Tag Archives: representation

Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection

Go to Drawn by Light, go! It’s in London’s Science Museum (one of my favourite things in London by far) until 1 March, and then in the National Media Museum in Bradford. I wasn’t sure I would ever attend another exhibition again after Mirrorcity in the Hayward, but this has redeemed them all.

I loved each and every photograph chosen to showcase the Royal Photographic Society’s collection, though they came from every style and period — the curation is outstanding not just for this, but because the way they come together creates something more wonderful than the sum of its parts.

It opened with tasteful nudes of beautiful lines and curves (conversation overheard – ‘What a long back, usually I prefer a shorter back’) facing cheeky boys skipping along in front of a policeman, titled ‘Limbs and the Law’:

‘Limbs and the Law’, 1924, James Jarché, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Which has led me to discover the National Media Museum’s blog (particularly this one on James Jarché), joy and happy days. Back to the first wall for the lurid color of the 60s in art piece of nudes constructed from sofas and household items and more. The photographs move from haunting to sad to beautiful to clever and arresting. Some are shot in natural light capturing things ‘as they are’. Others are from the studio, others carefully constructed and processed. They have Henry Peach Robinson’s set of prints showing the story of Little Red Riding Hood and a girl dying of TB with her fictitious family around her, a gathering for a policeman’s funeral in Lambeth, some of Phillipe Halsman’s pictures, my favourite being Dali Atomicus:

(How did he do this in 1948? Find out here in this awesome post). There is an early fashion portrait of Audrey Hepburn, Winston Churchill whose grumpy expression was caused by the photographer removing the cigar from his mouth, a luminous young boy captured on film by a Nazi supporter and firm believer in eugenics. A selection of portraits from an asylum. So much more that is allowed to speak for itself and the uses that photography has been put to. All without flinching.

There are also three heliographs on display — literally drawings by light — the first steps made by Joseph Niépce in the search to invent photography. They are wonderful.

The second section recreates to some extent the feel of a typical Photographic Society exhibition of the 1850s, a wall full of brilliant old photographs of almost everything. You have to crouch down to see some of them, it changes how you see things.

This section is called ‘A period of optimism and progress’. I am myself a little more critical of these times perhaps, but for photographers it was such a time of excitement and invention. My ancestors were busy starving to death in Ireland, but they would have been inventing if they could I am sure. There is a selection here of cameras from the 1800s, bottles of colloidal silver, beautifully crafted wooden cases, early panoramic lenses that are curved. Marvels and wonders.

They have Talbot’s early cameras, they are tiny and took tiny pictures. The description of the medium is salt print.

They have an old picture album, old family portraits. A wonderful photograph of the steps up to the Chapter House in Wells Cathedral — one of the most beautiful things I have seen and myself tried to photograph. Frederick Evans spent months, and got it right.

They have wonderful pictures of cities — New York, for instance, by Margaret Bourke-White and her unforgettable shot of the Statue of Liberty.

They have a picture of the remarkable contents of an Ostrich’s stomach. For that alone you should go.

I might be getting the room order of some of these confused.

They have pictures showing the magic and mystery of Egypt, but also the orientalism, the collecting and commodifying of the exotic. Fred Holland Day who starved himself to model self-portraits as Jesus Christ on the cross (oh the things bored people do). Again there is no flinching, but I don’t know that everyone has the critical view of such pictures that I do, I don’t know how they find them.

They had this amazing piece, photograph and etching by Frank Eugene:

The final section was ‘Personal vision’. Pairs of works by photographers to show breadth or change or style. They are lovely. Expressive of all of the emotions and visions that this medium can call up, evoke. The very different feelings and ideas it can communicate. The sense of place, the sense of soul, the sense of movement.

I am still not sure how they get things just right, but they do. These pictures still sit with me, the ones I have not listed demanding I list them, like the father and son walking in the face of a dust storm. But lists are boring, this exhibition is not.

There is also a competition in which you can submit your own photos inspired by light via social media and win some awesome things. I will be looking at my pictures with a critical eye.

On my way out I realised there was another free exhibit – Make Life Worth Living, a collection of photos by Nick Hedges for housing and homeless charity Shelter between 1968 and 1971. I started to go in but just couldn’t take in more. So I will be back before 1 March to see this.

An Irish family living in a single basement room – tenants of a multi-let house. Liverpool Toxteth, November 1969 Credits : © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford
An Irish family living in a single basement room – tenants of a multi-let house. Liverpool Toxteth, November 1969
Credits : © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford



`My last set of pictures and post from Arizona…just a few days wandering yields so much. After reading Orientalism I know when writing about an old movie set I should do something more thoughtful about Westerns and representation and how I sit in relationship to the myths of the West and its occupants. But this won’t really be it, just a quick beginning.

In my youth I refused to watch most Westerns at all, especially after the first time I realised a white dude had actually painted himself brown and was pretending to be an Indian. That was a moment of pure WTF. I sided with the Indians and Mexicans and I knew in advance they always lost. I hated that male violence was always so stupidly extreme and defined everything, as women fluttered around them like anachronistically clean and well-fed butterflies. We did, I confess, watch a lot of Bonanza, but I thought John Wayne was an asshole and wanted no part of anything that made him look like a hero.

