No More ‘isms’

mickyates Art, Critical Theory, Ideas, Mick's Photo Blog, Photography, Post-Modern Leave a Comment

I’ve always quite enjoyed Grundberg, not least because of his rather dismissive views on Camera Lucida, and his early championing of Cindy Sherman. Ingrid and I first saw her work in ’82, at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, and last in 2019 at the Tate.

We always found her interesting as her ‘film stills’ borrowed heavily from structured movie imagery (which in many ways had rules and which allow the viewer to ‘see’ what Cindy was doing). A ‘post-modernist’ for sure, but with a rather traditional photographic vocabulary. In an interview with Els Barents for the catalogue of the 1982 show, Sherman explained:

‘The black-and-white photographs were more fun to do. I think they were easy partly because throughout my childhood I had stored up so many images of role models. It was real easy to think of a different one in every scene. But they were so cliché that after three years I couldn’t do them anymore. I was really thinking about movies, the characters are almost typecast from the movies. For the woman standing in front of my studio door (plate22), I was thinking of a film with Sophia Loren called ‘Two Women’. She plays this Italian peasant. Her husband is killed and she and her daughter are both raped. She is this tough strong woman, but all beaten-up and dirty. I liked that combination of Sophia Loren looking very dirty and very strong. So that’s what l as thinking of.

Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #35. 1979. MoMA.

This book is a good read, and does a nice job of tracing the development of photography in the USA, moving from the New York Expressionists (Jackson Pollock et al), through Pop and into conceptualism / post-modernism, which is where Sherman was given a major role. The book closes with Neo-Expressionism – Julian Schnabel, David Salle and co – with the 80s ‘revival’ of painting and ‘figures on ground’ in reaction to conceptual art. Grundberg places photography as both central and indeed essential to these trends in art. But the book left me with an odd feeling of ‘missing some thing’ which is a bit bewildering. I think more than anything I had to read it as a biography rather than some new, cultural exposé, as, although Grundberg offers much detail,  most of the historical material is well travelled.

Two points stand out though. First, he correctly suggests that ‘isms’ are over, including post modernism. Creativity is ‘in’, in a myriad of forms, rules or not.

And second, for someone so steeped in NYC, I was struck by how he closed his book with the Tate’s ‘Cruel & Tender’ 2003 show – late to the party but on point, I think. It was a great show and a breakthrough in the sense that it celebrated ‘straight   photography, with Walker Evans and August Sander as historical exemplars, moving the art world past ‘conceptualism’, literally by going backwards.

My takeaway was that the book doesn’t really add a huge amount to what others have written about trends in art and photography, but it is a good read of about an exciting period in time in art, and a confirmation that personal connections count a lot.


BARTHES, Roland. 1980. Camera Lucida. New York: Hill & Wang.

DEXTER, Emma. 2003. Cruel and Tender: Photography and the Real: The Real in the Twentieth-Century Photograph. London: Tate.

GRUNDBERG, Andy. 1981. Death in the Photograph. New York Times. Available at: (accessed 26/3/2018).

GRUNDBERG, Andy. 1981. Cindy Sherman: A Playful And Political Post-Modernist. New York Times. Available at: (accessed 26/3/2018).

GRUNDBERG, Andy. 1988. A Quintessentially American View of the World. New York Times. Available at: (accessed 6/3/2019).

GRUNDBERG, Andy. 1989. Blaming a Medium for its Message. New York Times, Arts and Leisure section. Available at: (accessed 26/03/2018).

GRUNDBERG, Andy. 1999. Crisis of the Real: Writings in Photography. 2010 Edition. New York: Aperture.

GRUNDBERG, Andy. 2021. How Photography Became Contemporary Art. New Haven: Yale University Press.

KAISER, Philipp, COPPOLA, Sophia & HEYLER, Joanne. 2016. Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life – The Broad Exhibition. München: Prestel Verlag.

KRAUSS, Rosalind. 1993. Cindy Sherman 1975-1993. New York: Rizzoli. Available at: (accessed 09/10/2019).

SHERMAN, Cindy. 1982. Catalogue of Stedelijk Museum Exhibition. München: Schirmer Mosel.

STONARD, John Paul. 209. The Dazzling Lies of Art. Available at: (accessed 12/08/2019).

Travel Stories

mickyates Cambodia, Critical Theory, Culture, Ideas, Mick's Photo Blog, Personal, Photography, Travel Leave a Comment

I was ‘challenged’ by Jono Slack to post a travel photo every day for 10 days on Facebook, with no explanation. It turned out to be an interesting exercise, so i thought I’d share the series here – with the actual story. It is interesting how images without context or captions are ‘seen’.

