Saturday 5 September 2009

Dubrovnik in August : War Photo Limited

When we arrived in Dubrovnik we stayed one night and the next morning made our way quickly away from the heat and dust of the tourists to our quieter destination. Returning, a the end of our stay, we were more acclimatised and prepared to deal with the crowds as an inevitable part of being able to walk around the unique and magical Old Town of Dubrovnik. Walking the old Wall of the City in the heat of the day was not the easiest thing to do even so, especially as exits are few – once you are there, you continue, unless you choose to refresh yourself at a couple of crowded bars along the way, which we avoided.

Not the best time to visit, but sometimes there is no choice. And the walkways are still made of marble, in high August, the churches and museums and monasteries still cool and mysteriously quiet.

Somehow this day crystalised my feelings about visiting Croatia. Firstly, my discomfort at being primarily, inevitably, a tourist rather than a traveler on this short visit (to unwind and relax after various stresses and strains including a recent health issue in our little family group). Secondly, a feeling of not knowing how to correlate this holiday experience with the recent traumatic past suffered by the region during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

I found the Croatian people I met (it sounds a cliché but it was real enough) calm, warm and welcoming – seemingly pleased to see us. Dignified. No problem on their side with tourism. Yet there was a tangible feeling of something healing over, of a scar that seemed on the surface hardly noticeable, yet if you probed, still rough and sore underneath. Most likely, as it would always remain. If only as you notice the large, empty and crumbling houses on the island (a small island, so only a couple), and wonder who left them, and why. Or as you look at the roofs of the Old City you see the contrast of the original tiles (which are paler) and the new ones. Many of the roofs and some of the buildings and wall were destroyed in the bombardment of Dubrovnik during the recent civil war. Although at first there was an attempt to use only original materials in reconstruction this proved impossible as many of the sources have fallen into disuse. Now, the old tiles are gradually being replaced by new ones, to avoid the patchiness you can see just now. If this wasn't enough, we found a video on you tube of the bombardment of 1991, which shows scenes in stark contrast to the ones we were experiencing.

One thing is for sure, the Croatian people, as anywhere, come from the whole range of the political spectrum. The wider area, politically and seismically (much of Dubrovnik's Renaissance art and architecture was destroyed in a great earthquake in 1667) has found itself to be a catalyst, historically, for disaster and destruction. Within this context, it is possibly easy for outsiders to forget that Dubrovnik itself was a civilised and peaceful Republic for hundreds of years, a centre for flourishing Renaissance arts. The more I tried to understand Croatia's role in the recent troubles, the more I realised I had to go back, and back, and attempt to understand the complex history. This is something for a lifetime's study, and for the moment, I have let it rest. I learned enough to know that this was, like any civil war, one where easy definitions and judgments are impossible. One thing, war is a part of the life and history of all countries and peoples, and it is felt either in the immediate bitterness, pain and suffering of it's occurrence, or it's ramifications run deeper and more distant, but no less starkly.

Why all this on a photography blog? Because all this was underlined by my visit to War Photo Limited in the Old City of Dubrovnik.

I passed on the permanent exhibition in the Sponza Palace of portraits of young people who died in the nineties in the defense of Dubrovnik, mostly due to lack of time, but partly because I found I couldn't bear it. But it seemed at the time fitting to dive out of the sunshine and away from the crowds along the Placa, down a side alley to the shadow and cool of the Photo Gallery, War Photo Limited, and, now, not fitting to describe this exhibition without considering to begin with something of the context of the place in which it is held.

War Photo Limited says of itself It is the intent of War Photo Limited to educate the public in the field of war photography, to expose the myth of war and the intoxication of war, to let people see war as it is, raw, venal, frightening, by focusing on how war inflicts injustices on innocents and combatants alike.

The photographs on display at War Photo Limited, included the current exhibition NOOR - Conflicts of Interest August 1st - 31st October 2009, which consists of work from Samantha Appleton, Phillip Blenkinsop, Pep Bonet, Jan Garup, Stanley Green Yuri Kozyrev, Jon Lowenstein, Kadir van Lohoizen, and Francesco Zizola. The aim of the exhibition is described as follows In representing something that is by definition controversial – conflict, a diversity of voices is extremely important: this exhibition is an attempt to show some of the many ways in which the Noor photographers, with their diverse backgrounds and personal stories, have documented war as they traveled battlefields and ravaged cities all across the world.

