Monday, 31 December 2012

Crocodile Tears

In the process of preparing a new edition of Marie Louise with Toys as a Triptych, I’ve been re-acquainted with her frustration in front of the camera. The camera lies as usual; this is an edit, an experiment and a discussion on the exploitation of the subject for art as well as advertising and even documentary of course.

I have been working on this piece over the Christmas period to be shipped for the first week of 2013 and I have inevitably ended up in discussions with friends who are more mothers than artists.

The conversation ranges from the predatory pedophile behavior of Sir Jimmy Saville through to the subtler forms of exploitation of the child in everyday society. Often a woman’s argument is misogynistic, against the artist as a woman for a betrayal of trust. Sally Mann as the mother of her subjects comes in for angry critism for the un-guarded beauty and playful sexuality on display in Immediate Family and Nan Goldin for her inclusion of the child in her grunge style slideshows with themes of adult sexuality and addiction.

The mother as audience and critic seems mostly concerned with the exposure of these types of images to an uncontrollable audience and the inevitable thoughts of a perceived unknown minority. I personally feel it is madness and artistic suicide to compensate for the thoughts and feelings of others but in my exploration of the child I incorporate the critical argument of exploitation into the work itself; in my images there is always an awareness of a protagonist.

As artists we work with what we have to hand and what may seem like selfishness, arrogance and narcissism is in fact also a determination to communicate our ideas about society regardless of the judgment by the very society that is being challenged.  The end does justify the means. The artist will argue that use of the child by the corporate giants is equal too if not more insidious than in art. In a Disney current TV advertising campaign children’s reactions are recorded in a home video style being told they were going to Disneyland. Is this the same thing? What about starving children in Africa or a running girl burnt by Napalm?

See the image below, a close up screen shot from the Marie Louise triptych during the final retouching stage. I used a printer and retoucher who accentuated the little shadow behind the tear for me in image 2He also worked on Sam Taylor Wood’s series Crying Men’. It is no secret that the tears in Sam Taylor Wood’s works are mostly retouched from Hayden Christensen who did actually manage to cry. Serendipitously, when I arrived at the mounters that same afternoon with the final print, there was a large print of a crying Kris Kristofferson on the wall from the same series.

Detail from Marie Louise with Toys Tripych © Richard Ansett 2012

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Fracture & Healing

'On our farm we have a row of Maple trees, many years ago these trees were used as fence posts for the stringing of barbed wire around the pasture. In some places the trees fought against the barbed wire as a hostile agent, and here the trees have long and ugly scars that deface the bark and inner structure of the trees. In other places, the barbed wire has been accepted and incorporated into the life of the tree. Where this happened, the barbed wire left no mark on the tree, and all that shows is the wire entering on one side and exiting at the other.

What makes the difference in the quality of a tree's response to injury? What was there in some trees that made them injure themselves by fighting against injury? What made it possible for other trees to be able to incorporate the injuring object and become master of the barbed wire rather than its victim?' Edgar. N. Jackson The Many Faces of Grief, pp. 123-4.

Hospital Gardens, Ukraine (series) © Richard Ansett 2012

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Present is a Hard Sell

A response to Tim Plester sharing 'American TinType', a short film about a man's relationship with the manual processes of photographic production. (Click on link to view the 3 minute film).

"Hey Tim, 

this is a lovely sensitive film...There seems though to be a contradiction in the photographer wanting to move away from the process, into the 'pure' image making itself. This would render his current process obsolete and free him to work with any tools including those of the 21st century. 

His images are steeped in nostalgia but there is no modern resonance. I see this in a lot of fine art photography, it is responding to a subconscious need to look back. The potential legacy of these images renders them almost immediately obsolete, they have no value as an expression of work created in this era.

Hmmm...the rules of aesthetic 'beauty' are caught up in the nostalgic process of image making. It is the hardest job to create a valuable work of art in the medium of the era especially when it is so commonly used and seen in our daily lives, but that is the challenge. I struggle with it too; should my images remain inherently and conceptually inaccessible to the commercial world or should I attempt further to incorporate established aesthetic criteria to make ideas more palatable? I am experimenting with this at the moment and seeing where my boundaries are.

We can borrow from the past of course but i am conceptually against sentimentalism, it can be a soft metaphor for a bygone age where things were 'better', which is mistaken. Sally Mann walked that line so beautifully in her collection 'Immediate Family' and also the extraordinary Joel Peter Witkin , these and others incorporate a modern psychology in the fabric of the works whilst playfully almost mocking the processes and techniques of the past in the juxtaposition with the content. Contemporary works should be just that; an expression of the era embedded in the image itself, like the actual images from the past that some are trying to emulate. 

