ffoton: Ron McCormick in Conversation with Paul Reas, Cardiff, June 2019 – audio interview

https://www.ffoton.wales/interviews/2019/9/ron-mccormick-1

“Ron McCormick trained as an artist at Liverpool School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools in London before moving across to photography. He played a significant role in the formation and development of photography galleries across the UK in the 1970’s – including Half Moon Gallery in London, Side Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne and the original Ffotogallery in Cardiff.

Ron taught on the Newport Documentary Photography course alongside David Hurn and established ‘The Newport Survey’ publication that students worked on as part of their studies – produced over a decade in the 1980’s….”

Commentary

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Exhibition preview invitation for ‘The Urban Landscape’ by Ron McCormick at Galerie Düsseldorf, Perth Western, Australia in the mid-1980s.

Ron McCormick was a Visiting Fellow in the School of Art and Design at Curtin University in Perth when I was teaching after being a student, all the while engaged in my own efforts to radically reform art and photography education there and in other places in Western Australia.

Ron spent most of his time photographing in the goldfields and other outback locations and three images from those trips are featured in this set of interviews along with his earlier work in the east end of London and south Wales.

Meeting Ron and seeing some of his work led to spending a year in the United Kingdom shortly afterwards, meeting a number of photographers including the great Brian Griffin, stiffening my resolve to continue my reform efforts back in Australia by whatever means possible despite the gatekeepers and power brokers controlling the medium.

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The New York Times: This Working Class Photographer Documented Her Community in Industrial England [Article behind paywall though limited free reading is available.]

The great British documentary photographer Tish Murtha.
The late Tish Murtha, British documentary photographer. Photographs reproduced here under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 License.

“Tish Murtha’s relentless vision can be characterized by a single trait: empathy. She unflinchingly investigated forsaken communities crippled by ineffective government policies and bleak living conditions.

Despite her notable output — powered by an active home darkroom — her work went underrecognized throughout her life and after her sudden death in 2013. Last year, her daughter Ella spearheaded an online campaign to publish a limited-edition book based on Murtha’s series “Youth Unemployment.” She is now having her first retrospective, “Tish Murtha: Works 1976-1991,” on view at The Photographers’ Gallery in London through October 14….

… Gordon MacDonald, the exhibit’s co-curator, deemed Ella the “driving force behind the rediscovery of her work and archive” (Ella herself was blunt as to why her mother had been overlooked for so long: “Because she didn’t have a penis”). This was, Mr. MacDonald said, “a very direct and plausible argument to explain this historic lack of visibility for Tish, and many other female artists and photographers.”… “

Commentary

“Because she didn’t have a penis” is an apt comment from Tish Murtha’s daughter Ella Murtha explaining why her mother had been so overlooked as a great British documentary photographer for so long.

Yet Ms Murtha was not always overlooked, given her commission to photograph for the London by Night show by The Photographers’ Gallery in London, in 1983.

Three other great British photographers also worked on that show – Bill Brandt, Brian Griffin and Peter Marlow – all of whom were already widely acclaimed and successful documentary photographers or if not at the time of that show went on to be so shortly afterwards.

Except for Tish Murtha.

It is rewarding, then, to see that Tish Murtha is finally starting to receive her due but tragic that it is occurring only after her untimely death at the age of 56 in 2013.

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Café Royal Books, Publishing Gems of the Golden Age of British Documentary Photography

When I and my then partner had control of the book-buying budget for an Australian  university art school where we studied and then taught some years ago, I kept a particular eye out for what I termed “project books”, that is, photo books dealing with a specific topic, theme or project over a short period of time.

I theorized that project books might be good learning tools for our students in the absence of photography exhibitions of any sort in that city’s galleries, a way of gaining insight into how photographers think, see and work.

Few such books actually turned up and most photo books that passed over our desks then could best be described as retrospective artist monographs collecting the work of a photographer over the course of their career or at least a large part of it.

By the time our contracts at the university were over and the old guard took back their power with a vengeance we had a remarkable collection of books of photography, books on photographers and on related topics as well as filmmaking, but there was a hole that I wished we could have filled.

Photo book publishing has changed since and I have been out of the book-buying loop since moving back to Sydney where far fewer photography books and magazines make it to our shores compared to when I was living in London and reviewing and buying books for myself,  the magazine I conceived and cofounded, and the top-rank creative advertising agency where I worked for a time.

I was happy, then, to recently make the acquaintance of a reasonably new photo book publisher in the form of Café Royal Books aka CRB via some Facebook posts by Ella Murtha on the work of her mother, the late Tish Murtha.

Tish was one of Magnum photographer David Hurn’s first students in the famous School of Documentary Photography founded in 1973 and located in Newport, Wales.

The School trained many documentary photographers and photojournalists and employed a number of great photographers as teachers.

The School was recently moved from Newport to the University of South Wales in Cardiff under the course directorship of Paul Reas and David Hurn continues to work on personal projects after leaving in 1987.

Craig Atkinson, publisher of Café Royal Books, concentrates on the work of British documentary photographers, much of which has been unjustly forgotten in the years since the golden age of documentary photography in the 1970s and 1980s, and names with which I had been familiar during Creative Camera magazine’s heyday have been turning up in CRB’s list.

Besides Tish Murtha there are David Hurn, Ron McCormick who was also a teacher at the same School, John Claridge, Jo Spence, Brian Griffin, Chris Killip, Homer Sykes, Bill Jay, Patrick Ward and a number of less familiar but no less worthy names.

CRB prices its books at £6.00 each and also sells them on a subscription basis, averaging one book a week and they are produced in very limited editions.

One priceless record of some the finest photography of our times for the cost of less than two cups of coffee is surely well worth the investment.

If you have the means, I strongly suggest subscribing.

Links

‘Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay’ Documentary Now in Production

Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay, a documentary movie about the life, photography and photography magazine work of the late Bill Jay, one of the most influential figures in the history and development of photography in the UK and who had an important effect on my own work, is currently in production. 

My attention was drawn to this documentary via a photograph of Magnum photographer Martin Parr holding a copy of A Day Off,  An English Journal by Tony Ray-Jones, one of the quintessential photography books. I bought my own copy years ago at an excess stock sell-off by the State Library Board of Western Australia. Their loss, my gain.

Mr Ray-Jones famously informed Bill Jay that his magazine was shit, when the latter was editor of Creative Camera magazine.

The list of photographers and others contributing to the production is impressive and includes a number of people whose own work has been important to me, and one with whom I worked some years ago, Bill Gaskins.

I look forward to seeing Do Not Bend when it is released.

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Image Credits:

Header image is a spread from A Day Off, An English Journal by Tony Ray-Jones.

The Great Documentary Photographer Tish Murtha Needs to Be Recognized, Exhibited and Published

This morning a mention on social media reminded me of the late, great but undervalued, almost forgotten, documentary photographer Tish Murtha.

Tish Murtha’s daughter Ella Murtha has inherited her mother’s estate and is now working on ensuring the legacy of one of the great British documentary photographers is not forgotten but is commemorated with exhibitions and the publication of her core body of work, Youth Unemployment.

Tish Murtha studied at the School of Documentary Photography in Newport, Wales, that was founded by Magnum photographer David Hurn. The School is now part of the University of South Wales.

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