Craig Atkinson

Café Royal Books

Exhibition review by David Moore

Currently exhibited at The Photographers’ Gallery in London, Craig Atkinson’s Café Royal Books presents an eclectic collection of social relics where regional pasts intermingle, and previously unseen or half-remembered social histories are vividly recalled. With a sense of relative authenticity, the exhibition invites viewers to delve through a collection of three hundred books that capture past lives through the lens of another. David Moore reflects on the display and the project’s position among the ongoing reassessment of documentary photography.

David Moore | Exhibition review | 11 Apr 2024

As documentary photography finds new form amidst recurring questions of its legitimacy and purpose, Craig Atkinson’s monumental publishing project, Café Royal Books, presents a crowd-pleasing repository of the photographic distant, that in its entirety could be understood as a document itself of a particular photographic age.

A relatively small display of CRB’s output is currently installed at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, giving a glimpse of its residual value. The project presents an eclectic collection portraying mainly British, but also international, work of previously unseen or half-remembered social histories. Without acknowledging it, CRB shows “documentary photography”. Atkinson says: ‘Documentary is just a term like any other, and really I use it to help define what I don’t publish, rather than exactly what I do.’ The project presents works, loosely spanning 40 years. Browsing the catalogue online, I found content from the late 1940s (Dorothy Bohm’s pictures of Paris) to the 2010s (Thabo Jaiyesimi’s Nation of Islam UK 1989–2018, published last year). In-between is a diverse collection of the eccentric, mundane, the archetypal and unexpected; everything really.

CRB is driven by “functional” and environmentally light economy to allow all of this. Atkinson describes his project as being ‘somewhere between craft and punk,’ which is an apt description of his stripped down, DIY, home-made ethos. Production is cheap, retail price kept to affordable rates, ‘based around the price of a London pint.’ Pre-production, the photographer is asked to provide scans, a sequence and title, then is offered a design that is tweaked, over email. The book’s release is scheduled, and that’s it. Occasionally, special editions are offered, or second editions published.

CRB shares characteristics with the larger publishing houses. The model excludes any monetary payment to the photographer, an arrangement that has become routine for the publishing of books in recent years (only a handful of very well-known artists make any profit from direct book sales). With CRB, the photographers are offered a portion of books for themselves as “payment”. The “industry” has seemingly acquiesced to such arrangements in the knowledge that publications can be seen as promotion for print sales, exhibitions and finding audiences for works that otherwise may have been left in a proverbial box at the back of the studio.

Much of the CRB project reflects a popular interest in realist photography that is not necessarily associated within the academy or related photographic learning. Nostalgia and localism play a huge part; the value of seeing the fabric of one’s past life through the eyes of another extends access to a wide audience. Although most content is from professional or “trained” photographers, we might understand that a portion of the work relies upon a relaying of the “everyday”, a photo-journalistic or “newsy” approach. There are also the more authored documents drawing upon the aesthetic legacies and concerns of the documentary genre. It is this crossover that presents a fascinating blend suggesting that content leads the way rather than any emphasis on particular sub-genres.

What is evident, looking through the display at The Photographers’ Gallery and the online shop, is that the project occasionally reads as both a celebration and a salvage ethnography of the near. London Street Markets 1960s–1970s (2020), Old Ladies of Whitechapel (2013), Sheffield Tinsley Viaduct (2013), Glasgow Steamies (2014) and so on; lives captured and presented joyously. Such works and others represent an enthusiasm for social realism that preceded (or ignored) any de-constructivist critique of documentary and held photography up as an uncomplicated social tool.

In this sense, nostalgia for the genre itself also plays a part in the appeal of CRB’s output, further defining the project, reconsidering the documentary medium itself as a particular movement at a particular time in history, alongside questions of the conditions that created such mass activity that largely involved photographing the lives of others. In this sense, one might squint and find a mass participation project by proxy, a culturally assimilated ethnography by many like-minded people who have shared similar photographic educations and happen to be born in the early to mid-20th century, figuring out their place in the world through the observations of others.