The present is a hard sell." Love D.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

EID Mubarak

A friend of mine struggles with his identities as a Somali Muslim and a homosexual; its not a unique challenge, to rationalise the prejudice we feel towards ourselves when it is at odds with our cultural heritage. My journey isn't much different as I have found courage in increments to overcome inherent Christian Anglo Saxon roots that are at odds with my identity.

I was once caught in a heavy rain storm, and whilst sheltering under a tree I caught the eye of a beautiful Muslim man. As he came towards me, I was filled with the prejudice that as a Muslim he would inherently despise me. This assumption and judgement allowed feelings of irrational hostility that are at the roots of all prejudice. He came right up to me and as we began to talk, it transpired that he was homosexual. He spoke about the conflict between his emerging sexuality and the expectations of family and religion. His biggest fear was that he would never be able to be happy as himself.

I feel great empathy for my friend during this Eid al Adha that celebrates God's wisdom in sparing Abraham's first born son, providing a goat in his place. Perhaps in 2012, God will consider the sacrifice of one's entire humanity too high a price as proof of faith and settle for a more metaphorical forfeiture. EID Mubarak to all.

Here are some images I recently took of a Muslim facing Mecca on the top of the Cow and Calf Rocks on Ilkley Moor, Yorkshire.

© Richard Ansett 2012

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Masterclass in Hyperbole

I have been receiving the exact same email from an assistant for 4 years.

Dear Richard Ansett

I saw some of your photos on the Internet and I absolutely love your work!...

As a highly motivated, charismatic, and confident young individual. I
possess the right combination of personality and computer based skills;
together with the dedication to excellence, and the drive to ride the crest
of technological development, that has sparked the revolution in

With a finger firmly on the pulse of change, to ensure that you will always
be one step ahead of the game.

During the 7 years in which I have been assisting I have developed
attributes that would undoubtedly make me an invaluable asset to your
organization; alleviating much of the pressure associated with the day to
day, running of you successful photographic business, by solving problems
before they occur.

In exchange I hope to have the privilege of being able to learn from an
individual as talented as you.

An arrangement, which would no doubt become long lasting and mutually
beneficial... I am able to retouchimages to a standard that is truly professional...

Virtually anything you could ever need to do to an image, I can do with a
degree of style and excellence that creates results, that are consistently
flawless and elegant...

Essentially making me the perfect assistant for any occasions.

Willing to work, wherever; whenever; for however; long as necessary, to get
the job done.

Resilient in a crisis and focused under pressure; with a sense of
determination to ensure you will always be able to get the right picture.

Approaching each task with a passion and tenacity, that can only come from
the heart of someone who truly loves photography.

Simply put there are few individuals with the same degree of ambition,
talent and dedication as me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Alternative Reality

There was more photography than I expected at the Salon Art Prize. I thought the standard was generally very high though and its my first introduction to Susanna Brown, an exhibition can reveal as much about the curator as an artist.

I bumped into Michael from Troika Editions again, he always looks surprised to see me, like I am stalking him (I'm really). He was supporting three of Troika's artists Emma CritchleyCarolyn Lefley & Aliki Braine. Carolyn bravely showed some new works from residency at a talk with Uncertain States earlier this year, which I thought were an important continuation of her themes of de-construction but she's still not showing them.

It is difficult for me to rationalise the juxtaposition of my works with others; I can feel out numbered by the mob, perhaps others feel like this too. I accept that outside of the context of the original series the dislocation in my work can  feel rather awkward and uptight; my 'good friend' Jeremy Wood kindly suggested that it was an accurate reflection of my personality.

It's a shame I can't enjoy Private Views. I was embarrassed by the color temperature of the 'Anthony Gormley' portrait at the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize (my fault), I thought 'Woman in Backyard with Rocking Horse' was too close to the toilets at the Schweppes Portrait Prize, I hated the selection of the gay couple  'Chris & David' in the John Kobal Awards * (my fault) and although I was best in show at the Creative Review Annual exhibition, the very kind curator had to get a step ladder and change the lighting in the middle of the a packed private view because I felt my piece was under lit. Yes, I know...

*This was a particularly good lesson in the pitfalls of ambition. I Learned then that being included was not enough if it is at the expense of integrity. Chris & David whilst intimate was the closest to the established stereotype of homosexuality from the whole series and isolating it detracted from my message.

