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