The legacies of this contribute to the enormous reach of CRB’s output, that could be easily edited and curated into larger narratives and publications of documentary approaches, based around geographical location, social thematics and so on. And with scale in mind, there are inevitable analogies and shared interests to be made with the Mass Observation Project or even the much-overlooked German and Russian located Worker Photography Movement, with, of course, significant differences regarding their origins, social histories and political contexts.

On the night of the private view, the exhibition space was continually busy, as the audience were involved in a brisk and satisfying material engagement with the works on show, handling, looking and putting back. Whilst the installation at the gallery will clearly be enjoyed, for logistical reasons it shows only 300 books whereas the upcoming show at Impressions Gallery, Bradford, will reveal 700. To see CRB’s output in its entirety would be an ideal (and conceptual) installation offering a monumental showcase to what is a monumental project.

One of documentary photography’s strengths is its ability to project social history. Arguably, a distrust of photography’s intersection with AI, for example, may embolden this, having a refreshed relative authenticity on a popular level at least (and, whatever happens, an interesting dialogue is about to ensue). The analogy with the Mass Observation Project, and its relatively low-key activities contemporarily, brings forward questions around the supply of work that CRB publishes and whether it might dry-up. I have a friend who mudlarks in the Thames, finding ancient artefacts, some of which are now in the Museum of London. We marvel at how, at each turn of the tide, new riches are given up, seemingly inexhaustibly. Photography, too, just keeps coming, but how does the production of modern social narratives, which most of us participate in with our regular uploads, fit into the documentary paradigm that is presented by CRB? The relocation of such vernacular work made continually on camera phones has similar but differing values. Enabling such egalitarianism would be a natural fit with the politics of this amazing project.♦

All images courtesy of Café Royal Books

Café Royal Books runs at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, until 2 June 2024.

David Moore is a photographic artist and Principal Lecturer at the University of Westminster, London, where he teaches on the Expanded Photography MA programme.


1-Amelia Troubridge, Motörhead, from Motorhead UK, 1997 

2-Amelia Troubridge, Urban Cowboys, from Urban Cowboys Dublin, 1996

3-From Being British 1975-2005 © Barry Lewis

4-Cover of Being British 1975-2005 © Barry Lewis

5-Chris Miles, Musical Float. From Notting Hill Carnival, 1974

6-Cover of Parfett St Evictions, 1973 © David Hoffman

7-From Burnley 1970s © Dragan Novakovic

8-Cover of Black Power Black Panthers, 1969 © Janine Wiedel

9-Cover of Football Fans, 1991 © Richard Davis

10-Cover of Early Colour, Hulme Manchester, 1985 © Shirley Baker

11-Cover of Northern Soul, 1993-96 © Elaine Constantine

12-Cover of Rock Against Racism Live: 1977-1981 © Syd Shelton

A tribute to Brian Griffin (1948-2024)

Leading figures from the UK photography community – including Photoworks Director, Louise Fedotov-Clements, and founder of the Centre for British Photography, James Hyman – remember Brian Griffin, who died 27 January 2024 at the age of 75.

Louise Fedotov-Clements, David Moore, James Hyman, Peter Bonnell, Ravi Chandarana, Graeme Oxby | Obituary | 8 Feb 2024

Widely acknowledged as one of the most prominent photographers of his generation, Griffin was born in Birmingham and left school at 16 to work as trainee pipework engineering estimator for British Steel before going on to study at Manchester Polytechnic where he met Martin Parr. Moving to London, he started out as a freelance photographer in 1972 and was first commissioned by Roland Schenk, shooting playfully subversive black and white portraits for business magazine Management Today. His inspirations ran the gamut from Renaissance painting to Surrealism and German expressionist cinema. Golden years in the music industry saw him produce countless iconic album covers for Depeche Mode, Iggy Pop and Kate Bush, and others, alongside work for various design and advertising agencies.

