Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Brighton on lockdown

Brighton seafront today with literally zero cars across the entire five lanes of Marine Parade due to lockdown. Normally this road is very busy.
(Photograph © J. C. Farhoumand)

Friday, 1 November 2019

Raja on the rise: an interview with sculptress Darshana Raja

by Jian Farhoumand.

Darshana Raja is a Kenyan-born sculptress whose artworks are fast becoming popular. The striking size and sprawling nature of Raja’s sculptures make them both noticeable and memorable, and the detailed precision expressed in the minutiae of the works adds to their visual and emotional impact.

Asked what kind of artist she sees herself as, Raja suggests: “I would say that I’m a form maker. I realized some years back that I’ve always thought in three dimensions. If given a choice between working on a flat, blank canvas or with a lump of clay, it's an obvious choice for me. I get a lot of satisfaction from creating pieces that occupy space.”

Although born and raised in Kenya, Raja also has Indian roots and studied in England, so the influences upon her are broad. “I went to Art School at the University of Brighton and graduated with a First Class Honours in Wood, Metal, Ceramics and Plastics,” she recalls. “I then went on to complete a Masters at The Royal College of Art, in London, in Ceramics and Glass. My exposure to a variety of materials allowed me to explore many ideas, and, after graduating, I ran a small studio in Clerkenwell where I made sculptural washbasins from Terrazzo.

After returning to Kenya, Raja began specializing in sculpture in her Nairobi studio. She notes of her use of eclectic media: “I’m not tied to any particular material and my satisfaction comes from exploring new ways of making. I’m constantly learning. Having said that, the pieces I’ve created over the last four years are all made of wood. They’re an exploration of movement and transience. When a tree grows, it’s full of life, ever changing. The trunk provides a strong core, the roots are its anchor yet the delicate leaves sway to the external forces of weather. When felled and sliced into inanimate planks, only the grain is left as evidence of a once living, growing form. In part, my work is an investigation of how to breathe life back into inert planks.

Asked what her main influences are, and if she sees herself as belonging to a particular artistic tradition or, instead, as doing something totally new in art, Raja explains: “I’m surrounded by so much inspiration and take influences from architecture, nature, other sculptors and humble forms, too. For example, The Maasai in Kenya live in small settlements, in huts, and ward off wild animals by building a thorny fence which surrounds their perimeter. This fence, known as a ‘boma’, is a beautiful form in its own right and has influenced my work. As far as being in a particular artistic tradition, I’d say I’m very concerned with craftsmanship and the finish of my pieces. I think it would be obnoxious to say I’m doing something new or different but I like to think my pieces have their own personality."

Raja’s most recent exhibition was in a group show at the One Off Gallery, Nairobi, ending in October. She reports: “The exhibition went very well and my works generated a lot of interest. I presented three large pieces, the largest of which was a snaking form of ten meters called ‘Urchin’. These larger works pushed me to be bolder and challenge myself in terms of scale. They’re more piercing, aggressive and forceful than my previous sculptures. Their forms are dynamic, flexible and pliable, not locked or static, and encourage the viewer to want to touch and interact with them."

On where we can see her work next, Raja concludes: “My next exhibition is organized by ‘Friends of the Arts’ and will take place at ISK, Nairobi, from 22nd to 26th November. I’ve also entered my sculpture entitled ‘Whole Hole’ into the Loewe Foundation Craft Prize 2020, a worldwide competition which culminates in an exhibition at Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.”

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Bloggers are destroying the world: 'The Cult of the Amateur' reviewed

by Jian Farhoumand.

A book that I picked up over the weekend, entitled The Cult of the Amateur (2007) by Andrew Keen, has quickly proven to be a savvy and acerbic analysis of the negative effects of the Internet on traditional professionalism. Basically, Keen’s thesis is that by allowing anyone and everyone to publish their own journalism, music and video on the web, we’ve consequently lost respect for the more traditional experts within these fields, such as broadsheet journalists, classical composers and old school filmmakers.