There was also an exhibition of photographs 'Child Soldier' by Jan Grarup, Yannis Kontos, Alisandra Fazzina, Noél Quidi and Dranco Pagetti, which were hard to view.

War Photo Limited represents and shows many more photographers and conflicts, however, including - naturally - Ex-Yugoslavia 1991-1999. This I found disturbing, if only because the conflict seemed so close, and yet I felt it essential to be able to acknowledge this recent history, and the images remain with me as reminder of the reality of the recent past. War photography in general, though, for me, is not always something that lingers. Maybe there can sometmes be a little too much of the depiction of the outright physical suffering of war - the tears and the wounds. It is important to see this, but it is a fine line where it tips into over-saturation. There was also work of the photographer Lana Slezic (Canadian born of Croation parents) who has documented women's lives in Afghanistan in her project and award-winning photobook 'Forsaken'. This work I found astonishing and it resonated with me the most (and War Photo Limited's edition of 'Forsaken' came away with me) perhaps because of the more subtle approach to a condition of war that is lived out daily for women. I was also struck by the documentary work, including portraits, of East Timor rebels by the Australian photographer Philip Blenkinsop.

More on War Photo Limited here

More on the work of Lana Slezic (who also engaged in a project documenting Dubrovnik). Be sure to look at this site if nothing else.

And Philip Blenkinsop

Saturday 8 August 2009

At the River : Paul Martin, W.G.Sebald, and leaving the camera behind.

Visiting family in Suffolk again. Busy, full of family commitments, but I have at least one afternoon down by the river – a hot, close day, no wind (not sure how the dinghies in the distance manage to make any headway as they criss-cross towards the sea). A few families by the edge of the river, the only ones swimming are children and an elderly lady. Wrapped in towels, some older children are fetching tea in china cups and chocoate cake from a small clubhouse, carrying them onto the beach. The elderly lady fortifies herself with nips of martini (or similar) from a coolbag at her side. It is so quiet – so English – I keep thinking of the photographs of Paul Martin, and the book I am reading at the moment, 'The Rings of Saturn' by W.G.Sebald.

At the River: Paul Martin 1864 – 1944

Several weeks ago a companion and I visited the V&A Print Room. One of the photographers whose work we looked at was Paul Martin. My friend chose him, I wasn't familiar with his work, though I realised afterwards that I vaguely knew about him and have seen him mentioned, mainly in connection with photographs of Yarmouth (not all of which were in the box we looked at together)..

Here is a link to a V&A Catalogue of Martin's photographs, including some of the seaside ones, and one of Cromer, not so far away.

Most of the photographs were small gems, technically. But the subject matter, above all, was astonishing and inspiring. He soon gave up his early use of large format and tripod outdoors - Using a revolutionary camera called the 'facile', which was carried under one arm and had a cover that disguised it as a brown paper parcel, he was one of the earliest Street photographers. He preferred though, his own adaptations, including using a leather cover. He made many photographs of London, but also of his holidays, including East Anglia. And, as another personal connection, he was a commercial photographer who lived and worked a stone's throw from my old home in Balham, South London (I realise now that I have passed the house he lived in from 1907, and where he died, countless times, as I have also passed the premises of his studio on Wandsworth Common). It's his personal work that he is now known for. He received little recognition during his life, his sraightforward, unpretentious 'snapshots' were at odds with the more popular Pictorialist movement, which he struggled to be involved with, but which obviously - fortunately for us now – wasn't where his heart lay. The photographic establishment of the time disapproved of much of his subject matter - especially his photos of 'working class' women lying about on beaches, having fun. Apart from anything else, these photos are invaluable as social documents. Interesting to see, for example, that in the 1890's the bowler hats in London were not worn by city gents, but by manual workers and street sellers.

A few days later a copy of the out of print Victorian Candid Camera: Paul Martin 1864 -1944 by Billy Jay came through my door. Thanks to my friend (if she sees this, she knows who she is) for finding a copy each for us.

At the River: W.G. Sebald 1944 -2001

'The Rings of Saturn' (first published in the U.K. 1998) is a wonderful, rambling, intriguing and extraordinary tramp around East Anglia. Sebald draws on connections with the landscape and towns and cities within it to weave factual stories from the past into a complex, rich whole.
Knowing the landscape as I do certainly adds to his descriptions and stories, but I don't think it is by any means essential to have this context. It add to my sense of the history of the place, and I really appreciate that.

At The River: Leaving the camera behind.

No photographs from me this trip. Highly unusual.
Mostly to do with the hectic schedule we were faced with.