Constantly pushing at the boundaries of artistic and corporate photography, the Guardian named him as the ‘photographer of the decade in 1989’. Seminal exhibitions at The Hayward Gallery, London, and Les Rencontres d’Arles, curated by Paul Hill and François Hébel respectively, brought international attention. Griffin subsequently produced over 20 photobooks and was the subject of more than 50 exhibitions across his career. His work is held in collections at Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Portrait Gallery, London; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; Reykjavík Art Museum, Iceland; Mast Foundation, Bologna; Museum Folkwang, Essen; and the Museu da Imagem, Braga, Portugal. In 2009, Brian Griffin became the patron of FORMAT Festival and in 2013 he received the Centenary Medal from the Royal Photographic Society in recognition of a lifetime achievement in photography.

Brian was a very dear friend and colleague. He will be deeply missed as a member of the photography family. Our thoughts are with all who loved him. The memory of his wonderful, playful and surreal energy, curious mind and generous spirit will forever be a source of inspiration. He was one of the most influential and subversive photographers of our time. I had the pleasure of working with Brian as he became FORMAT Patron after we met at our first edition in 2005, since then we collaborated on many editions of FORMAT including commissions, films, events and exhibitions in Derby, the UK and internationally.

Always critical and unique in his avant-garde approach to photography, no matter what context he worked within – from business men to construction workers, musicians to aristocracy, the street to still life – Brian sculpted light and composed his images in his own recognisable innovative style. His knowledge of, and passion for, photography and photographers was unending. He was always enthusiastic to support new talents and never slowed down with his own ideas and future plans. Brian was truly one of a kind, a legendary image-maker and genuine artist. His memory and influence lives on.
Louise Fedotov-Clements

The first time I knew of Brian, without knowing who Brian Griffin was, was through my dad’s subscription to Management Today magazine during the mid to late 1970s. Looking through the magazine and finding Brian’s extraordinary, and at that time, bewildering images, I had no idea that I was witnessing a truly innovative and influential collaboration that was to significantly shape a particular history of British photography located between art and commerce.

Over the last 15-20 years we became good friends. I was always “young David” of course. We had conversations about photography and life, and occasionally ageing. “I look at my hands and can’t believe they’re 75 years old”, he said to me last year. I regularly got to tell him that I genuinely believed that he was the most imaginative photographers the UK had ever produced. There was also a gloriously subversive element to his photographs that honoured his origins, and the idea of work as physical labour. Expressed subtly within his practice, the working man and woman were often elevated and heroic.

Brian’s constant presence, ongoing commissions, initiating Kickstarters and public appearances, talking about his photography only the week before he passed, makes it harder to imagine his death and sudden absence. He left us on a high, busy and in demand.

There is so much more to say, we all have stories and warm memories of the man. RIP Brian, friend and innovator, we’re all going to miss you.
David Moore

We were shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden death of Brian Griffin. Just recently we were celebrating with him his latest project: he was in great form and gave a characteristically exuberant speech about his inspiration.

Brian was a brilliant image-maker with an incredible imagination. He was a creator of genuinely iconic images. Building from the surrealism of his 1970s work, including celebrated images for Management Today, in the 1980s he became the go-to person for record covers. This genius is celebrated in the book and exhibition Pop and the recent launch of Mode which presented his photographs for Depeche Mode. This may be Brian’s most celebrated work but wherever he turned his gaze he created something extraordinary. As recent commissions show, in his mid-seventies his brilliant imagination remained undimmed. 

As well as his unforgettable images, I will remember Brian as a generous friend, a caring person, and someone with the gift of transforming kind words into practical deeds. When I mentioned the difficulties of fundraising for the Centre for British Photography, given the present economic and political climate, he really stepped up. The recently launched grants programme owes much to his help. 

I will also remember Brian for his passion and enthusiasm and wit. He was always busy, always making plans for the future. He was delighted that in his mid-seventies he was still in such demand and he enjoyed his recent collaborations with a watch company and a wine maker which brought his creativity to new audiences. He was also looking forward to new collaborations that included an unexpected project that he’d recently received that involved him going on a cruise liner! 