The tag-line for the book reads: “How blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today’s user-generated media are killing our culture and economy” – which immediately piqued my interest. Keen is described in the blurb as an “English digital media entrepreneur and Silicon Valley insider” whose work has been featured in everything from Business Week to Esquire. My initial inference, then, is that Keen could well be one of these unfairly neglected experts.

In Chapter One, Keen cites a technology conference in 2004 as the place where he first started hearing this irritating new term, ‘democratization’: “Media, information, knowledge, content, audience, author – all were going to be democratized by Web 2.0. The Internet would democratize Big Media, Big Business, Big Government. It would even democratize Big Experts […].” Keen had hoped that the Internet would bring beautiful music to the masses but instead he discovered: “The new Internet was about self-made music, not Bob Dylan or the Brandenburg Concertos. Audience and author had become one, and we were transforming culture into cacophony.” Difficult to dispute, perhaps, when performing even a cursory appraisal of MySpace and Youtube. Keen continues:

“Everyone was simultaneously broadcasting themselves. But nobody was listening. Out of this anarchy, it suddenly became clear that what was governing the infinite monkeys now inputting away on the Internet was the law of digital Darwinism, the survival of the loudest and most opinionated. Under these rules, the only way to intellectually prevail is by infinite filibustering.”

This, again, is hard to dispute, especially when presented with the rise to prominence of the likes of Perez Hilton. Keen expounds: “Because democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience and talent. […] it is threatening the very future of our cultural institutions.” Strong stuff. I have to admit, though, Keen makes a convincing argument. As a documentary maker myself, who attended a traditional film school, I’ve heard many a fellow filmmaking graduate denounce the fact that anyone can now pick up a camcorder, upload a video to YouTube or Vimeo and thereby call oneself a ‘filmmaker’, despite probably never having studied cinematography or film processing, or even ever having held a light meter or loaded a single roll of film into a mag. Maybe this is too purist an argument for some but I can certainly see Keen’s point of view. He believes that the concept of Web 2.0 was a noble ideal, but that in reality it is nothing but a ‘great seduction’:

“The Web 2.0 revolution has peddled the promise of bringing more truth to more people – more depth of information, more global perspective, more unbiased opinion from dispassionate observers. But this is all a smokescreen. What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgement. The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves.”

This is a cutting summation. Far from being just a frivolous concern about moody teenagers over-saturating the web with their musically bland, bedroom compositions and amateurish, hand-held videography, Keen points out a much darker and more threatening side to the problem in which hidden political groups can lobby menacingly from behind the smokescreen of innocent, unbiased facades. Keen refers to the online political spoof, Al Gore’s Penguin Army, which although initially appeared (in 2006) to be “just another example of YouTube inanity”, was eventually outed by the Wall Street Journal as having actually emanated from “a conservative Washington D.C., public relationships [sic] and lobbying firm whose clients include Exxon-Mobil.” Intriguing.

It’s not just politics and teenage antics that are clogging the broadband though. Keen observes that commercial giants including General Electric, General Motors and IBM “all have blogs that, under an objective guise, peddle their versions of corporate truth to the outside world.” Of course, he adds, “the anticorporate blogs are equally loose with the truth. In 2005, when the famous and fictitious finger-in-the-chili story broke, every anti-Wendy’s blogger jumped on it as evidence of fast-food malfeasance. The bogus story cost Wendy’s $2.5 million in lost sales as well as job losses and a decline in the price of the company’s stock.” Worrying reading.

I can even remember seeing the photograph of a piece of ‘brain’ allegedly found inside a KFC meal, doing the rounds on my Facebook newsfeed not long ago. Furthermore, as I wrote the word ‘newsfeed’ just then (surely a word none of us had ever heard or used before Facebook’s proliferation in 2007), I was struck by a questioning thought about how many people spend more time reading the self-publicised news of their friends on Facebook, than actually reading the more pertinent news on, say, the Telegraph or Guardian websites. Keen seems genuinely worried:

“In a flattened, editor-free world where independent videographers, podcasters and bloggers can post their amateurish creations at will, and no one is being paid to check their credentials or evaluate their material, media is vulnerable to untrustworthy content of every stripe – whether from duplicitous PR companies, multinational corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, anonymous bloggers, or sexual predators with sophisticated invented identities.”