Day 1

Bali, 2016. Leica M.

We planned to visit our Michala and family in Australia just after Christmas, 2015. At the very last minute, I realised that I had messed up my visa. So, we shuffled things around and instead we all flew to Bali. It is an island that we have visited so many time before when we lived in Asia (maybe 40 times, in fact), but a place and people that we love. Everyone takes photographs of the traditional dances, often staged solely for tourists. But catching two young dancers getting their breath was a lovely moment.

Day 2

Nadzikhale, Malawi, 2002. Nikon D1X.

For 6 years I was a Board Trustee of Save the Children (USA). In the early 2000’s, I was part of a group that went to Malawi and Mozambique to consider how to improve Save’s response to the Aids / HIV epidemic. I don’t often publish these images, but Jono’s challenge got me thinking, as travel isn’t always just vacation or for fun. This lady, I think a grandmother, was carrying her grandchild at the market. Sadly, the epidemic had left many orphans.

Day 3

Papua New Guinea, 1994. Nikon F4s.

We have made a habit of taking our children with us whenever we travel, no matter their age. In 1994 we visited Papua with all 6 of our kids – Daniel being just 12 months old. In the Tari area of the Highlands live the Huli Wigmen, who were an unknown tribe for Europeans until November 1934. In their teenage years the men spend 18 months or so growing their hair for wigs. Today, tourists often visit, to see traditional dance and celebration. I still do not know what had transpired between these two men – the odd couple? Captions, please …

Day 4

Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, 2001. Nikon D1.

Nepal has long been a favourite place to visit, not so much for the history and traditional architecture, but for the people. I was taking a small group of my fellow business colleagues to see a Save the Children program, and in the Kathmandu valley we stopped to take in the scenery. These children came along to say hello. I had purchased Nikon’s first professional digital camera (D1, 2.7 megapixels) when it was introduced at the end of 1999. This was a magical, candid moment in the late afternoon sunshine, and today I often look at such photographs and wonder why we make such a fuss about pixel count.

Day 5

Rovieng, Preah Vihear, Cambodia, 2018. Leica SL.

Through 2018 – 2019 I was researching my Unfinished Stories project for the MA, and spent quite some time travelling across Cambodia with our dear friend Sarath, who we have known since 1999. In October, 2018, we were visiting ‘forgotten’ killing fields, and places relevant to Sarath’s own story of surviving in the countryside when the Khmer Rouge were in charge. We had just set out from our hotel and saw a roadside stall selling fruit, mainly bananas. This young lady proved more than a match for Sarath in bargaining 🙂

Day 6

Lilongwe, Malawi, 2002. Nikon D1X.

Back to the Malawi trip. There is a ‘sugar daddy’ culture existent in East Africa, even still today. During the Aids crisis, this was a deadly culture exacerbated by ignorance of what was causing the disease. This couple were sitting in the marketplace in Lilongwe, and the man was very happy to have their photograph taken. Superficially, there are smiles all around. But look again, starting with how he is holding the (younger) girl’s arm … what do you really ‘see’?

Day 7

Lilongwe, Malawi, 2002. Nikon D1X.

Education, education, education. Enough said.

Day 8

Lilongwe, Malawi, 2002. Nikon D1X.

My best memories of East Africa were the smiling kids, always up for a bit of fun, and usually a sharp contrast to much of what was going on around them.

Day 9

Vientianne, Laos, 1998. Nikon F4s.

We were lucky to live in Asia Pacific for many years, and to be able to combine business and personal interests. On one early trip to Laos to scout out the business opportunities, I brought along my trusty Nikon F4s. I have had this since its launch in the late 1980s, bought when we lived in Cincinnati, and I still use the indestructible (and lovely) tank today. Street photography is not just a recent pastime.

Day 10

Karachi, Pakistan, 1992. Minox AF. 32mm, F/3.5.

In a similar vein, I was in Karachi on business in 1992, and took along a little Minox AF 35 camera, loaded with Ektachrome. Ingrid had bought this for my birthday. The Minox is fully auto – no settings possible (it’s in the header, above). The resultant image may be grainy and not very sharp, but to me it is rather reminiscent of a moody moment from ‘Homeland’ or some other series

This is possibly my favourite picture of my entire photo collection.

Stepping back, photographs take on a different meaning over time. What was a one-time ‘happy snap’ can actually become a useful documentary image. And whilst one’s original intention might have been to make a simple record of ‘having been there’, re-looking at old photos gives rise to new ways of seeing what was REALLY there. I’d add 1) that it is extremely hard to view any photographic image totally ‘context free’ given its fundamental indexical nature and 2) there is power in text.