At our most recent meeting we discussed staging a solo show of his work. I am sad that we will no longer be able to work together on this exhibition but hope that it will still take place as a tribute to him. 

I firmly believe that Brian is one of the greatest photographers this country has produced. He had a remarkable career filled with lasting images that span half a century but he still had so much to give. His death is a huge loss.
James Hyman

I first met Brian Griffin in 2012, not long after I had begun working as Curator at Derby QUAD. Preparations were underway for FORMAT 2013 and Brian’s passion, energy, humour and dedication to the FORMAT cause as our Patron was both thrilling to watch and displayed a deep and lasting commitment to the aims and ambitions of the festival. In essence I was in awe of him; this legendary figure had seemingly effortlessly created a body of work that will stand the test of time. I often asked him about the almost mystical way in which he created his images and film works. His was truly a ground-breaking practice, but also one that was built on the real and true foundations of photography.

I witnessed first-hand the way in which he constructed an image, or an outstanding set of images, on two occasions. The first was his project Tram Man, shot on location at Crich Tramway Museum in 2019. Working with his talented assistant Ravi Chandarana (and I think there is a long list of former assistants who learnt so much from Brian), I watched the ease in which Brian marshalled, directed and cajoled the models during the shoot. But I also saw the huge amount of work and patience it took to get just one magnificent image. The resulting set of images had an almost ‘old-school’ glamour to them, shot through with that unmistakable Brian Griffin style and substance; and ‘otherworldliness’. Another instance was when I had the opportunity to curate his exhibition, Black Country Dada 1969 – 1990 in QUAD Gallery in 2021. Handling each framed image was like handling a precious, iconic object. During the install Brian showed me his iPhone, where he had taken a photograph of one of QUAD’s technicians from the side, the bright red of a laser level outlining the contours of the tech’s face in profile. This astonishing image alone, opportunistic in a way, marked out decades of experience and knowledge of how to take a picture; but also spoke of a deep and enduring talent. He was one of a kind. I’ll miss our phone calls and laughter-filled chats face to face; and I’ll miss Brian’s signature goodbye: “love ya Pete!”. And we all at FORMAT and QUAD, myself very much included, loved him. Thank you Brian.
Peter Bonnell

Brian Griffin we’ll miss you dearly. Above all a friend, mentor and father figure over the last 8 years. 

I was fortunate to be part of his surreal world lighting his sets and was able to dive into his weird and wonderful imagination. His mastery firstly was psychological: he played the perfect game to get exactly what he wanted out of a subject. Like a dance, intuitively I’d manoeuvre the light whilst he probed away with the subject, observing them in the upmost detail. I learnt the power of grids, channeling that light so precisely…often leaving the retoucher very little to do. 

He could make a man working in an office dip his hands in Swarfega and a teacher wear a butcher’s glove. It was incredible to witness the use of props unfold into the portrait. The subject felt so intrigued, they always want to play ball to understand where he’d take the final result. 

I’d describe Brian as neuroscientist; his precision had zero tolerance. I’m extremely lucky to be a close part of world in his later years. He was one of the great portrait photographers of our time. 

Brian passed away very peacefully and has left a permanent imprint on my soul… he called everyone “young”… your legacy lives on and young Rav will do you proud. Big love and condolences to the family. RIP Mr Griffin.
Ravi Chandarana

I was very sad to hear that legendary British photographer Brian Griffin has passed away. As a working-class person who achieved fame and fortune in the 80’s with his effortlessly creative work, Brian was an obvious inspiration to myself and many others starting out at that time. He had developed a very distinctive visual signature, and his images were instantly recognisable; the Management Today pictures were deliciously bonkers.

