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Bishi @ Koko
ALBION VOICE at KOKO, Camden Town, London © 2014 Kevin Ricks / Koko / Mean Fiddler Group

A classmate from my MA contacted me about this music event held at Koko in Camden. I’d missed an opportunity to photograph her last year so jumped at the chance.

Bishi is a unique artist, a heady mix of music, art and fashion. I havent seen the like of her work before – it doesn’t carry as well on video as live by a long stretch.. As certainly not a writer – so here’s a review from last nights show from the London Evening Standard.

Bishi also appeared at last years meltdown festival. An arts festival held at Londons South Bank and curated in 2013 by Yoko Ono.

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ALBION VOICE at KOKO, Camden Town, London © 2014 Kevin Ricks / Koko / Mean Fiddler Group
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ALBION VOICE at KOKO, Camden Town, London © 2014 Kevin Ricks / Koko / Mean Fiddler Group

 

Life Drawing IV

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I think this is from 2006 – I really like it. I was drawn in a place called ‘The Art House’ in Lewisham.

The standard at the Art House is quite high, I think a lot of people are artists or ex-Goldsmiths Students because it’s near the college.
If you’re thinking of going there to draw do note its a ‘come and draw as you please’ place, you’ll get advice if you want it.
There are other places where they set a task each week.
This could be; “draw with your left hand”,
“Charcoal only this week”
“Don’t look at the page – just the figure”
“Your pencil must stay in contact with the page”
And many more… such as collage only, pull the image from black paper using white chalk,

My favourite is when they made lighting for ‘chiaroscuro’*. But I only had that at extra curricular classes in art college. So if anyone knows of a place that does use lighting in London let me know!

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*
chiaroscuro |kēˌärəˈsk(y)o͝orō, kēˌarə-|

noun

the treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting.

• an effect of contrasted light and shadow created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction on something: the chiaroscuro of cobbled streets.

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Italian, from chiaro ‘clear, bright’ (from Latin clarus) + oscuro ‘dark, obscure’ (from Latin obscurus).

Life Drawing III

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I’m moving home soon, I went through some old things having that clear up. You know THAT horrible clear up, where you find things you haven’t opened since moving in. Most of which is essentially junk. This time I’m cutting right back, I mean it – its the most boring job ever.

On the plus side I found some old prokect work from university – the first time round, 1997/2001 and some life drawings from 2005. There was also a drawing about my mum from 1993!

I’ll show some of these over the next few weeks. This one is a life drawing probably drawn about 2005.

Back again at the National Portrait Gallery

A couple of recent drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, I’ve posted other ones before.

Even though I got there late I did get one lengthy double portrait in. We were asked to blend two images. Which was fun, I didn’t do it to the brief because it was meant to be profile. But I wanted the man on the rights fantastic eyebrows to stick out, and they  would have been lost. Ha! So ended up with this Mount Rushmore thing I quite like.

The second image, Frazer, was a wonderful, dynamic modern sculpture. It somehow reminded me of 300, Dark Knight & Sin City author / artist Frank Miller – even though I only got 5 min in before the session ended I wanted to do this in a much rougher, more angular style that suited the sculpture but the result is nice for the time I had.

I love that place. I always leave these sessions feeling really happy.

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Book Review – Helen Levitt

BRI wrote some time ago about one of my lecturers stating that pictures that had a sense of humour were cheesy. I remember because, well firstly obviously I wrote it, but secondly that I didn’t agree at all. Well, in my endless pursuit of spending money I bought the following book, which is shrewdly observed, manages to be both complex and simple at the same time and has some beautifully captured humorous moments.

Well, it’s this book on the work of HELEN LEVITT:

HELEN LEVITT / Powerhouse Books Brooklyn NY / 2008(?) / Amazon UK Link 

The book may seems expensive, especially if you view it online, but it’s huge probably 35cm x 35cm. It’s also stuffed with work, in it Helen Levitt Captures New York streetlife for, well as the amazon description states “combining seven decades of New York City street life with Levitt’s seminal work in Mexico City”. So that’s what we have, but its not a case of quantity over quality, you can see why each photo has been included.

