Containers

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At the beginning of the year, I bought a week-to-view diary. It’s nothing special, black front cover with generic silver writing and wafer thin paper, it cost £1 but it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made, period. Rarely now, is it not to hand.

Growing up, I always kept a journal. Those hallowed pages bore witness to rants about boys I fancied, friends I’d fallen out with, things my parents did that made life unfair. For years I avoided writing one again because I thought it would be too boring. Full of the mundane, diaries smack of repetition and routine.

Mine isn’t like that. Full of sentences from books I’m reading, overheard conversations and half-formed thoughts. My journal has become a container for intriguing things, forever growing and expanding, much like this blog. It’s a place for snippets, not perfect content, where disparate ideas gather. I love writing and photography but it doesn’t stop there. Everything has the capacity to provide inspiration.

I think of blogs and journals as touchstones, providing the motivation to keep making work. They’re places to come back to again and again, no matter how stuck.

The cartoonist, author and teacher, Lynda Barry says that “when you were a kid, you’d never write a book unless you had a book to write in in” and it’s true, having my containers inspires me to fill them.

Simone Barbieri

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© Simone Barbieri

Italian photographer, Simone Barbieri is one of my favourite artists on Flickr. I love his off-kilter, surreal images and the fact he embraces flaws and mistakes. He also curates the brilliant asapmag.tumblr.com. We recently chatted about his work and inspiration.

Hi Simone, please tell me a little about yourself.

My name is Simone, 40 years old from Milano, Italy.

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© Simone Barbieri

How did you develop an interest in photography?

I started to take analog photos more than 20 years ago. I’m influenced by billboards, signs, minimalism and movies. I try to pay attention to portraying subjects within their own atmosphere and to not decontextualize them.

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© Simone Barbieri
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© Simone Barbieri

What cameras do you prefer to use?

Canon at1, Canon Prima Zoon 90u, Olympus Trip 35, Olympus AF10, Olympus Mju II, disposable cameras, Fuji x series and smartphone.

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© Simone Barbieri

Do you have a favourite photographer or artist whose work you admire?

I admire William Eggleston, Luigi Ghirri, Martin Parr, Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky, Robert Frank and many others.

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© Simone Barbieri

Thanks Simone!

For anyone interested in seeing more of Simone’s work, go check out his Instagram, Tumblr and Flickr.

Artist research

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One of the great things about writing this blog is that it encourages me to learn about different artists.

Until recently, I had no idea that Nan Goldin’s older sister committed suicide at 18 and that her art is a way of coming to terms with this loss. I didn’t know Robert Frank made contact prints of 2 ¼” negatives and glued them onto cards while sequencing The Americans or that Charles Harbutt liked performing magic tricks.

It’s not just the famous ones either, I’m constantly stumbling across inspiring people who take photographs. All of us, for whatever reason, have chosen to look at the world through a viewfinder, and I find this fascinating.

Pablo Cainero

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© Pablo Cainero

I recently chatted with Pablo Cainero, an Argentinian photographer whose work I’ve been following after seeing his evocative street portraits and scenes taken around Santa FE.

Hi Pablo, can you please tell me a little about yourself?

I’m from Santa Fe, a province in Argentina. I was born, live and work in San José del Rincón, a small coastal city of that province. I studied at art school and work as an art teacher, as well as in a ceramics workshop.

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© Pablo Cainero

How did you develop an interest in photography?

I think I became interested in photography when I was an art school student. With my peers, we’d go to different exhibitions of painting and sculpture but I was more attracted to photography. I felt that stories could be made using that medium but I mainly used it as a graphic resource for my illustration work (textures or objects that I then combined digitally). Taking photography classes as an optional workshop of the art school was a good technical and theoretical support on this medium. The photography teacher offered us readings of texts by Susan Sontag and Walter Benjamin and thus expanded our understanding of photography.

One day, in a store, I found a small picture book called The Bridges of Madison County. At that moment I discovered the poetic side of photography because together with the photos there are fragments of phrases, like short reflections. That little book helped me understand the intimate strength of photography. 

In addition, an excellent local photographer called Federico Inchauspe used to recommend me the work of other photographers, like Robert Frank, but I am also inspired by movies and music. In this way, I discovered and appreciated photography more and more.

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© Pablo Cainero
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© Pablo Cainero

What cameras do you prefer to use?

I prefer to use compact cameras. I feel more comfortable with this equipment and also think they’re less invasive when taking pictures in the street or photographing people in different situations.

