Mark Pinder

The world Is Not Black And White

Colour photographs from the FSA and OWI

Photo: Jack Delano/FSA/OWI

Wow, these are amazing! I’d always been aware of the black and white archive of the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information held by the American Library of Congress, but I had not been aware of the colour collection.

Photo: Alfred T. Palmer/FSA/OWI

For those of you who don’t know about it, the FSA was born in 1935 from the restructuring of the Resettlement Administration which was founded in 1933 as a component of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal‘ programme to get America working again during the depression that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The RA/RSA’s remit was to combat the American rural poverty that John Steinbeck wrote of in such classic novels as The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men.

An integral part of the FSA was the photography programme which ran between 1935 and 1944 under the directorship of economist and photographer Roy Stryker, which employed some prominent names in the history of American Documentary photography, including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, (who ultimately went on to direct classic ‘blaxploitation’ movie ‘Shaft‘), and Ben Shahn.

The work that these photographers produced for the FSA is Government property, and held by the library of Congress, and as such is also deemed public property, and over the last 20 years or so, a large part of this collection has been digitised to a very high standard and placed in the public realm for download. I actually have some very high quality prints of work by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn around the walls of my home printed from some of the available high resolution files.

Photo: Alfred T. Palmer/FSA/OWI

Some of the work in the colour archive is absolutely amazing. Technically, very sophisticated in lighting and technique and surprisingly modern. If I saw some of this work in a current business magazine, (apart from the clothing), I would not necessarily know that this work dated back to the 30’s and forties.

Apart from the FSA archive, the LOC archive also includes some incredible gems, such as the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk and Roger Fenton’s work from The Crimea.

You could lose yourself for days in this archive!!


Tasteless parody of the week

Another pic’ from the the set I shot at the abandoned Steetley Magnesite works in Hartlepool.

With apologies to Sir John Everett Millais and Elizabeth Siddal, I could not resist posting this rather creepy photo of  Chucky lookalike, (and very obvious cliche), alongside Millais uber saccharin Pre-Raphaelite interpretation of Shakespeare’s Ophelia.

As cliche’s go, Damien Day’s cute teddy bear from Drop The dead Donkey is far more appealing!

From the archive: writers

Author Pat Barker ©Mark Pinder

I photographed the Booker Prize winning author Pat Barker 4 times during the 1990’s. The first time for the Independent on Sunday Magazine, next for her publisher Penguin, (from which this shot is taken), then for the Daily Telegraph and finally for Der Spiegel. This photograph was shot on the riverside at Durham using a sculpture by Colin Wilbourn made of redundant grotesques from a recent refurbishment of Durham Cathedral as a backdrop. I felt the backdrop an apt metaphor for the themes of Pat’s Regeneration trilogy, the psychological and emotional chaos of the first world war.

Julia Darling 1999 ©Mark Pinder

This photograph of poet and author Julia Darling was shot for The Big Issue in 1999. Julia liked this photo a great deal, and it was used as the author photograph on several of her subsequent books and very sadly, several newspaper obituaries when she finally died in 2005 of the cancer  that had been in remission when I shot this photo.

Writer and Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg 1996 ©Mark Pinder

I shot this photo of writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg in 1996 for the Daily Telegraph at his north Cumbrian home. I had heard somewhere that he was inordinately concerned about his hair, and after nearly every frame he would ask whether his hair was alright, followed by a quick flick of that thatch, to which my reply was always ‘yes’.

Unfortunately, as someone who suffers not so much a bad hair day as a bad hair life, I’m not really the right person to ask.

That magnificent beast of the intellectual jungle could have gone 15 rounds with a Wildebeest or Wittgenstein, (playing havoc with that regal mane in the process), and I still wouldn’t have noticed!

Gil Scot Heron, 1949-2011

It is very sad to hear of the death of poet, performer and articulator of the American black experience Gil Scot Heron at the terribly young age of only 62.

Not only did he talk the talk, but he walked the walk, penning and performing songs which articulated forcefully and brilliantly the sense of rage, betrayal and injustice felt not just by black America, but by the American poor as a whole.

Sometimes described as the ‘black Bob Dylan’, I disagree. Heron was no phony like Dylan, a middle class white boy who never really engaged with the 60’s protest movements whilst singing about things he had no experience of, offering a sanitized, unthreatening, white friendly version of a folk genre rooted in American working class and black cultures. Gil, by comparison, was the real deal.

We all know his most famous work, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘ but I’m linking here to one of my other favourite songs, ‘Did You Hear What They Said‘, a song about the way America can send a disproportionate number of its Black citizens to fight and die in wars like Vietnam or Iraq, yet treat them as second class citizens in return. There is also a good profile from Newsnight dating back to 2009 here with part 2, here.