In an era when we are increasingly hearing new revelations of online disingenuity, much of this is becoming unsurprising. In 2011, for example, even a professional journalist, Johan Hari of The Independent, was suspended from his paper following multiple charges of plagiarism and for having made malicious edits of his critics’ Wikipedia pages under a pseudonym. Far from making information more accurate, then, anonymity on the web has simply made it a fool’s (and troll’s) paradise.

In Chapter Two, Keen takes aim at the ‘noble amateur’: “In fact, citizen journalism is a euphemism for what you or I might call ‘journalism by nonjournalists’.” Keen makes a further pithy observation: “The simple ownership of a computer and an Internet connection doesn’t transform one into a serious journalist any more than having access to a kitchen makes one into a serious cook.” I wonder whether he is being too hard on the more genuine of the citizen journalists though. Maybe a fourteen-year-old girl who writes a daily blog about Kim Kardashian’s latest outfit, spelling mistakes abounding, isn’t really expecting to win a Pulitzer. Maybe it’s just for fun. There are, however, many citizen journalists who contribute to local newspapers in a sincere attempt to gain the work experience necessary to start a career in professional journalism. Keen seems particularly offended, however, by the more casual, laissez-faire progenitor of news, such as the ‘bystander with a smartphone’:

“In 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for example, many of the initial reports of the damage came from citizen journalists, people on the scene blogging about the chaos and taking photos of the devastation with their camera phones. But, as it turned out, these initial reports helped to spread unfounded rumours – inflated body counts and erroneous reports of rape and gang violence in the Superdome – that were later debunked by the traditional news media. The most accurate and objective reports instead came from professional news reporters who brought us high-quality photographs of the disaster and information from key figures like the New Orleans police, rescue workers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as first-hand accounts from the citizens and victims themselves.”

This last part is difficult to dispute. Obviously President Obama is more likely to sit down and debate facts with a BBC reporter via satellite than with young Kevin from MyKoolPolitiksBlog via Skype. Keen succinctly adds: “Citizen journalists simply don’t have the resources to bring us reliable news. They lack not only expertise and training, but connections and access to information.” True. I do believe, however, that news in general can benefit from the best of both worlds. If, while Obama is being interviewed by the BBC, a group of protesters outside the studio are causing a ruckus, it gives us a better sense of the bigger picture if a citizen outside manages to capture this protest on video (albeit a shaky, pixellated one). Maybe that’s a more positive way to consider citizen journalism, then – as a complementary (if sometimes dishevelled) counterpart to its more professional cousin. Regarding the interminable plethora of teenage, musical dross on MySpace and YouTube, however, I might have to agree with Keen’s most pithy line of all: “Amateur hour has arrived, and the audience is now running the show.”

[This article was first published by Sabotage Times (now defunct) on August 25, 2013: here]

Saturday, 4 August 2018

The genius of Nick Broomfield: a filmmaking career tribute

by Jian Farhoumand.

The name Nick Broomfield is today synonymous with highbrow documentary filmmaking. A graduate of the National Film and Television School, Broomfield (now 64) has carved a niche for himself as the adventurous, offbeat, quasi-impromptu celebrity hunter-cum-interviewer known for a brazen boldness in the face of adversity. Broomfield’s films span an unabashedly broad and eclectic range of subject matter from the high profile, including Margaret Thatcher, Eugene Terre Blanche and Sarah Palin, to the tabloid, including Courtney Love, Tupac Shakur and Heidi Fleiss. Broomfield has even made two full-length documentaries about the life and death of notorious American serial killer, Aileen Wuornos.

Where Broomfield differs from other documentarians is both in his mock-casual insistence on appearing in the films himself (however accidental and nonchalant this might appear) and in his subtle use of humour (often disarming his prey into surprisingly off-guard admissions). Broomfield is on record as having said that his own appearance in these films is more a result of accident and necessity, especially in those such as Tracking Down Maggie (1994) and Kurt And Courtney (1998) in which his intended subjects proved so elusive that the very act of Broomfield’s disastrously-thwarted attempts to make films about them became the actual subject of the finished works.