I got to know Brian much later, mainly at festivals and fairs in Arles, Derby and Paris. They say “don’t meet your heroes”, but meeting Brian was one of life’s greatest pleasures. Warm, supportive and very, very funny, it’s hard to imagine being at those events without him there. There will forever be a seat in the corner bar in Place du Forum in Arles with Brian quaffing petit Leffe beers and greeting scores of friends old and new, talking about photography, having a gossip and sharing his latest plans for a new book or exhibition project. Rest in peace, Maestro Bri. ♦
Graeme Oxby

Brian Griffin (1948-2024)


1-Brian Griffin, Carpenter, Broadgate, City of London, 1986. Courtesy MMX Gallery, London © Estate of Brian Griffin

John Myers

The Guide

Book review by David Moore

David Moore discusses John Myers’ documents of domesticity and de-industrialisation in the Midlands region of England whilst considering the value in revisiting an already-familiar view.

In his essay “The Artist as Anthropologist” (1975), Joseph Kosuth asked: ‘why not have the anthropologist […] anthropologize his own society?’ He concluded, some paragraphs later, that the ‘artist – anthropologist’ would make a better job of it, addressing territory familiar to themselves, mapping an ‘internalizing cultural activity in his own society and within his own social matrix’.

John MyersThe Guide arrived, an overview of differing collections of black-and-white photographs from the period 1972–88, published by RRB Photobooks. I am familiar with the territory represented; not only as a photographer but also as a fellow Midlander. Growing up there in the ’70s, I was a contemporary of some of the younger children portrayed. I recognise the patios, the Little Red Riding Hood coats (my sister had one), pet rabbits on suburban lawns and the general décor of the wider environment. Myers lived within this cultural matrix before photography had ever entered his life and because of this, as viewers, we find ourselves already beyond a particular veneer, already within the interior.

Yet, such proximity has to be negotiated. The work’s raison-de-etre is the everyday, and photography’s limitations are such that when we look at what is close to us, we might need reminding of its value. Myers opens up the process through a valuable first-person commentary that echoes the visual work in its deadpan style that helps avoid a simplistic reading of the series as any average survey of English suburbia, contextualising his methods and preventing some photographs from being overlooked, not because the images are badly made or too easily described, but because of their much-discussed banality.

That the pictures are ‘boring’ is continually emphasised, yet one viewer’s ordinary is another’s spectacle. To photograph something is to monumentalise it, allowing the uncanny to emerge. Of Myers’ work in this collection, this is most true of ‘The Bed’ (1976), where the cavernous tones of such a benign object propose latent fearsomeness within the candlewick bedspread that almost fills the frame. I’m reminded here of the surreal experimentation of Bill Brandt’s domestic interiors, but here, there is no such trickery with perspectives, just a fairly straightforward view.

The ‘Furniture Store’ (1974) photographs too are astounding in their revelations. A small series of photographs showing simulacra of family living rooms in shop windows; artlessly arranged and underlit, perform as an abeyance to a petit-bourgeois compliance and “Home in time for tea at 6” that sets the tone for much of Myers’ consumerist backdrop.

These, and the majority of the portraits from The Guide, are complex and understated photographs. Myers makes the point that, throughout the making of these works, whilst influenced by various histories of photography (and presumably a history of art), he was never funded and never intended for the pictures to form ‘a project’. He ‘just took them’, no exhibition in mind, no wanting to please anyone but himself and his sitters, no business plan. His own description of his practice gives the impression that photography is a thing that happened to him, and that the pictures were just there. This is also evidenced in an apparent non-interventionist method of working, as Myers tells us of a subject adjusting his sitting position. “Don’t move”, thought Myers, as though an entire contract would collapse if he actually directed a pose for the camera; all had to occur around him to be valid.

Myers’ photographs resound most impactfully when closer to home and working within familiar territory, and ‘The End of Industry’ (1981–88) series, that sees the book out, feels out of place in this collection, addressing a quite distant socio-political discourse, away from the suburbs. He writes, quite honestly, that he ‘ran out of steam’ and, in contrast to the aforementioned, non-interventionist position, was, at one point, out ‘looking’ for photographs. These images employ similar visual grammar to many of the ‘domestic’ images within The Guide and again are opened up by Myers’ commentary. The photographs of ‘The Female Brickworker’ (1983) particularly articulate this, locating the subject of the picture within an industrial context that, quite feasibly, might exclude her from the relatively affluent environs of Myers’ usual territory. In spite of the eloquent visual record of de-industrialisation during this period of history, one might consider that, within this publication, the idea of ‘old industry’ was a diversion; one with which Myers may not have needed to walk the extra mile, but sit it out at home, to see what happened.