I still think John Wayne is an asshole. That’s why I now like The Searchers so much.

Now that I have left the desert, I yearn to catch site of it in the multitude of films shot in the very same hills to the SW of Tucson where I grew up. Along familiar trails even. But there are more reasons than that to like James Stewart in Winchester ’73.

Tucson never appears at all in the TV show Maverick, but James Garner cheers me up just to look at him. Nichols may be even better, I’m just sad that the Rockford Files aren’t filmed in Tucson too. L.A. is overrepresented.

I’ll stop listing the Westerns worth watching because I will leave things out (like Lee Marvin! Cat Ballou!) But what is fascinating is the way that the the manufacturing of the Western myth in movies left a trail all across the South West in the form of movie sets and theme parks that sit oddly with the detritus of mining and cattle ranching that actually marks the passing of the old west.

One I had never heard of, next to the Superstitions just south of Apache Junction, is Apacheland (APACHELAND since 1959, is a registered trademark of Apacheland Movie Ranch © 2014).

The name itself is after the Apache trail, or Apache Junction perhaps. All of them together just serve as another expression of how white people have no shame at all at appropriating the names and cultures of those they have massacred and forced to leave the area entirely. And then made money making moving pictures about a rewritten version of that history.

This makes the use of the word ‘innocent’ in its own description a bit dubious:

Apacheland 1956-1959

From its innocent inception of a theme park and western movie studio in 1956 to its founding in 1959 as “The Western Movie Capital of the World,” this is the first chapter in a 55 year history of Apacheland Movie Ranch that covers Richard Boone, Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley, John Wayne and Henry Fonda to name a few. Apacheland Days at its finest.


This was always meant to be a tourist destination, a show:

Sadly most of it burned down, so its relics have been picked up and moved to the Superstion Mountain Musuem:

Despite all of this, I get a little thrill knowing that these buildings have been the backdrop for the work of some of my favourite people:



I will include Elvis in that, here is the chapel from Charro!:


It is, of course, dedicated to Elvis. Vegas, eat your heart out.

It also contains some pictures of what Apacheland once looked like:

And then because this is indeed a mixture of the real and the unreal, they of course have my favourite exhibit in all western museums — the obligatory board of barbed wire:

Outside, and again outside of Hollywood all together, is this wonderful collection of old mining machinery, like the Cossack Stamp Mill, dragged here with love from Bland, NM and now being restored to working condition.

An old water drill:

And amazing bits of machinery rusting:



Perhaps the most memorable exhibit is inside:

Superstition Mountain Museum
But to return to Hollywood, here is the monument to the wonderful Tom Mix, who died here in a car accident — much further down the highway, but it seemed to fit here:
Tom Mix Monument

And a monument to the leisure activities of many a good resident of Arizona. I miss it.
Tom Mix Monument

Apacheland Filmography

1956 Gunfight at the OK Corral – Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas

1960 Apache Trail Documentary – Documentary of Superstition Wilderness

1960 Have Gun, Will Travel – Richard Boone

1961 Bonanza – Lorne Greene,  Michael Landon, Dan Blocker

1961 Stagecoach West – Wayne Rogers, Robert Bray

1961 The Purple Hills – Gene Nelson, Kent Taylor

1961 The Broken Land – Jack Nicholson, Kent Taylor

1962 Showdown at Redrock – Frank Wilcox, Leland Wainscott

1964 Blood on the Arrow – Dale Robertson, Martha Hyer

1964 Arizona Raiders – Audie Murphy, Michael Dante

1965 Death Valley Days – Ronald Reagan

1965 General Motors – Lorne Greene

1966 Death Valley Days – Robert Taylor

1967 Ice Capades in the Desert – Carolyn O’Kelly, John Labrecque

1967 Pepsi’s ‘Girl on the Go’ – Corinne Calvet

1967 Dundee and the Culhane – Warren Oates, John Drew Barrymore

1967 Death Valley Days – Robert Taylor

1968 Hang Fire – Jerry Vance, Lindsay Crosby

1968 Charro! – Elvis Presley, Ina Balin

1968 Will Rogers Institute – John Wayne

1968 Death Valley Days – Robert Taylor

1969 Ballad of Cable Hogue – Jason Robards, Stella Stevens

1969 A Time for Dying – Audie Murphy, Richard Lapp

1971 Second Chance – Brian Keith, Rosie Grier

1972 Guns of a Stranger – Marty Robbins, Chill Wills

1976 The Haunted – Aldo Ray, Virginia Mayo

1977 Sweet Savage – Aldo Ray, Charles Samples

1977 Jacob and Jacob – Alan Hale, Jake Jacobs

1978 Blue Jay Summer – Ken McConnell, Teresa Jones

1983 The Gambler: The Adventure Continues – Kenny Rogers, Linda Evans

1994 Blind Justice – Armande Assante, Jack Black

1994 Playboy Goes West – Royce O’Donnell, Ed Birmingham, Hank Sheffer

1995 Ford Motor Company – Waylon Jennings