Of course, Broomfield is shrewder than he is given credit for and embraces his faux-cameo identity with relish, as was made clear when he starred in a series of five Volkswagen commercials (1999) in which he appears on-screen brandishing his trademark boom microphone and tape recorder. In a sense, Broomfield’s personal brand is now so well- recognised that he has effectively turned himself into the equivalent to anthropology as to what David Attenborough is to wildlife. Broomfield is also a clear forerunner to Louis Theroux in that both documentarians use a clever mix of sneakiness and humour to outwit their subjects.

Nick Broomfield with Bugle editor Jian Farhoumand

I was lucky enough to meet Nick Broomfield at his Q&A screening of Sarah Palin: You Betcha! (2011) at the Duke of York Picture House in Brighton a year ago, and asked him about this. I pointed out that documentaries are often thought of as serious things but that he somehow manages to inject them with humour, often at the very moments when he appears on screen. I asked if this was deliberate and if he thought that humour was important in getting across a serious message, and if he believed that his films would be as successful if he didn’t actually appear in them. Broomfield replied: “Well, it’s one way of surviving three months in Alaska in the middle of winter,” which got a big laugh from the audience. Broomfield was referring to his Hobbit-like mission through the snows of Alaska to track down Sarah Palin and interview her, resulting in the usual Broomfield-esque comedy of errors. He continued: “It was unbearable. And so we would crack as many jokes as we could during the day just to get through it. But I think it (humour) is important. I mean, I think one or two of the first films I made were very serious and I realised that the audience were only reacting with one emotion, and that it got very tiring after a while. I think you tend to say the same thing over and over and over, if you’re hitting an audience with the same tone and the same emotion. And I think if you can get a wider reaction, which is pretty much how real life is, I think... there’s gallows humour, and I think tragedy and comedy are very closely related. And I think if you can get that into a documentary and still keep it being accurate, it’s great. It’s certainly more fun to make.”

Of course, as much as Broomfield might enjoy the limelight, he is still a serious filmmaker whose work often affects actual, genuine change. His film about Sarah Palin was widely credited as a reason that the Republican Party refused openly to endorse or encourage her to run against Obama in 2012. His film Kurt And Courtney revealed mistakes and oversights in the police’s detective work conducted after Kobain’s presumed suicide, heavily implying that Courtney Love was behind her husband’s death. Broomfield’s Aileen Wuornos: The Selling Of A Serial Killer (1992) and Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer (2003) also reveal many examples of serious negligence by many figures of authority ranging from the state itself to Wuornos’ parents and even her own attorney. Broomfield’s work suggests that the state ultimately put to death a raped woman who had decided to plead guilty and face execution rather than continue to suffer the political circus surrounding her case.

As well as his documentaries, Broomfield has begun to make feature films in a style that he refers to as ‘Direct Cinema’ – a documentary-inspired style of filmmaking which employs non-actors and encourages improvisation. Ghosts (2006) revolves around the 2004 Morecambe Bay disaster in which 23 Chinese immigrant cockle pickers were drowned by suddenly-rising high tides. The film has raised half a million pounds for the victims’ families. Battle For Haditha (2007) is concerned with the Haditha massacre in Iraq of 2005 and counts both ex- marines and Iraqi refugees among its cast. Broomfield’s legacy as a serious filmmaker, therefore, is safe. Furthermore, Broomfield is a founder member of the Morecambe Bay Victims Fund, has received the California State Bar Award for contribution to legal reform, and been awarded several honorary doctorates. Most fittingly, perhaps, Broomfield has been awarded the BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to Documentary. His films are informative, insightful and – more often than not – entirely gripping. I look forward to the next one.

[This article was first published in Sabotage Times (now defunct) on 14 Jan, 2013]page4image13120 page4image13280

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Is Instagram filtering out the art of photography?

by Alastair Pusinelli.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram. The social media outlet pushed its older cousins Twitter and Facebook aside in 2015, with no sign of letting up so far in 2016. That being said, is it not upsetting that a 12-year-old girl doing a 'duckface', for instance, is able to upload pictures online straight from her iPhone, whilst a professional photographer with a £1000 Nikon camera struggles to make a break in the industry?