Such inclusions raise questions of the book’s purpose beyond the commodification of a familiar view, particularly where the works have been previously published and are obvious best-sellers. Besides the fast-moving desires of collectors to acquire such objects, this may be understood in a variety of ways. But given the premium prices for his other publications, I was left thinking that this collection’s primary role is in making some of Myers’ work affordable to a larger audience.

As Myers acknowledges his influences, we find familiarity within the photographic precedent, and, as an admirable gesture of transparency by the artist, the roll-call of photographers is welcome. His straightforward list of snappers orientates the viewer towards Myer’s own photographs in a highly specific manner that opens up endless imagining.

As we regard Myers’ photographs in the 21st century, we can understand documentary photography as a particular artifice within the visual overload of the contemporary. The historical period represented here was, in reality, a flammable construct of new social realities in colour, offering entirely different interpretations of social history. Yet, Myers’ was a response that was satisfyingly redolent of the time; a confident interpretation of the histories within his own back yard and a reliable anthropology of the near.♦

All images courtesy the artist and RRB Photobooks © John Myers

David Moore is a photographic artist and the Principal Lecturer for Documentary Photography and Photojournalism at The University of Westminster, London.

Ron Jude



Ron Jude’s book Lago presents a holistic reiteration of what Sally Eauclaire defined in the early 1980’s with her highly influential The New Color Photography publication, experienced here within an easy conflation of history as well as more recent photographic genealogy.

The photographs themselves – addressing abandonment and a general languidity – do not describe a place as much as they do various sub genres of recent photographic practice. This is achieved via highly aesthetic single images, referencing endless historical touchstones from the work of William Eggleston and William Christenberry to Paul Graham and Richard Misrach.

Unfortunately, as a body of work Lago struggles to stand on its own two feet, offering the usual enigmas and cadence. Some photographs even appear ready to install as the perfect backdrop generic modern living, dinner party art with just enough ‘real life’ signifiers to prevent a slip into pastoral pictorialism – the wild looking dogs, the boots, the object trouvé, the bleached out curtains, the sun shining into the lens obscuring our view – all sun-dried under desert light so intense that you almost squint when you turn the page.

That there are no words to read is admirable (but this might simultaneously make us wary). However, it’s clear why Ron Jude made the work, why he was interested in this and that, what influenced him topographically even. We understand why it’s a book and there are a great many admirable photographs as wonderfully executed observations. My breath is taken away by the upright tyre and berried foliage, for example, but, when it comes down to it, other than fine photographic craft, there’s little real sustenance; just a neat tying up of business, no aftertaste, no afterglow; nothing radical, nothing strange.

–David Moore

All images courtesy of MACK. © Ron Jude

Jungjin Lee

Unnamed Road


Jungjin Lee is a skilful photographer who produces elegant, monochromatic considerations of territory and other ephemera. In the case of Unnamed Road, that territory is situated between Israel and Palestine. Her work, contained within an awkward concertina paged book published by MACK, spills out with high consideration to the craft of the photographic image.

Whilst Lee is committed to her work, her way; the political and historical meta-narrative of the geographical area she works within restricts any attempt to allow her sensibilities to have currency beyond the photograph as art object. The context of the conflict didactically tethers every image to a fixed historical binary that works against the photographic possibilities. Whilst the photographs reside beautifully on the page, shadows of Moriyama in the patina, the photographic noir reads as an affectation rather than as any engagement with more local difficulties – polite stanzas, floating over an epic tragedy, where people actually die.