Street photography is something that I find really interesting for three reasons, firstly that its anthropological; it studies the way we live – that this is driven by the photographers curiosity (Levitt was a school teacher who began photography to study chalk drawings and the children associated with them), secondly  Its interesting how it dates; how its culturally different and how it seems so obvious its not our time. Finally, to return to that lecturers statement, that street photography is permitted to have a sense of humour (not that it always does – its just permitted to).

Special Spaghetti – Helen Levitt

Please don’t misunderstand me, I heard recently from photojournalist Seb Meyer in a talk ‘its important to convey a range of emotions’. I think there is a tendency to focus on the misery in images. The thought being is that this gives them weight. But relentlessly pushing a set of difficult images with no relief just becomes dull after a while. So, just like using contrasting colours in a painting, showing a full spectrum of emotions in a collection makes the experience more humanising and accessible, it makes an rounded story.

Levitt has her own range. In addition to humour she shows a tenderness, playfulness, fun, beauty, contrast but most of all I think she is a great humaniser, she captures character; Children, the elderly, women with their curlers in, men in vests, the down and out, dispossessed and the badly dressed. She shows character of people but also the personality of the streets and neighbourhoods she works in.

Its also Interesting to she her shifting between black and white and colour, and back again. Levitt was in the exhibition Henri cartier Bresson – A Question Of Colour at Somerfield house which I reviewed earlier this year. Starting so early its no surprise she began with black and white. Her composition is excellent but when it comes to colour film she picks up on how colour works instinctively, often making it the theme of a picture, where some would have struggled with using it at all.

This picture was in the ‘Henri Cartier Bresson-a question of colour exhibition’ at Somerset House

Looking at her book as a social document I wonder how the character of people has changed. Perhaps it’s due to living in London but it’s hard to imagine having the opportunity to photograph people being themselves with their guard down. People with their curlers in – well, that might have still happened in the late 1980’s, do children even play in the street anymore? God, I must get out of London and find out. Or have we changed our relationship with the world because of cameras, because of media. Is this because of the scrutiny the lens puts us under, the one that leads to us self-scrutinising – in a way no one feels entirely comfortable with?

It’s also interesting because Levitt’s eye is kind, playful. She’s not making the type of statement that someone like Diane Arbus makes with her portraits. She’s observing life in her time, but in a timeless way, and I find that fascinating.

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“A question of Colour”

ReviewI saw this exhibition at Somerset House London last Thursday, It was pointed out to me by another blogger, who had nothing but high praise for it. The title; “Henri Cartier Bresson – a Question of Colour” holds that name that carries a certain type of weight which may or may not be problematic. I should point out while I respect Henri Cartier Bressons position in the history of photography, I have yet to be totally thrilled by his work. (Is this photography heresy?)

This show plays with the fact Cartier Bresson was unimpressed by colour (yes, I know he did use it on occaision) as a medium for photography. Personally I am passionate about colour photography, perhaps this is one of the reasons I haven’t given him much time.

Trent Parke “Today Cold Water”

However “A Question of Colour” is deftly curated to challenge Cartier-Bressons perception of colour, the show presents Cartier Bresson black and white prints (previously unseen in the UK) that display his command of illustrating form, then show those who have been influenced by his work using colour in creative, sorry, exceptionally creative ways. Interestingly this has been put together as a positive. Reinforcing Cartier Bressons influence, and the practice of using colour. Nice.

This is an amazing collection for me in many ways. I am familiar with Saul Leiter, Fred Herzog, Trente Parke (above), Joel Meyerowitz – but it has altered the context of other photographers I know Carolyn Drake, Helen Levitt, and introduced me to some who I can see myself admiring for some time to come, particularly Boris Savelev and Harry Gruyaert. These are truly sophisticated images, rich and descriptive in their use of colour and tone.

My wallet, usually full of dust and cobwebs, was gleefully prized opened to buy a copy of the book that came with this show. The shop assistant told me  it had sold out over a week before. SO thats over two weeks before the end of the show? Testimony to how people have enjoyed it, and enough to warrant a reprint… please?

