Julian Germain, Wolfgang Mueller, Stephen King and Richard Billingham. Suggested works..

In my last formative feedback Keith suggested I have a look at a selection of written and photographic projects which are relevant to my studies, so I have recorded my thoughts on these below.

Julian Germain's "For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds Of Happiness" is a series of photographs taken over an eight year period, documenting the life of a man named Charles Snelling. Snelling was an elderly man who lived alone in a terraced house in Portsmouth and although his life wasn't particularly out of the ordinary, Germain was intrigued by the way that Charles Snelling made the most of his life exactly the way it was. Germain says that Snelling "showed me that the most important things in life cost nothing at all." and that Snelling became his "antidote for modern living". The images in the series are a mixture of portraits of Charles, in his home, garden or car, and also out and about - there is one on the beach where he is eating an ice cream cone whilst being watched by a couple of dogs. This image really encapsulates the idea of the 'little things in life' being so important. I get the impression Charles would have this as part of his routine; to sit on the beach and have an ice cream. There are also a number of images showing Charles's own photographs, many of which show his wife (presumably - who I also presume has died, but it isn't made clear). Some more of Charles going about his business in the house, making tea, cooking dinner and so on. It really is a charming and indeed enlightening set of photographs; I really like them. (I even downloaded some Nat King Cole after seeing the images - my Dad was also a fan!)

Germain, J. (2011). For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness. London: Mack.

Wolfgang Mueller's Karat - Sky Over St. Petersburg was a real come-down after the optimistic high of Charles Snelling's life. Mueller's work tells the story of a group of young people and children, (possibly orphans or runaways - although this isn't clear), who inhabit the upper floors and rooftops of St Petersburg, and where drug taking and prostitution appears to be the norm. One image shows a girl of maybe five or six years old, smoking a cigarette. Incidentally, 'Karat' is a brand name of shoe polish that the children inhale to get a cheap but dangerous high. Rather incongruously, there are images which show the tenderness and love between these young people, and how they clearly look out for one another. It is rather akin to how I would picture a modern version of Oliver Twist and is not something you expect to see in a country supposedly so advanced as Russia.

Müller, W. (2003). Karat - Sky Over St. Petersburg. Portland. OR. U.S.: Nazraeli Press.

Stephen King's 'Lewis's Fifth Floor - A Department Story' is different again from the previous two pieces of work. The story behind this project is about the fifth floor of famous Lewis's Department Store in Liverpool which was closed in the 1950s and left virtually untouched (the remainder of the store remained open) for around 30 years before the department store as a whole finally closed in the 1980s. The fifth floor housed three restaurants and a hair salon and appears to also have become a depository for all sorts of paraphernalia from the 1950s onwards. King captures the feel of the times with several shots of the decor and a number of abstracts showing fixtures and fittings. Later in the book, King had managed to photograph ex-employees of Lewis's back in their old workplace. I can imagine this being quite moving for some of these people. Some look sullen and nostalgic while others seem to be more good humoured about it. All the participants seem to have made an effort to dress up for the occasion which maybe tells us something about how they approached their jobs back then. This is an interesting and enjoyable work to view as the fifth floor is like a time capsule and there is real nostalgia alongside a history lesson in 50s interior design.

King, S. (2009). Lewis's fifth floor. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press/Neutral Spoon.

Richard Billingham's 'Ray's A Laugh' took me by surprise a bit. As I was looking through the images, the question I was asking myself was, 'Who took them?' as they seemed strangely close to the action. As it turns out, Richard Billingham is the son of alcoholic Ray and obese chain-smoker Liz, as well the brother of drug-misuser Jason, the 3 main characters who appear in Billingham's work, alongside various higher mammals such as cats, dogs and some rodent or other. It seems like Billingham had a pretty bleak upbringing and lived in an extremely dysfunctional household and he's done well to make a success of his life so far. That said, it's certainly entertaining for the viewer - when it's not making you feel saddened and a little sympathetic. The photographs are very much 'subject first and worry about composition later' as getting Ray to pose would probably be like trying to her cats. That said there are a few portraits of Ray although it's hard to tell what his state of mind is. One can't help but wonder what was going through Billingham's mind as he took these photos, and certainly opening up his chaotic family for worldwide scrutiny is not something many of us would even consider.  It's certainly an interesting body of work but not one I intend to copy! 

Billingham, R. (1996). Ray's a laugh. Zurich: Scalo.