Here are some process shots during the creation of Mother & Child #4, from series Mother & Child, Ukraine, 2011 (with my assistant and translator Ulya).

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Beyond Contemporary Art

Ansett's surreal photos explore the myths of documentary image making, calling into question the assumed complicity between photographer and subject. Ansett often restructures his subjects environments using tools such as dislocation and unfamiliarity, which in turn, shed light on narratives that would have otherwise remained hidden...His work obsessively explores the interplay between a subject's environment, history and identity...which destabilises the viewers notions of reality and authenticity.
Images such as Woman in Backyard with Rocking Horse, convey a sense of both sympathy and repulsion whilst highlighting the weaknesses of the human condition. Woman with Electrode Cap #1 both celebrates the incessant progress...and the sterile coldness of technology. This ambivalence generates a stunning image and composition...that is challenging, evocative and impossible to ignore.

'Beyond Contemporary Art' by Etan Ilfield

Review from We Make Money Not Art

Buy a first edition here from Amazon

Monday, 8 October 2012

Salon Art Prize

Private View: Thursday 11th October: 6.30 - 9.00pm RSVP

An exhibition of work by 88 artists, chosen by the panel of Gavin Delahunty (Head of Exhibitions, TATE Liverpool), Godfrey Worsdale (Director, BALTIC centre for contemporary art), Anthony Spira (Director, Milton Keynes gallery) and Susanna Brown (Curator, Photographs, Victoria & Albert Museum) will be at the Matt Roberts Arts Gallery from the 12th October to the 3rd November.
Matt Roberts Arts, 25b Vyner Street, London.

Selected for exhibition: Mother & Child #3, from series Mother & Child, Ukraine, 2011.
This is the first of a new edition 30x40" c-type rather than the giant Duratrans installed in Ukraine, it's a gorgeous print if you have time to swing by and catch the show.

As children our reason for existence is defined by recognition, personal events have less value without it. As adults we learn greater independence but are inescapably connected to early memory.

The ever present but absent mother/God figure follows us through life as a constant arbiter of our world. We continually seek out and relive the sensation of affirmation and rejection emotionally learned in childhood.
Ansett was adopted from birth and as an adult has no understanding of his social or genetic antecedence, the mother figure is literally absent and present.
In this series and in his general practice he discusses that we are drawn to experience that satiates subconscious desire and memory.
In this series, he has literally detached the mother from the child at birth within these domestic environments, reliving a hidden memory; the images are both metaphor and personal allegory.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Lion Hunting in Essex

On Sunday 26th August a couple's reported sighting of a large cat like creature in the fields surrounding St Ostyth near Clacton-on-Sea, Essex provoked a massive police response. Search teams including two helicopters with thermal imaging equipment scoured the countryside followed by a media circus.  A spokesperson stressed, the incident was not being treated as a hoax. Mr and Mrs Atkin who spotted the creature said "Whatever it was, it's definitely still out there."

Assisted by Mr Richard Brown, I embarked on a safari to seek out the resonance of this creature in the Essex landscape. We drove up to the area the day after the media circus; the search had been called off but the police still considered it a serious enquiry. There was barely any evidence of the previous day's events except a residual and palpable tension projected onto the terrain.

When we finally returned home, I found Richard Sawdon Smith (winner of the John Kobal Awards 1997) standing in my kitchen. We spoke about the presence of absence in landscape.

This project explores the experience of reality affected by circumstance, these landscapes were the same before the media reports of an escaped wild animal, they are imbued with the fear of the observer. it is an observation of the impossibility of reflecting reality and truth when we are consciously and unconsciously influenced. These ordinary landscapes were for a short period of time transformed into a dangerous Jungian jungle, observed through the filter of our most primal instincts of fight and flight.

Transposed into the gallery environment, away from the zone of perceived danger, the images become a record of the influences affecting an observer. This series is a further discussion on the nature of Pareidolia as it applies to how we view art as audience; the dichotomy between what is there and what we perceive to be there as unique and should not be assumed to be shared.

Update 10.08.2015

I went into the National Gallery in search of an unrelated reference for another project and came across Henri Rousseau's 'Surprised!' 1891 in Gallery 45. Whilst Rousseau gained knowledge of the jungle serving as a regimental bandsman in Mexico in the 1860s, this painting is thought to be inspired by visits to the Paris botanical gardens.