Boris Savelev

When I saw this show I became really excited, its obvious this is similar to something I am reaching for with my shots, well those that are like this. Which is why, for me, this is the most successful exhibition of the last twelve months. So I emailed the curator, William E. Ewing, to tell him how impressed I was- he mailed back to say hello. Charming fellow.

The show closes this Sunday! But it is free…

If your image is hotlinked above and you’re not happy about it let me know…

When the paper came…

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Bronze bust – National Portrait Gallery,

I went to the National Portrait Gallery Lates last Friday . They had a drawing exercise drawing the busts of some ancient famous people, I had to have a go. Don’t know who this guy is, and I wondered how hard it would be to draw a beard.

When I was young my dad ended up with LOTS of paper. I don’t know how. It was 1979. Seems strange to have a heap of paper arrive, but it was normal at the time, when you’re 9 years old you dont really have a yardstick for what normal is – so you just get on with your paper-filled life.

Anyway – my point is I drew, I had been drawing before that, but when the paper came I drew and drew and drew. Dogs, houses, spacecraft, dinosaurs, cowboys and indians – I even did crayon rubbings of the furniture. Mental. It took years for the paper to run out.

Over time I became what the other kids in my first/lower/infants school called “a good drawer”.  I entered a National competition, I think it was World Wildlife Fund – I won it, but was sick the day of the award so my dad went to collect it. The prize? £15 worth of book tokens.

Anyway – I kept on drawing and went on a foundation course to build a folio for an arts degree. Looking back I wasn’t really interested in art as concept or what it could say, I just loved drawing so I did it again and again and again. Didn’t want to write, or analyse, I would skip  those classes, but stay late for extra life drawing. I just wanted to draw, well by then …draw,get drunk, go to parties and chat-up girls.

So academically I was a bit lazy, when it came to university applications, I didn’t make the cut. Then I got stuck in crappy jobs for 6 years – I had fun otherwise, I had good friends, chatted up girls and went to parties – but working life was boring and it went nowhere. And I stopped drawing.

Its a tragedy – why did I stop? Worried about day to day life I guess, which I did find a REAL shock after being in education for so long.

Eventually I went to University – in 1997, and I could draw again. I wasn’t as polished, but the skills were there.

What’s my point? Well, I have two points:

ONE: National Portrait Gallery invite the public in late on a Friday to draw from paintings, photos or statues – they lay on equipment. The standard of people varies; some are good some are not so good – but it feels great to be in a room where everyone is drawing. If you’re around and you know what I mean by this you’ll go. If you don’t know what I mean, try it anyway – whether you think you’re good at drawing or not – it’s fun, it’s free and it feels good.

TWO: If it’s fun, it’s free and it feels good and its not hurting anybody, don’t have a six-year gap, keep on doing it.

My Photobook Choice 2012

At the end of last year everyone from Martin Parr to the Guardian were compiling their best photobooks of 2012. These books seems to be a growing phenomenon. Visiting London bookshop Claire De Rouen, the volume of both self published photobooks and those from the traditional art publishers (Particularly Dewi Lewis and Steidl/Mack) seems to be increasing. I love how the tradition of ‘self-publish’ that for me started in the 1960′s and 1970′s has more recently embraced desk-top publishing and digital printing to make publishing photobooks a possibility for the individual and collective. Awareness is also driven by institutions such as Self-Publish Be Happy who promote photobooks, extensively showing their content.

It’s the first year I have been involved in photography at a level to buy enough photobooks to compile a list of my own. Okay so a couple of them have publish dates of 2011 – but this is the year I bought them, so my top 5 will follow shortly.

There are a fair few I have missed because of a lack of funds or just the breadth of choice – which sudddenly seems so alarming! Would love a copy of “Afronauts – but that will never happen now, I missed the boat there! And “I want to Live Innocent” is on the list – it’s a beautifully executed book where loads of the pictures could stand alone. Also looking at the final book on my list it strikes me as interesting that as someone obsessed with colour photography that three of the books on my list are in black and white.

