firstsite colchester is an amazing building

you confront yourself at the door

Once called the Visual Arts Facility, the new firstsite gallery is an impressive piece of building-sculpture in our post-modern world of striving for the iconic statement. Indeed, striving for the meaning of iconic is what consumes the consumer culture and this sculpture, I mean building, is a classic example (if you can have a classic example of post-modern). It’s golden colour and swervy shape beguile the senses up close and you want to strain your neck to accommodate the dimensions – which is possible, so it has a human scale. You look at the slightly hand-crafted nature of the metal skin with those vulnerable pleats and think it has a light, almost temporary feel – it is actually resting on a very shallow foundation to preserve the Roman remains underneath…

It’s a bit like a benign space-ship has landed in the bus station and waits for intrepid citizens of Colchester to walk up the ramp into the world of something strange from far, far away…let’s go inside and take a look.




Photo50 at the London Art Fair

Slides or Painting?

I attended the recent event at the Business Design Centre and was heartened by the current favourable attitude towards analogue or traditional wet photography. The word digital was hardly mentioned and some interesting work was on view – notably a meticulous montage by Noemie Goudal and a couple of shadow/reflection images by Jorma Puranen. But equally or even more impressive work was to be found in the main exhibition areas – a couple of superb platinum prints by Paul Hart and a stunning composite work of an oak tree through the year by Jeffrey Blondes.

One thing that struck me is that photography is art when performed by someone with creative vision and respect for the medium. Some of the work on offer lacked photographic integrity and merely used photographic material in a limp way to convey an idea. Photography is not like painting where a gesture can convey an automatic signal of the artist’s thought (like a voice in singing allows a glimpse of the soul) – it is always a second-level sign, an objective rendering of an idea via a process which records itself. For this reason it is as naive to use an abstract photo as the trace of an idea as it is to use a number to convey a complex thought – it has reached its symbolic limitations. I say this as someone who believes in the ability of photography to provide a visual analogue of the world – the content of the image dictates the meaning, not the mechanical processes.

Anyway, at least real photography is alive and well – in the same week that Kodak tries to reinvent itself as a manufacturer of digital printers! Tragic and ironic.

Field Oak 52 Weeks, Jeffrey Blondes





Elegy to film at Tate Modern

Finally saw the installation at Tate Modern. It was impressive as a spectacle but I wanted more meaning in the choice of images. Perhaps the point was that film needs no subject to justify itself – the majesty of flickering colour and shape is enough. Perhaps, but for me there needs to be a gestalt or accretion of form into meaning – we are made that way, to see faces in a carpet or in shadows on a wall. I lingered in front of it but was not transported.
What I did like was the effect of walking towards the mighty screen. The closer I got the less I could see until I was right in the face of flickering grains – like sand running through your fingers when you want to hold on to it. It was worth it for that.

The majestic embers of 2011…

Farewell to 2011 and all that. It was a turbulent and revolutionary year when many people decided to speak up for themselves. The world became a bit more human and even Putin had to listen to his people (for a moment).



The planet became a bit more fragile as Africa burned up and our winter was uncomfortably mild. Nature, however, is the most powerfully adaptable force on the planet, and it could yet boot us off its merry surface…



…let’s see what 2012 brings as creation moves a little nearer to its majestic conclusion.




The capital of the bike

Amsterdam Dec 2011Recently in Amsterdam I encountered the power of the bike to disperse people and cars. Riders seem to be eight feet in the air and looking only straight ahead – everyone else looks out for them. Huis MarseilleIt will be some time before cyclists in London own the streets like this, but those blue bikes might help…


There’s a great photography show at Huis Marseille in Amsterdam – called Soft Landscapes, by Scarlett Hooft Graafland. I enjoyed the subtle interactions with the landscapes and the fact that analogue techniques were used to create a sense of belief and wonder in the viewer.

A two-way moment

Recently in Greenwich, London, I enjoyed a chance encounter with a fellow snapper as I had a coffee. We traded images and said thanks through the glass – a good start to the day.

Check out the Saturday market at lunch-time – you can get authentic food from just about anywhere in the world. We had a Turkish spicy lamb wrap – luuvley.





New Thoughts

Tacita dean has served up a nice dish of film at the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. I haven’t seen it yet but by all accounts it’s an authentic celebration of the film medium (is the installation itself actually a film projection?) But there are many visual servings and interesting combinations of colours and flavours to be seen on the massive screen and it looks as if there is a skilful interplay of profound and playful ideas going on.

This links the work painfully with Ai Wei-Wei’s sunflower seeds which also combined poignancy with play in a manner too direct for the white-boy sensibility of sterile modern big gallery curating. The power of western children playing with individually crafted mass produced ceramics from an alien culture was lost in the fear of health litigation. Actually, this very thing proved the power of a great artist to upset whatever cultural context he chose to work in. And it put us on a par with China.

However, Tacita’s projection is powerful and safe – nice one.

Colchester 24

One of the projects I am involved in is Colchester 24

Odeon cinema, Crouch Street in 1986                     Odeon cinema, Crouch Street in 2011

From noon on Friday 21 October to noon on Saturday 22 October 2011, the Great Colchester Photo Shoot is taking place within the borough of Colchester. We want as many people as possible to sign up and take part in this celebration of modern life in Colchester, using a camera. Images will all be collected on our website – – and made into a permanent archive to be held by the museum services. There will also be several exhibitions of selected images – which could include yours!