I look forward to hearing Obamas tribute to Gil!

Zip me up before you go go

Fresh in from those lovely Taiwanese people at Next Media who brought you the definitive  version of events around the Gordon Brown bullying claims, and possibly the most incisive coverage of the Asley Cole air rifle affair. I am now free to report, that it would appear the premier league footballer at the centre of the Imogen Thomas injunction affair is…….er………George Michael!

Actually, no, there’s something not quite right here? Correct answers on the back of a court order to………

Good taste, (and squeamishness), prevents me from looking for their coverage of the Osama killing!

More seriously though, I find myself conflicted about the whole thing. Admittedly, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, but hubris aside, I’ve often been annoyed by the tabloid press’s ability to conflate what constitutes ‘in the public interest’ with what’s of interest to the public which are generally two entirely different things and just adds to the cheapening and dumbing down further of what increasingly passes for public discourse in modern Britain.

Whilst I have always liked to believe the fantasy that the law is blind, what depresses me is that in reality the law, (where it relates to libel and privacy at least), is skewed firmly towards those who have either the deepest pockets or wield most power.

Whilst I find the shenanigans of Giggs and Co amusing, the affair, (no pun intended), will probably only serve to allow for the tightening up of privacy laws and allow for even more egregious abuses of power, such as that perpetrated in the Trafigura scandal in what probably amounted to serious corporate misbehaviour and environmental abuse, where the injunction and super injunction was used to try and trample legitimate reporting and debate not only in the press, but reporting of proceedings in that highest institution of British democracy, Parliament itself.

Whilst it’s always amusing to see former deputy PM John Prescott blow a gasket, I think he had a point on Newsnight the other evening, when he became increasingly agitated and exercised at Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, (the MP that used parliamentary privilege to name Giggs), when he accused Hemming of grandstanding. A point difficult to deny especially when there are infinitely more serious abuses of judicial process and democracy being perpetrated by corporate interests and the powerful, that he could have chosen to highlight instead. A point which Prescott unfortunately failed to make. Then again, Prescott has his own axes to grind after his own affair with his diary manager not to mention penchant for croquet was revealed by the tab’s, so perhaps his indignation was more self serving than a simple defence of judicial sovereignty?

In a shock revelation today a footballer admits playing away from home, cheating on his wife, taking drugs and indulging Bacchanalian tendencies in a hotel room. In further developments, another bear has been spotted shitting in a wood and the Pope outed as Catholic. Coming up later, a tabloid editor denies all knowledge of phone hacking, (file under real fiction).

Oooooh, Heaven is a place on Earth

These photos are of the former Steetley Magnesite magnesium works at Hartlepool. I had seen this plant many times in passing from the train when it was still working, but was not aware that it had closed down in 2005.

The landscape of the north-east coastal strip from Teesside through the former mining areas of East Durham up to Tyneside has always fascinated me.

It is an area I have explored quite extensively over the past twenty-five years or so, but still has the ability to surprise. Last week was one of those days.

I thought I’d spend an afternoon having a wander round the Headland area of Hartlepool, but on the way, I stopped off to have an explore through a tunnel running under the railway line nearby.

Fuck me! I got to the end of the tunnel and thought I’d somehow dropped through a hole in the space time continuum and landed in a Tarkosvsky movie, or maybe some planet from Blake 7 or Skaro. I half expected a Dalek to trundle past at any moment, this place was weird whichever way you looked at it. It was just how I like it, post apocalyptic and dystopian. Lovely!

The architecture of the process ponds felt like some kind of gladiatorial arena, and during a brief period of sunshine I was reminded of a middle-eastern downtown or a version of Baghdad perhaps  briefly glimpsed in atrocity photographs of the aftermath of that more modern form of religious massacre, the car or suicide bomb.

We photographers, (on the whole), love exploring and there is quite a thriving sub-culture of urban explorers who are fascinated by the poignancy and eeriness of abandoned landscapes or buildings that still hold some tangible links to the activities and life of their former occupiers, (just have a look at the 28DL or Urbex forums for examples), and in this instance I really thought I’d hit the mother lode.

This site is unusual though, in that it is open and not fenced off or security patrolled. I used to do quite a bit of exploring on abandoned sites, (often spooking the willies out of myself in the process), but as official attitude to security, risk and trespass has changed over recent times, so has my attitude to being caught. Whereas once, if you were caught, you’d be told off and asked to leave, or sometimes have a really interesting chat with the person who found you when they saw no harm was intended, these days, the jobs-worth mentality has really come to the fore, and being busted will now result in prosecution or arrest threats, and I really can’t be bothered with those kinds of consequences. Permission can be sought of course, but for the reasons mentioned above is generally declined.