All images in this post are collected from links – If its your link and you want it removed from here or want a credit let me know.

Billy Monk  Night Club Photographs/ Dewi Lewis

Billy Monk – Nightclub Photographs

A bouncer in Cape Towns ‘Catacombs’ night club Billy Monk took pictures of the patrons socialising and drinking together in 1960′s South Africa. This book was also on Martin Parrs recommendations of 2012. It’s beautifully explicit, edited as though a single night progresses from sobriety through to exceptionally drunken.

Monk took the images between 1967 – 69 with the intention to sell on to patrons earning him a little on the side. I’m not sure of its success as a second income, but Monk continued with his photography. The pictures seem to show a side of South Africa previously unseen. It speaks of a Cape Town with a potential for asian/white mixed race relationships, homosexuality and raucous drunken behaviour . Eyeopening as a document, caught with a sense of timing and often a sense of humour it’s a real slice of life – lovely book.

Adam Hinton Shubiya / TIRA (This is Real Art)

Commuters in Cars – From Shibuya – Adam Hinton

I had to buy this after seeing it as it relates so closely to the commuter project I started early last year and am now continuing. Shubiya is the simplest of all the books to explain on my list; Hinton spent 4 days around Shubiya, the station in Tokyo’s business district, photographing commuters. It began as a photographic project which his (commissioning?) agency offered to publish. He says of the project: “I really just wanted to take interesting images without focusing on some of the issues I usually focus on but according to people who viewed the work it was very much a statement on peoples working lives.” I agree with ‘those who viewed the work’, whether intentionally or not Hinton captures commuters beautifully but his pictures also suggest working life as a difficult experience.

Paul Graham The Present / Mack

Binocular: Spread from Paul Graham’s “The Present”

The quality of the images and print in this, the third of Paul Grahams American Trilogy, is amazing (perhaps one day I will manage to collect the rest). Graham captures sequences of people and street scenes as they change from moment to moment. Shifting focus from person to person. The light and scenes are unmistakenly American, taken in New York. But what is he saying? In a an interview  in the British Journal of Photography Graham expresses how he challenges photography and what we expect of it as a medium. That people understand how photographer use images to reach for an idea but photography as an art form is something most people don’t ‘get’. I think he’s alluding to how when we name something, ‘photojournalism’ for example,  to describe a type of photography – this description ends up dictating the type of photography we expect to see. Which rules out all-sorts of possibilities. I respond to Grahams work more than anyone elses at the moment –  To lift a quote from this interview “I don’t get tired of trying to understand and look at the wonderful amazing nature of what’s around us”, I agree with this perspective. It’s amazing work from one of Britains best.

Daido Moriyama Sunflower / Match

Moriyma – A picture found online from “Sunflower”

I couldn’t help myself. Despite the fact Moriyama is so prolific, his retrospective at the Tate (finishes 20th Jan!) and current popularity drew my attention to his work and ultimately picking up a inexpensive limited edition book. I wanted to take the time and study Moriyama’s style. I wasn’t disappointed – the images are beautiful. Carried out in the grainy high-contrast style associated with him, It took me a couple of views to realise the binding element was flowers of some kind in every image. Whether a lilly in a toilet bowl, heavily patterned floral bedspreads, blossoms on a tree or fireworks that take the appearance of flower-heads, each image contains a flower.

It’s impressive in two ways; firstly that his photographic style flows between the early and late pictures perfectly – not lost in pockets of different eras as you might expect from a selection of work spanning over 40 years. Secondly that this is clearly a comprehensive study, reaching to find where flowers are, how they’re presented and to reinterpret, re-represent his pictures to us in “Sunflower”.

Chris Killip Arbeit | Work / Steidl

Chris Killip – Plates from “Arbeit | Work”

Strange how publishers sell out of books when they’re still available on amazon. Nonetheless, I’m sure it will sell out soon.