It’s as if Lee’s photographs don’t belong here, their heavy formalism only able to lightly engage with the scattered remains and readily available codas. There are exceptions however, when Lee considers a longer view – the graveyard, the town, an opening up allowing an escape, to respond and reflect. I am reminded of Richard Misrach’s, Desert Cantos, a marvelously ruminative series on the land, altered by a variety of conflict and intervention yet open ended within a complex discourse of American tragedy and imagining.

There are attendant difficulties of commissioning ‘outsiders’ to make work around ‘issues’, particularly those that are so ubiquitous in our psyche. Often there is inadequate period for immersion and I am left thinking about the sense of imposition of much photographic work; an imposition as opposed to the value of a more reflexive method of engaging with live history. This especially, where aesthetic considerations count for very little to those just outside of the frame.

—David Moore

All images courtesy of MACK. © Jungjin Lee

Tod Papageorge

Studio 54


Photographing in nightclubs is easy pickings for a photographer; dangerous sometimes, unfair because your quarry is often worse for wear, judgmental because there are multi-various photographic tropes that comply easily with the iconography of loss and abandon.

Tod Papageorge’s collection of documentary photographs of the legendary Studio 54 are positioned uneasily in the shadows of Larry Fink, Winogrand and Mary Ellen Mark to name a few photographic observers of the rhythms of nocturnal social relations. The beautiful book object; matt black cover; platinum prints and gold coloured inlay summon wild fantasies of fascist pleasure-domes and the disco tackiness of Berlusconi.

Papageorge, along with other photographers too, gained access to the nightclub, which burned brightly in the late 1970’s – part of an apparatus and embellished expectation – and like the Bowery, three miles downtown, the nightclub appears to have been a ‘go-to’ destination of easy photographic spectacle. Some revellers are in a state of utter trauma; the sublime opening image shows a Cinderella in an explosive aftermath, shattered glass at her feet, dazed and confused as her suitor checks her shoe size. She is oblivious to his attentions, on the margins, ready to leave, well after midnight already.

Yet there is heightened irony in these extraordinary grandiose tableaux that share an iconography and historical lineage more with the work of Jacob Riis than any other New York photographers. The induced collapse and sandwich of prostrate bodies, the pursuit of pleasure as main objective and apparent abandonment of any moral code all converse with Riis’ representations of opium dens and the cramped living of the same city ninety years previously.

As a complete body of work Studio 54 is a welcome series, and the title of this mythologised blip of history offers a useful commodification for the works, yet what happened here happens everywhere. The enquiry of these photographs is elsewhere; the pursuit of oblivion via decadence and benign entitlement being familiar to us all from time to time.

—David Moore

All images courtesy of Stanley/Barker. © Tod Papageorge

Robert Hutinski



A privately published, hand made book, Robert Hutinski’s Atavism ostensibly shows family archives from Celje, Slovenia, prior to the Nazi holocaust, which are then are redacted and excavated; creating absence that perversely translates as a contemporary memento mori. In doing so, it invites us to empathise with what is popularly described, as the ‘spectre of fascism’ being ever present.

In Michael Haneke’s 2009 film, The White Ribbon, various set pieces based in rural Germany of the 1910’s presciently suggested the violence yet to appear in WW1. The actual conflict wasn’t yet physically present and rather than rely upon a reiteration of its consequences Haneke conjured a heavily charged prelude via the everyday. Family and documentary archives can act as a final point, a fixed marker in time, yet Hutinski’s digital interventions into the photographic vernacular, reposition fragmented lives, which disappear before our eyes.

We witness no trauma, but gaze at victims before they become so. Any ‘double violence’ has yet to occur, not with the act of photographing, but genocide. We find ourselves at the limits of allegory, the works projecting tragic inevitabilities and us, unable to act to change the course of history as if the sequence is set to repeat. Perhaps, predictably, I hear TS Eliot’s Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch as I hold what begins to feel like a slim prayer pamphlet in my hands. The object’s intelligent design and use of semi-transparent papers combined with image manipulation and sequencing offers it’s own interpretation of uncertainty.