In this instance though, to quote Arnie, (in his guise as another product of a dystopian future), ‘I’ll be back’.

Mixed(up) Metaphors

Arts Council chief Dame Liz Forgan opens a new Arts Centre in County Durham yesterday

Amongst all the angst and teeth grinding following the recent announcement of the Arts Council’s cuts to arts organisation funding, it would appear that Arts Council boss Liz Forgan really ought choose her metaphors more carefully.

In a speech at the annual ‘State of the Arts’ conference back in February she said, “But in the end we say: ours is a nation of burgeoning creativity. Our artists, musicians, actors, directors, sculptors, acrobats, writers, dreamers and inventors are as precious a resource as North Sea oil or the coalfields”

It may be worth pointing out to Dame Betty, that the coalfields were deemed so precious to the nation that the British government had to pretty much close them all down back in 1992.

Corrections and clarifications: The above photo was mis-captioned, the correct caption should read: The demolition of Hawthorne Colliery, County Durham, 1993.

From The Archive: Neil Kinnock, Sheffield, April 1st 1992

We're all right! We're all right! We're all right! No, not really.

These photos were shot at the Labour Party Sheffield rally on April Fools Day, 1992, a week before the General Election which Kinnock managed to lose.

Neil Kinnock, Labour Party Sheffield Rally, 1992 General Election. 1/4 1992.

Many pundits cited Kinnock’s toe curling performance at the beginning of his speech and the presumptuous triumphalism of the rally as a deciding factor in the election result.

The film maker Adam Curtis, however, suggested in his series of films, The Century of the Self, that Labour had already lost the election, and opinion polls were being skewed to the contrary, by those questioned feeling too ashamed to actually reveal their real voting intentions. An interesting snippet from the documentary can be seen here.

Either way, we were subjected to another 5 years of Tory rule, and the stage was set for the purging of any remaining vestiges of Socialism within the Labour Party after the Blairite takeover of the party following the tragic death of Kinnock’s successor, John Smith.

The rest, as they say, is history.

From The Archive: Teesside, December 1986

These date from 1986 and are of an unemployed man scavenging for scrap in the heavily polluted post industrial wasteland at Thornaby on Tees that Margaret Thatcher was to make iconic with her ‘Walk In The Wilderness‘ nine months later in September 1987.

Speaking to him, he told me how despoiled the land here was with heavy metals, toxins and chemicals from the areas previous industrial activities. Asking whether the threat to his health concerned him, he just shrugged and said, it was probably a bit late to worry about that now.

Twenty five years on, in March this year, I spent a day with the Guardian’s assistant editor Michael White who was writing a pre budget piece on prospects for Teesside and Middlesbrough, a town which had been singled out as probably the most vulnerable place in Britain to the effects of public sector cuts. I took this photo of Michael parodying Thatchers stroll on another piece of post industrial land, the old ‘Ironmasters’ site adjacent to the Tees, also earmarked for future redevelopment.

Larn Yersel Semiotics

This sign on the A6079 through the village of Wall in Northumberland always makes me smile whenever I see it.

I know you are

For any students of post-modernist theory that might be reading this post, (no pun intended), the following could prove useful:

In 1996 Andrew Bulhak of Monash University in Australia, wrote ‘The Postmodernism Generator‘, a programme for writing meaningless parodies of essays dealing in critical theory using something called the ‘Dada Engine, a system for generating random text from recursive grammars’. In plainer English, it was a programme for writing seemingly plausible looking bullshit.

For example: ‘In a sense, Marx promotes the use of neocultural desublimation to attack class divisions. Lacanist obscurity holds that consciousness is capable of intent’.

Or: ‘The Paradigm Of Context And Subdialectic Theory,
 “Class is part of the futility of sexuality,” says Baudrillard. It could be said that the subject is interpolated into a capitalist precultural theory that includes truth as a whole. Marx suggests the use of the textual paradigm of consensus to modify society.’ etc, etc.

In 1996, Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University successfully submitted a paper written by the PoMo generator to an academic journal for publication. Predictably, this resulted in a lot of red faces when Sokal revealed his hoax, and sales of Gauloise plummeted overnight.

There used to be a version of the PoMo generator around the web where users could input their own terms, thus leaving themselves more time for getting down the pub to explore the finer points of theoretical and practical nihilism, (and make plagiarism harder to prove), but I can’t find a link to this anymore. Perhaps it became a victim of it’s own success, or only ever existed as an idealised construct within my own fevered imagination?

I must confess to having quite a lot of affection for  the Situationists though!!

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