‘Arbeit | Work’ captures England during an enormous period of social change. From 1965 where shipbuilding and coal mining  were ‘bread and butter’ industries Killip follows these people and their occupations while these industries are withering away or have already disappeared. He then continues the journey focusing on the people and areas left behind by this industrial change and ignored by economic progress. Killip seems to capture his subject with a depth that news-media often doesn’t manage; his portraits are striking, somehow universal, often desolate and beautifully descriptive of the people left behind.

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…Everything was moving – Closes 13th Jan

A lot of exhibitions have points of interest but leave me feeling a little short-changed. I often dont realise this at the time, but occasionally I see something truly inspiring.

Bruce Dickinson – Along The Selma March / Selma Alabama 1965

The idea behind Everything Was Moving at the Barbican, London, is to collate the work of Independent photographers who were working in the 1960’s and 1970’s, each as a show within a show. Each collection also represents social change, or a perspective of the time. Twelve photographers have been chosen;

David Goldblatt, South Africa with Ernest ColeWilliam Eggleston views of Americas South sharply contrast with those of Bruce Davidson which cover the civil rights movement. (these last two really did it for me).

Its a brief post, and excuse the rushed links to the others: Graciela Iturbide, Boris Mikhailov, Shomei Tomatsu (post nuclear Japan and subsequent Americanization), Larry Burrows (good link), Li Zhensheng, Malick Sidibe, Raghubir Singh and Sigmar Polke.

True, theres a lot going on, and the exhibition has received criticism for that. It’s boldly curated to describe the period, and the way it illustrates the period of change within different cultures is impressive, as is as the range in styles of photography. It’s also easy to pick and chose what appeals to your sensibilites and take that with you. If you’re interested in photo essays, documentary  its a must. Impressive!

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In other news I had a momentary cigarette lapse after two months, the day before new year!

I’m being good again but it sucks… these two will explain, though you’ll have to skip to 1 min in for the singing.

EXHIBITION REVIEW : Image credited Bruce Dickinson

Saul Leiter – Early Color

Photobook Review | 05 April 2012

A question of boundaries

Leiter, Saul. (2006), Early Color, Third edition 2011, Steidl, Germany – See Images from the book below:

http://www.steidlville.com/books/145-Early-Color-Second-Edition.html

Looking at Early Color I was instantly drawn to one image, early in the book, ‘Dog in doorway, Paterson, 1952’. Its construction was so simple, but rather than being a chance shot it’s very carefully considered. Taken through a rear car window, seen as a hook of black framing the picture, it contains a shop front that looks like its been converted into a residence. The whiteness of the title dog pops out from a palette of muted greens, cast in the same flat American light used by the painter Edward Hopper.

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Dog in doorway

At it’s best street photography has the ability to show daily life, provoking a range of responses from the viewer, among them an appreciation of humour, honesty, beauty, or perhaps inspiring a sense of awe or even clarity. The photographs in Saul Leiters book are street photography, at least in the literal sense. As slices of time captured on of the streets of New York these pictures search for a semi-representational beauty in the everyday. There’s no doubt Leiter’s motivations are to create beauty and joyful images. He even stated this as his intent in 1959:

“I must admit that I am not a member of the ugly school. I have a great regard for certain notions of beauty even though to some it is an old fashioned idea. Some photographers think that by taking pictures of human misery, they are addressing a serious problem. I do not think that misery is more profound than happiness.”

Early Color gives the subject away through its title. It would a shame to pass by this innovative and surprisingly early collection of colour work, especially as it’s been rediscovered recently. (Leiter having been exhibited sporadically in the US until 2006, after which his photography began to be shown on an International level to much acclaim).

Personally I find two things particularly interesting about Leiter. Firstly, although having influential friends and contemporaries, he’s had a distinctive approach that clearly draws from his two reference points, painting and photography. This seems to be achieved without conflict. Secondly, as he embraced colour photography in its infancy, he was open to its anomalies and developed his own techniques.

Leiter’s work is very different to other American colour photographers, such as Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerowitz or William Eggelston, in its delivery. A pioneer of colour work his photography work was produced much earlier, between 1948 and 1960, so his links to photography are older. Leiter states Henri-Cartier Bresson as an influence and was also personally acquainted with Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus – who lived opposite him. As well as using black and white these photographers had a completely different approach to Leiter, their work being more literal, various kinds of documentary photography.

