Lee Grant – Photography Blog

Archive for August 2008

Aussie Aussie Aussie…. Oi, Oi, Oi!

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An interesting post went up today on ABC‘s Unleashed series of articles by Gerard Oostermann called ” Sport or Art?”. Timely given the Olympic antics of the last few weeks (which thankfully I’ve missed – no TV). This is an argument that has been going on in Australia for as long as I can remember, and funnily enough I think it might be unique to Australia given our peculiar obsession for sport (and god help you mate if you aren’t!). I’m pretty sure that ‘never the twain shall they meet……’ despite some of the weird and very BIG art prizes (aka Basil Sellers Art Prize) they are coming up with. Mmmm…. but what would I know, I have N.F.I when it comes to a sports stuff; codes, players, teams blah, blah, blah….. They all look the same, oh and I think there’s a ball (or two) in there somewhere……

I think one Unleashed reader responded rather succintly to Gerard and I quote him here:

“Australian artists in general are the hardest working people you will ever meet. We can do for $100 what takes an American thousands to do. That is why Hollywood is full of Australian ex-pats.

Young Australian artists in all fields find it difficult to earn a living because most believe that self promotion is a dirty word and go to great lengths to avoid it.

In the case of visual art we have an ultra conservative gallery and academic system that prefers to prescribe what it considers to be legitimate art, rather than surveying what is actually out there from a neutral point of view.”

Well said Phillip Graham Mitchell. And if we do think that self-promotion is worth pursuing…. there’s always that tall-poppy syndrome to bring us back down to earth!

Egg and spoon racing – now that’s a sport! I think this was the preliminaries for the 2000 Olympics! (Courtesy 80s Actual 2 – 1980s TV)

Written by Lee Grant

August 26, 2008 at 9:42 pm


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Well, probably the first thing I should do is to apologise to any of you who may have taken a look at my ‘new’ website this last week. I’m afraid it’s been one of those things where everything that could possibly go wrong, kinda did…….. at least in terms of my website renovation. Seems my drop-down menu didn’t work in Internet Explorer (don’t ask me why cos I have no freaking idea and I checked it in about 3 other bloody browsers which were all good!). Anyway, I figure that most people still use PCs, so I quickly patched it up only to decide that to deal with it again in the near future would do my head in and I really couldn’t face such a bad idea……… What this means then, is that I’ve gone with a fancy pants website developer in San Fran called LiveBooks. Lucky for me they love students, are cheap and completely idiot-friendly.

So if you can be arsed, check it out…….. HERE.

Other than faffing about on the website and avoiding writing my dissertation, my suburban photo-life has been quite productive…. I goddamn love suburbia! At least my studio practice is coming along! 😉

from the series “Belco Pride”

Written by Lee Grant

August 22, 2008 at 10:02 pm

Reality Gnaws

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So, my little lass Pia is sick at home for the fourth day running. I thought to photograph her in this surreal state because when she’s like this, she really isn’t the girl we know (not even her brother’s fart and bum jokes are helping, which is something because our family has a known history of the giggles when it comes to poo humour) 😦 Suffice to say that I couldn’t quite bring myself to take photos. It didn’t seem the right thing. Which then led me to thinking that some photographer I am! Wussing out on my own reality! (Somehow I don’t think I’d manage that well in shitholes like Iraq. Man, I hate confrontation!) Which then led me – in a strange off-kilter way – to further think about how we associate images of hardcore realities with the kind of people who make them. Does this mean then, that only tough photographers can shoot tough stories? That their stories are somehow edgier than others?

Obviously there continues to be photographers who trade in the Jesus complex by saving the world, one photograph at a time. Take James Nachtwey for instance, as a classic example. Not to diminish his work in any way, but there is little doubt that his style sits squarely in the tradition of early photojournalism as espoused by such agencies as Magnum or Blackstar (when they actually did shoot war) et al:

Chechnya, 1996 – Ruins of Central Grozny

Afghanistan, 1996 – Mourning a brother killed by a Taliban rocket

Now compare Natchwey’s work to that of British photography duo Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin:

Suicide bomb disguised as a watermelon (from “Chicago”)

These images are a selection from their book about the Israeli military’s training camp dubbed ‘Chicago’:

“With the obliteration of the centre of the Jenin refugee camp, the Israeli military realized that it had to push its engineering corps to improve its ‘art of destruction’. As a part of these efforts the military began to upgrade a small mock-up town it called Chicago (in homage to that other bullet-ridden city). Located in the Tze’elim base in the Negev desert, it was to become the world’s largest mock-up oriental city erected since the filming of Ben-Hur.” (from the article Ghost town by Eyal Weizman)

So, really, here are two ways of telling similar narratives of war. Personally, I’m drawn to the Broomberg-Chanarin images. Whilst they aren’t taken in the ‘thick of battle’ or at the ‘frontlines’, they speak more to me of the futility and weirdness of war. Sometimes when I’m faced with images like Natchwey’s, I feel powerless, even guilt and shame for not understanding the horror of another’s tragic experience, and I look away. But with the Chicago pictures (as an example), I feel angry and outraged but my focus is completely drawn in. Maybe it’s the daggy cut-out Muslim city? I don’t know. Then again, perhaps it’s simply the very human traces of misunderstanding and self-deceit that project themselves in these quite [quiet] extraordinary photographs?

So, I’m back facing my earlier musings about the edginess of reality (whatever this might prove to be). I’m not sure that the Broomberg-Chanarin pictures are edgy in the sense of heroic-edgy. Sinister and chilling perhaps. But is this edge? I’ve been trying to unravel this idea of an ‘edge’ in my own documentary practice, though I do not photograph war, violence or post-conflict. Whatever it’s called I can’t quite put my finger on it. Martyn – my supervisor – is pushing me for more than what I currently have (“I need more of an….. edge”), but he is only seeing the images I’ve laid out in front of him. What he hasn’t seen yet is the rest (I do tend to work in series) which is sitting in wait in my mind’s eye, and for the right moment…. in you guessed it, real-life.

I suppose I am wondering whether a work can be deemed irrelevant if it doesn’t have this so called ‘edge’? And if I can’t capture it in photographs, does this then mean that my gaze is edgeless?

Mmmm, reality doesn’t so much bite as gnaw……. at least in my world.

Written by Lee Grant

August 5, 2008 at 9:29 pm