Surprisingly, Atavism relies not on indexicality; the images may have been made contemporarily, but a seductive and emotive power through aesthetics, collective consciousness and design. Hutinski knows that to continually reemphasise such histories, to keep these ghosts alive, is essential, but, and whether this is by choice or circumstance I do not know, what happens when an elegiac and beautifully created testament to loss such as this can only be owned by a handful of collectors?

—David Moore

All images courtesy of Akina Books. © Robert Hutinski

Alec Soth

Looking for Love, 1996

Kominek Books

Returning to and publishing old work can be an interesting and problematic proposal, particularly if the photographs have not been seen before. Various questions present themselves; Does one re-edit, reproaching one’s younger self? Is it desirable to avoid the contemporary in your reselection? How important is the work in the ‘photographic canon’ and what are the reasons for publishing now?

A fetishisation of the everyday resurfaced within documentary genres in the mid to late 90’s and by the end of the decade was beginning to circumnavigate in a descending and self-referential cycle downwards into the pay of advertising. Whilst Looking for Love is not guilty of this, heralded here are the beginnings of a vibrant counter practice, which at this point, stood outside of the language of commerciality. Within these black and white photographs, the twenty-six year old Alec Soth relays a familiar mix of Midwestern shenanigans and traverses a line between delicate enigma, occasional conceit and a kind of vernacular that is drawn downwards from the swirling photographic ether as well as being borne upwards from Soth’s humdrum day to day existence.

Looking for Love is introduced as a personal document. It is an incongruous medley of sharp edges, not helped by the kind of editing [‘mirroring’ over a double page spread] that directs, rather than opens up possibilities of meaning, diminishing the impact of the many resonant single photographs. The work encompasses a wide range of contextual expression. The dancing men in white, frozen in flash, perform ritual mating gestures as an old lady disinterestedly accepts the gift of a cocktail cherry on the lips, as if the gesture could only ever be a shadow of something long since stilled.

This book is clearly one for aficionados. Soth, working the room, flirting with photographic history. At its best, Looking for Love uses familiar language to extract from social spaces and empty landscapes, dark mirrors of longing, triumph and insecurity. Beyond this, it offers a glimmer of how a more esoteric iteration of American documentary practice might have developed here beyond the expectations of the gallery.

—David Moore

All images courtesy of Kominek Books. © Alec Soth

Lise Sarfati


Twin Palms

In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.” A beautiful, yet bewildering, section from T.S Eliot’s The Lovesong of Alfred J Prufrock may very well serve as a useful coda for Lise Sarfati’s very nice to look–at–book, SHE, published by Twin Palms, a complex series around a group of very similiar looking American women.

Sarfati’s has long been a self-conscious and stilled collaborative stage, relying upon moments of conceptual and psychological recognition. Clearly aware of the medium’s limitations, Sarfati reaches beyond the surface without too much regard to losing her audience within this melodrama of absence and stasis.

The transference of time and place in SHE, the confluence of characters and the suggestion of familial relationships to each other; their languid, Godot-esque plight and echoes of Cindy Sherman, Philip Lorca diCorcia, and Katy Grannan, drive an oblique, engaging performance of uncertainty and, significantly, suspicion, quite possibly of the photographer figure herself. The series is necessarily inconclusive and poignant, yet the over familiar photographic trope of the ‘passive girl’ sometimes obstructs Sarfati’s best intentions. This appears to be all too familiar of easy fashion imagery, where the gaze is never returned and the body inactive. As auteur, Sarfati knowingly plays this out and the endless avoidance within the collaboration is complicated by her own very significant presence in every photograph.

Looking at SHE, Alison Anders’ 1992 film, Gas, Food and Lodgings, a subtle treatise on economic and sexual exchange within the day-to-day transactions of a single mother and daughters in middle-America comes into view. Sarfati’s work fits a similiar bill. And whilst too obvious agendas are unnecessary and unwelcome, we are left with a feeling that SHE, could perhaps offer us something more radical and still retain a purposeful amount of aesthetic and ambivalent distance.

—David Moore

All images courtesy of Twin Palms. © Lise Sarfati