind, they could be in relation with Mike Leigh’s first movie called « Bleak moments », when Mike Leigh talked about England and Vanessa Winship talk about America. I could be stuck in front of some photographs staring at them for a long time. What I like in this work is that it is out of any anecdotic attention. In fact, I love bleak moments, and she perfectly depicts some of the wandering feelings that I had experimented in America, including the empathy for people encountered, as it is expressed in the portraits.

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The book that comes to accompany the exhibition has been published by Mack, who is one of the current best publisher in the photography world. By best, I mean, it published some of the most beautiful books for the last couple of years. This book is no exception, beautifully printed, even better than the prints exhibited, which are a little too much contrasted for me. A beautiful red linen cover with an image printed in black on it. The book gives more justice to the series, from my point of view (except that the one for consultation in the exhibition is hidden and attached in a dark corner, almost impossible to read because of the lack of light).

Well, everything seems to be perfect…

Not so much. In fact, the most beautiful part of the exhibition is on the second floor, in the center of the room. Here lay glass cases which are filled by what appears to be Vanessa’s diary. It is a large A3 size book that has been made with emails that she exchanged with her sister and some hand written notes. The book is enriched by all the prints that are hanged on the wall in a very small format (around 8 x 10 cm). The small prints are some kind of reading prints on a beautiful warm tone argentic paper. Staring at those pages, you understand why this work is so melancholic with the impregnation of the death of Vanessa’s father at the end of 2011, some reflexions about Diane Arbus, some personal thoughts and many more, of course. Not used as captions, texts give strenght to the photographs and some emphasis to the journey which become some kind of quest.

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Once you have seen these glass cases, you can only consider that this is the real entire work and you start to imagine what could have been a book including all those pieces. Whatever the quality of the current monograph is, this could have been of a higher range. I can understand that the Fondation remains on a very common design but it is more surprising that the publisher and the photographer did not jump on this opportunity. In fact, only those who have visited the exhibition could regret this unmade book, but the series would have well deserved a better attention. And even the hanging of photographs on walls could have been a little more innovative and break that old tradion of pictures juxtaposed in the same sized frames to better fit to the diary spirit.

This is why I am a bit disappointed by the book and the exhibition « She dances on Jackson ».

All photos copyright Mack and Vanessa Winship / VU (can be removed on request)


Convergence – Wei Leng Tay

First of all, this is a beautiful and very quiet book. The simplicity of the cover makes us want to discover it. A red linen cover with a tipped in photo of an old B&W portrait of her grand aunt. Here starts the investigation. We are going to dive in a family story. In fact this is Wei Leng’s story. She was born in Singapore after her family moved from Malaysia, and years before from China. What she shows us here is a kind of selfportrait in the thickness of the time. It is something very difficult to understand for me as an European, I have to admit that the Far East is, for me, very similar whatever country we are talking about. But in fact, she will slowly explain us that there are many cultural differences that remain attached to where you are from. This is what she explores through this collection of photographs : What it means to be Chinese in Singapore.convergence01

The pages alternate with portraits, open spaces or still life pictures.

We start back in time, or to better say with photos of elderly people, like the metaphor, in the first picture, of so many clocks on the top of a bed, witnessing the passing of time. The portraits are really soft and full of tenderness. People remain very quiet and are never staring at the camera. We don’t feel like intruders despite this lack of attention from the one portraited but rather like a friend visiting, who silently wait to catch the attention of the person. We don’t want to disturb. We just look at the time passing with each little change from a generation to another. She selected among many, people originated from China, living in Singapore. Each story becomes Wei Leng’s story. Sometimes, we take part to a family scene with two, three or more participants having dinner together, watching TV or playing with kids. These are ordinary scenes of the daily life, like the ones we all know at home filled by our own cultural background and this is probably the reason why we understand so well those photographs. All over the world, we sit together for dinner or to watch TV and everybody plays with his kids… All the portraits are shot in natural light from a similar distance which is just the one to remain distant and shows the occupant fairly concentrated on their duty. This is how we perceive the slight tension outcropping from the multicultural society, some decoration on a wall, an object on a shelf. All those little details that give the strenght and the thickness of a pictures. We also perceive the changing of habits with the different generations. The surroundings are not the same for the grand parents, the young parents with kids or for the teenagers. This is the changing of the modern society with the loss of traditions.

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Sometimes, we focus on details, in still life photographs. Even if they seem beautifully arranged, they all return us questions about the owner of the place, like the one already mentionned, of the top of the bed full of clocks, or when we discover a collection of old photos about which we could start a discussion about family remained abroad or kids that emigrated. On the opposite, we discover a teenager in his room, surrounded by modern objects that seem to come out from globalization market (computer or pieces of furniture) or a young couple sitting beside a tree, which could be in a urban park, like in every city in the world.