And the afternoon by the river, it is good simply to sit.
Sometimes it's good to choose to leave the camera behind.
Time to think about Martin, Sebald, and other less grandiose things,
and also - just as good - not to think at all.'s a couple from the same spot of river from last August – the first an evening canoe, the second I also posted last summer to this blog . To give a sense of the place, and because the present is always only a part of what we experience. The past – whether it's last year, or reaching back centuries - is always just beneath the surface.

ⓒ Cate McRae 2008

ⓒ Cate McRae 2008

Saturday 27 June 2009

Oral History and the People's Photography

I am becoming involved in a local Oral History project (funded by the lottery) and hope to help them to archive some of the wonderful photographs that I have seen today at a celebration and publicity event. The organisers had provided tea, homemade cakes, girls dressed as Lyons' 'nippies', many old board games for the children to play and more, but the best for me was seeing some photos brought in by local residents, some of whom have lived in the area all their lives. The photos gradually being collected are taken by local people recording history - whether children playing in the street (some gems worthy of Bert Hardy - I need to find out exactly who the photographer was!), or pictures of devastating bomb damage. For example, one elderly man standing, amongst the destruction, by what remains of his half of the street - his garden shed.
I was there to scan in some photographs that people brought along. This is going to prove an exciting project. More later.
Their website is now up at

Ilford 130th Anniversary Celebration


Ilford/Harman recently ran a call for entries for four images - made with Ilford film and silver gelatin paper - to be chosen to go on a special celebration limited edition box of photo paper, to mark the 130th Anniversary of Ilford. A few weeks ago I learnt that one of my photos, Waiting, was selected by Tim Rudman, who judged the entries.
I'm delighted for one of my pictures to be associated with Ilford in this way. They deserve a huge thank you from those who still use film and traditional darkroom ways of printing, for endeavouring to do all they can to keep traditional photography alive. And thanks are also due to Tim Rudman for taking part in this, and doing so much to encourage and foster the practice and art of traditional black and white printing, toning and lith printing.

Below is a slightly larger version of the print than can be seen in yesterday's press release, from which the top image is taken. The press release can be found in full here


WaitingCate McRae 2009

I also notice from the press release that another of
my submitted entries made it to the shortlist.

Knots ⓒ Cate McRae 2009

A release date for the Anniversary Boxes will be given later in the year.
Also, if you haven't done already done so, check out the website of the Analogue Photographers Users Group, with a membership of over 34,000 it is fast becoming the largest resource for traditional photographers.
Here's to another 130 years !

Sunday 24 May 2009

Unknown Soldiers

An article in The Independent Magazine this weekend (23/05/09) caught my eye, particularly due to my own interest in the digital (as well as traditional) restoration of old photos. Also because the photographs themselves are excellent. The article describes how around 400 glass plates were recently discovered. They originated from a barn at Warloy-Baillon, 10 miles from the site of the front line of the Somme. Some are in perfect condition, some badly damaged. They have been collected and then printed, scanned and digitally restored by Bernard Gardin, "a photography enthusiast", and Domonique Zanardi "proprietor of the 'Tommy' café at Pozières, a village in the heart of the Somme battlefields".

The photographs are now published for the first time in the Independent Magazine, and they are also available to view online - sadly not quite such good quality as the excellent edited selection in print, but there are many there. Click on 'the selection' rather than 'click to view the exclusive photographs' (see link below) if you don't want to look through them all, although I think it is the sheer number of soldiers who most likely were soon to meet their deaths that gives this collection its unusual poignancy and power. Included in both Magazine and the selection online is the photograph above, which shows men wearing sheepskins because in 1915 there was a desperate shortage of overcoats. Also amongst them, a rare photograph of a black soldier; although there are known to have been a substantial number of black soldiers who fought in the First World War, they were rarely acknowledged. There's also a Glasgow Highlander, other Scots soldiers, Australian soldiers, a soldier with a 1912 Zenith Grenua Motorbike, and more.

It is thought the glass plates were made by an amateur photographer who made prints from them and then stored them in the barn, forgotten for 90 years until newcomers threw the lot out, and some were rescued by passers-by.

It is thought there may be more glass-plates out there - and anyone who finds or knows of any or recognises any of the soldiers, or who knew of the photographer is asked to email:

You can read more and see the photographs at soldiers

Sunday 8 March 2009

new shoots

first snowdrops ⓒ Cate McRae 2009; all rights reserved

first snowdrops

ⓒ Cate McRae 2009