Image_4600, Lion Hunting in Essex © Richard Ansett 2012
Image_4528, Lion Hunting in Essex © Richard Ansett 2012

Image_4531, Lion Hunting in Essex © Richard Ansett 2012
Image_4496. Lion Hunting in Essex © Richard Ansett 2012

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Documentary and the Pot Noodle

The Ian Parry Scholarship is a memorial to potential denied.  A young photojournalist struck down at the beginning of his career and the feelings that must still engender in his friends and family is the catalyst for this prize. It feels like a genuine attempt to nurture and encourage a new generation of student photographers working in documentary by offering the opportunity to be involved in an exhibition, award and commission.

The 2012 show is now installed in the reception of a trendy advertising agency.  I am unsure whether a temple to the pursuit of selling Pot Noodle is quite the appropriate venue for a serious exhibition of documentary photography and the exhibition certainly lends the agency Mother more credibility than it returns. I cannot rationalise why they moved out of Getty Images Gallery.
There is a party atmosphere and as I walk around I have to remind myself of the age of the finalists selected, youth is all about unfulfilled potential and here there are seeds of a future generation of photojournalists.

Curator Rebecca McClelland, introduced me to the winner Adrian Fussell, 22.

Fussell comes from a family steeped in American military tradition but he is the first in the family line not to serve. He is cautious about sharing his opinions too openly on the military, out of respect for his family members who are veterans of recent conflicts but he shares some of his views and there are hints at a personal perspective in his images, perhaps more so in the line of portraits of teenagers with guns on his website. We talk about the power of the editing process and what he left out.

We are all trying to make sense of the world and our place in it and these early attempts are visible in this exhibition; photography gives us an excuse to explore other lives from the perspective of our own.
I admit, I am not the biggest fan of 'traditional' documentary practice; I feel it masks the prejudices of the photographer and presents images in a form that the genre forces us to accept as truth. But Fussell and the others affirmed by the selection in this show are starting to learn that their images can affect people and the photographer can stitch an agenda into their work. There is a moral question to be addressed at some point between ambition to succeed and our personal values.

Robert Capa's famous images in Spain now seriously undermined, said "The truth is the best picture, the best propaganda." In lieu of revelations of Capa's whereabouts during the civil war, this quote can be read as an accidental betrayal of his true motivations. In the creation of a great image, the truth can be subjugated. See Thomas Hoepker's image of Brooklyn New York, September 11, 2001.

It is hard for Fussell to comprehend what makes his series worthy of the prize and i agree that all the projects have equal value. Fussell's commitment to the telling of the story is on show and I think this gave him the edge. There is a unique perspective that can only be gained by the winning. Its an early and complicated lesson offered to very few and an incredible opportunity to grow.

Cadet First Lieutenant William Wiedenbaum shoots a toy gun at his drill teammates in Louisville, KY, on March 30, 2012, a day before the team competed in the Army JROTC National Championships. © Adrian Fussell

Friday, 21 September 2012

Porridge & Poached Eggs

Meet James, he works at Premiere Inn City Centre North, Leeds. Thanks James.

James with Porridge and Poached Eggs © Richard Ansett 2012

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A Barometer of Healing

The themes of the exhibition ‘I LOVE YOU’ at Tenderpixel in May 2012 could easily be misunderstood. It was not a show about love at all. The actual premise was that regardless of any immediate motives we are drawn again and again back to themes that satiate our emotional need. 

We are accustomed to photography’s function in our everyday media to clearly narrate the world on our behalf that can make us a little complacent in our expectations of fine art practice. As Troika Editions stated at the private view “You are expecting us to work a little harder.”

Without reading the exhibition statement we maybe forgiven for mistaking the theme and some found ways quite successfully to imbue the works with un-intentioned meaning.
In my response to Miranda Gavin's comments on the Hotshoe Blog; there are no certainties, this is a discussion, a debate.

Grace Brown, 19 founder of Project Unbreakable is one of the artists from ‘I  LOVE YOU’ and author of the title image. Brown says “I (sic) use photography to help heal those who were sexually abused by asking them to write a quote from their attacker on a poster…to spread light, awareness, and healing for those who have been affected.

In the decision to share their identity in close juxtaposition to their protagonists’ words, Brown’s subjects use the boards as an instrument of control; preserving their anonymity entirely or daring to ‘come out’. In the broader discussion of the timeline of recovery, the boards act as a barometer of healing.

Reproduced with kind permission © Grace Brown/Project Unbreakable