In the street, I commonly use a Pentax Q, a very small mirrorless camera but I usually also carry a point and shoot analog camera. I almost always use a wide angle lens, which allows me to get close and capture much of the scene. I don’t carry more than two cameras in my bag when outside but this does depend on the situation. For example, at some night events I use DSLR cameras with fixed focal lights and 35mm or 50mm lenses. 

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© Pablo Cainero
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© Pablo Cainero

Do you have a favourite photographer or artist whose work you admire?

Yes, there are several. I could mention some classics like Garry Winogrand, Weegee, Josef Koudelka and other great artists but I feel a deep respect for the work of the photographers I know here, in my town and the city, especially Federico Inchauspe, Gastón Cerbino and Esteban Courtalon.  Maybe the reason I feel influenced by these photographers is because they took as one of their themes the coast of Santa Fe, with its natural and idiosyncratic features.

I don’t know if it’s possible to get to know people through their work (I even think that it is not necessary to know the person) but I do consider direct communication and the exchange of ideas fundamental to learning. In my case, photography is a hobby and an exciting path. It’s not my goal to earn money or build a career. Few things give me as much pleasure as going out and connecting with the world through a camera, then going home to see what I’ve found. There are days with more or less luck, though I usually file those photos, then I go back after a while to review them and end up seeing them differently.

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© Pablo Cainero

Thanks Pablo!

For anyone interested in seeing more of Pablo’s work, go check out his Flickr.

Empty days

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I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged, damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.

May Sarton

I’m getting better at accepting the empty days. The days when I don’t make anything, or if it happens, I let it happen naturally. Maybe I’m tired, run down or I just don’t have the energy to write or pick up a camera. Instead, I’ll read, walk or take a nap.

Empty days get overlooked but they’re so important. They’re days when the pressure to perform, lifts. Forced productivity all of the time is, ironically, not productive. It leads to burnout, ambivalence and exhaustion.  

So, take a day off, if you can. Make time for yourself. Live in the changing light of a room, like May Sarton, and feel the pressure lifting.

Keep on keeping on

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The best things happen when you keep on keeping on.

Sean Lotman

There’s a particular spot my boyfriend and I like to walk. We tend to follow the same path, going the same direction. We must’ve walked here a hundred times but this week, for whatever reason, we turned left inside of right and kept going until we reached a dead end. Here, the ground is seldom walked because it gets cut off at high tide. The beach becomes a blanket of tiny shells mixed with the odd bits of rubbish and sea glass.

During the walk, we found a ruined barn complete with disintegrating farm equipment and rusting BBQs. Someone had written the words “memento mori” inside using white paint. Large cracks ran down the walls and the bricks on top were loose.

Closer to the beach, a lone chair stood next to the remains of a camp fire. Old boats waited on the pebbles, propped up with wooden poles and bundled twigs. The place was completely deserted, quiet and calm.

Later, scrolling Twitter, I saw Sean Lotman’s words and thought about this place. It reminds me to keep on keeping on because there are always new opportunities waiting to be found, even in familiar places.

Andrei Tarkovsky

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Polaroid © Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84

Never try to convey your idea to the audience – it is a thankless and senseless task. Show them life, and they’ll find within themselves the means to assess and appreciate it.

– Andrei Tarkovsky

Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky is often cited as one of the greatest cinematic artists of all time despite directing just seven films. His works are unconventional and often have spiritual or metaphysical themes. In Solaris, psychological dramas take place aboard a space station. Stalker, based on the novel, Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, follows an expedition to a mysterious, restricted site known as the Zone.

Tarkovsky’s intimate Polaroid photographs are less well known. These images, which he took between 1979 and 1984, during his last months in the Soviet Union and while filming in Italy and Sweden, offer rare glimpses into his personal life. The snapshot’s flaws and imperfections create an eerie, haunted feel, echoing the atmosphere so often seen in his films. He was fascinated with childhood, memories and dreams.

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Polaroid © Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84
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Polaroid © Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84
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Polaroid © Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84
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Polaroid © Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84
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Polaroid © Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84
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Polaroid © Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84
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Polaroid © Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84
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Polaroid © Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84

The camera offered Tarkovsky an antidote to the relentless passing of time. Using the medium of film, he could explore human existence and showed life to be magical, supernatural and incomprehensible.

These images are all the more poignant because in 1985, Tarkovsky was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died a year later on 29 December 1986 aged just 54.

Some sort of pressure must exist; the artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.

– Andrei Tarkovsky

Recommended Reading

Instant Light

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Showcases sixty of Tarkovsky’s beautiful Polaroids selected by his son and the renowned Italian photographer, Giovanni Chiaramonte. Highly recommended.