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The organisation of the book itself, strengthens this evolution, starting with elderly persons and ending with a young one sitting on his bed with an Apple laptop or a young woman, outside at night, enlightened by the lights of a BMW car which refers strongly to the western way of life.

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The last part of the book comes as a complement. These are transcripted interviews in a natural way of speaking, that were conducted between 2009 and 2010 by Wei Leng Tay amongst the Chinese people portraited. Some are very nostalgic but some are also very funny like talking about KFC for a family reunion dinner.

This is a beautiful book that may resonate in me because I am coming from Bretagne in the West part of France, and my grandmother spoke and understood the native language, my father understand it but don’t speak it, and I neither speak nor understand it. All over the world the capitalism drives us to a globalized world. We buy food at KFC or McDo, we buy clothes at H&M or GAP and buy furnitures at IKEA. This book definetely says more than a simple personal story, it says about globalization.

Published in 2013

Print run : 500

More info : http://www.convergence-wlt.com/


Here are the young men – Claire Felicie

Here are the Young men (where have they been)* newly published book by Claire Felicie.

I just received this stunning book and I wanted to share some thoughts !

First, I have to explain that I have been educated in photography with the names of Robert Capa, Don Mc Cullin, or Gilles Caron, in mind. They were representants of war photographers, two of them died on the battlefield and the third was nearly driven mad. At the end of XXth century, America almost lost a war in Vietnam because of photography. Citizens of a country can’t stand anymore seeing dead corpses and injuries. A war has to be clean if it has to be done ! In XXIst century, wars continue on in different places of the world… but photographers are not allowed anymore to witness. They have to be « Embedded », which fairly mean « stay behind and close your eyes ».

The purpose of Claire Felicie is to witness the damages of war on young people/soldiers involved in the Afghanistan conflict. We won’t see any dead bodies in this book, except in the eyes of the soldiers.

First about the formal aspect, the book is hardcover, completely white cover with the title outlined and a small picture at the bottom right corner. The picture is hard to understand at a first look, showing a hand on a riffle, but we can also understand it as an indication to the way to follow : open this book for a full story. The white may also have to deal with a kind lost of virginity or, to better say, the lost of the innocence. The book has been designed by reknown Dutch designer Sybren Kuiper aka SYB.

The book is divided in three parts. The first is titled « Committed », some very dark color shots that appear to be shot at night, but in fact, it is just underexposed photos which don’t show anything except some soldiers seen as shadows. We don’t recognize anyone, these soldiers are anonymous persons on duty. The second part is called « armoured », but don’t expect to see any sophisticated material. This part has to deal with mentally support and shows those little objects that are preciously kept in the pocket, or on the skin, a medal, a ring, a necklace or a clothe. Probably what keep them in touch with humanity, and help them to remain a human being in the hell !

The third part, « Marked », can be considered as the main project. Claire Felicie started this project after her son entered the Marine Corps, discovering the mother’s anguish about what could be the impact of a war on a young person. The third section is made of full pages, close up portraits of young soldiers. Each one in a series of three. The first one on the Dutch base before departure to Afghanistan, the second, during their mission in Afghanistan, and the third, back in the Netherlands after their time on battlefield. The faces are reproduced on scale 1 and we look at those persons face to face. The question asked is not about the legitimity of war, but more about, what a face could show. What is shown is the change in the mind of the young people. First picture make you discover their eyes smiling, faces enlightened by the innocence of the youth, always ready for a good joke. The second show them very concentrated on duty with traces of dust and sweat, no time for kidding anymore. Finally, in the third view, the eyes are darken, no joy anymore, just a sort of never ending sadness that will probably not disappear for long. They are now « veterans » and will probably spend the rest of their life facing what they saw and can never talk about nor get rid of. They have entered adulthood very seriously ! This part is really powerful. If you look at the pictures fastly, you may miss the differences, it all works in subtility. At a first glance the portraits may look the same, and you go back, then forward, then back again to check those differences, not being sure of what you see. The reader must assume that he also put a part of him in these pictures, looking for some kind of recognition or empathy. These young men will probably haunt you for awhile !

It is a very compelling work and everybody will find some intimacy with the portraited, and everyone will decide about his own statement in these photos, one against the wars, one to acclaim the art of portrait, and everything between ! With this piece of work, as already did some other Dutch photographers (Geert van Kesteren…), Claire Felicie renews the kind of, what we can call, « concerned photography » and/or « war photography » in XXIst century.

*The title of the book comes from the first lyrics of the song « Decades » by Joy Division.

Published in an edition of 1000. Size: 24x33cm, 128 pages.

More info : http://clairefelicie.com/2013/photo-book-here-are-the-young-men01 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 04 03 02