Instagram, with its countless filters and settings enables the user to create superb images and receive an infinite number of 'likes' for viewers to show their approval. The art of Instagram is not only taking great pictures but also using tags and geotags to make sure your snaps are seen by a wide audience.


My issue with Instagram is this. I will be more than happy if I upload a picture and I receive the ‘magic 11 likes’, this is because I’ve grown up with Facebook and double figures reflects a strong post. I then cast an eye onto a relative’s Instagram profile. She’s 15 going on 16, has over 1000 followers and her posts are receiving well over 100 likes a piece. Now my initial response is this is fucking creepy. Ignoring my jealousy, her ‘success’ may be a sign of the times and in being five years younger than me, she has been more engaged with Instagram, like I was with Facebook, and those before me with MySpace, Bebo and the glories of MSN Messenger.

So where does our little photographer friend come into this insta-centric world. I believe that as time goes on, with phones getting bigger and display quality improving, there will more room for pro photographers to receive the adulation they deserve. But who can predict which way social media will turn in the coming years?

Some are already ahead of the times. Patrick Janelle (@AGuyNamedPatrick) uses just his iPhone and clocks up the likes. The 33-year-old from Colorado posts very simple pictures of his daily life, featuring landscapes, cities, food and lots of coffee. He partners up with brands but he doesn’t savagely plug them like the C-list celebs do of the UK. He does so with subtlety, with well-crafted images and without the bombardment of hashtags.

A picture paints a thousand words, but the language is changing. For photographers, just like many others in different professions, it’s evolve or die in the modern world. If you don’t change with the times, you’ll be left behind.     

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Shoreditch Conundrum: a history lesson

by Alastair Pusinelli.

The pop-ups, the hipsters, the micro-brewed ales; an image that has been sprouting in areas of London over the past decade. It all started with Notting Hill back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, which was often referred to as the British answer to Greenwich Village. W11 was riled with artists, musicians and community activists. But come the ‘80s, gentrification was in full effect and Notting Hill, with its stylish architecture and open setting, was a hotspot for upper middle class families.

So where did these free-spirited arty types turn to next? In the mid ‘90s the hipsters travelled six miles east to the ‘faceless’ Shoreditch, an area for light industrial firms which was suffering from a lack of identity. However, artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst moved to the area just before the turn of the century, and a wave of creative types soon followed. Since then Shoreditch has been transformed into the trendy, arty hipster capital of London. Over the years the area became more and more popular, with several technology companies basing their offices around Old Street during the second ‘dot-com’ boom at the start of the current decade.

Well it seems that Shoreditch has now had its day and our beloved hipsters are on the move again. The current crop of bearded, beanie wearing folk now believe it is uncool to live in such a popular area, with house prices on the rise and cereal caf├ęs round every corner.

So where have they taken their ale stained vintage sweaters to? Well it appears now that the hipster population of London is now splitting up. The buzz of the Olympics saw many migrate to Hackney and nearby Dalston, but you will also find ironic cigarette rolling south of the river. Hipster sightings have been reported in Peckham, Crystal Palace and Streatham, with others heading to the northern reaches of Walthamstow and Tottenham.

So why these areas? As much I’d like to suggest that these places have a draw because of a thriving community or effervescent nightlife, the simple fact is that these places are cheap. If we look at Hackney, between the consensuses of 2001 and 2011, there was a 65% change in workers to the sector of culture, media and sport, a notoriously underpaid field for under 40s.

It’s so easy for these media types to commute into the City for work and there is no doubt that these areas will grow like Shoreditch did, and at a faster rate. It took over ten years for Shoreditch to emerge from the shadow of Notting Hill, and it has only taken a couple years for Dalston to come to the fore, and the hipsters are already on the move again.

So it seems that ‘uncoolness’ is the key to make a place popular, so the only question that remains is will the hipsters get fed up of the capital? I hear Devon is lovely at this time of year…