So where are Leiters roots? At the time of the first images in this book Leiter also exhibited abstract expressionist paintings alongside Willem De Kooning and Philip Guston. For someone who is now receiving so much acclaim for his photography it’s curious that Lieter still believes himself to be more of a painter than a photographer. Leiter also says he never felt a part of any school or movement. There is an argument for looking further into the relationship the photographs in Early Color have with painting. For example, while painters and photographers may take inspiration from an artist like Edward Hopper, look at ‘Dog in Doorway’ again and it seems very likely Leiter is one of them. There’s also a direct reference to Piet Mondrian in ‘Mondrian Worker, 1954’. An image which humorously draws a comparison between a Mondrian De Stijl painting and a workman hanging rectangular boards of different shades, as if the worker’s assembling one of these artworks. But the most striking parallel is the cover image to Early Color, ‘Through Boards, 1957’. This photograph has richness in construction and colour highly reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s late period which began ten years before. As a practicing painter working with abstract expressionists, Leiter would have been aware of all these artists and their work. Though the book seeks and explores subjects rich in colour, these could be represented on a sliding scale, at one end realism (Postmen, 1952), and at the other abstraction (Walk with Soames, 1958). His work deftly negotiates both, never fully committing to either.

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Walk with Soames

The images in Early Color also have many signatures that create ambiguity. For example exteriors shot through glass misted with condensation, street scenes taken through gaps in boards or under awnings and fragments of type from shop fronts or advertising. Even Leiter’s figures are often obscured by shadows or reflection, out of focus or shot from angles that force people into a generic form. This refuses any direct empathy between the viewer and the subject as an individual. The character of his images is instead created by colour, evocative and rich, even when the palette is minimal. Leiter also uses techniques that apply further degrees of ambiguity, resulting in something greater than the sum of its parts. Again and again he also layers the abstracted colours and shapes he creates to pull a new order and unity in these photographs, for example on the lead image ‘Phone Call, 1957’. Leiter has a command of colour, using it in various ways; muted, complimentary, bright or contrasting with rich and varied results. It’s interesting that in considering himself as a painter he was able to embrace chance and avoid the constraints of conventional practice. He uses emerging colour technology without fear of losing control of the outcome, as in its early years colour-processing results were unpredictable. Leiter also encouraged mutation by seeking out expired film stock to use for shooting.

There’s no doubt to define the boundaries of a good ‘street photograph’ is problematic. An approach that succeeds capturing one type of image is often not going to work on another. This is something that Leiter’s work illustrates. If a photographer or artist defines themselves in those terms only, surely this must constrain some of their creativity? ‘If I am a photographer, must all my influences be photographic?’

Robert Adams claims in his book Beauty in Photography, “For a picture to be beautiful it does not have to be shocking, but it must in some significant respect be unlike what has preceded it, (this is why an artist cannot afford to be ignorant of the tradition within his medium)”. Looking at Leiter’s pictures, I don’t know of anything similar that preceded them. As his work has only recently reached acclaim I don’t yet know anything that bears their influence, though I’m sure this will happen. Regarding ‘tradition within his medium’, this is only part of the argument, as Leiter’s work illustrates. There’s no doubt that Leiter has knowledge of photographic arts, at the very least through his photographic peers. He is also a photographer, as he takes pictures. Yet he also draws frequently on visual influence outside his chosen medium, looking to his roots in fine art. This may well be what makes this book so compelling. His work comfortably straddles between painting and photography, through it Leiter has caught the daily beauty of a city.

Bibiography:

Leiter, Saul. (2006), Early Color, Third edition 2011, Steidl, Germany

Adams, Robert. (1996) Beauty In Photography, Aperture Foundation, New York.

Adams, Robert. (1994) Why People Photograph, Aperture Foundation, New York.

Howarth, Sophie & McLaren, Stephen, (2010). Street Photography Now, Thames and Hudson, London.

Postmen, 1952

Walk with Soames, 1958

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