Sunday, 21 September 2014

Two days in Brussels


Impressions.

My pictures of Brussels can be found on flickr here.

Due to a some problem when coming back from a trip to Paris on the Eurostar, I had been given 50% off on another trip and rather than returning to Paris, I thought I would use it to go to Brussels where I had never been.

I had been warned that Brussels is not a particularly pretty city. My expectations were therefore not very high, further dampened by the forecast of rain.

Thankfully that rain never materialised and I was lucky to have very sunny, unseasonably hot, weather. It seems however true that Bruxelles is not the best looking of cities. The commentary on the bus tours I took extolled the merits of the city as the once capital of the second richest empire on earth, now the modern international centre of the economic and political union of over 500 million people.

But, with the exceptions of a few pockets dispersed throughout the city centre, it lacks the grandeur you would expect from such a place. There seems to be many derelict buildings even in the very centre and it certainly lacks the thrusting energy of the buzzing capital it is supposed to be. Visually it seems that large sections of Brussels have been built at the turn of the 20th century, giving the visitor the feeling of being in the outskirts of Paris, alas forever unable to find the grand and elegant heart of the place.

For a photographer with little time get to know the city, the fairly limited number of "sights" turned out to be a positive thing as I think it allowed me to move away from shooting the obvious focal points more quickly, thus focusing on an hopefully more authentic vision of Brussels.

The population seemed incredibly diverse and much more intermixed than it is in London. Young men of north African origin are an ever present sight, even the more central areas or on the Metro, when ethnic minorities seem to remain confined to certain areas and mostly to the buses in London. The presence of beggars is also quite apparent in a way that it hasn't in London for some years now.

The gay scene, though I didn't particular seek it or even visited it, seems extensive for what is after all a fairly small city, and is quite prominently settled right in the centre of town.

Sadly I did not have the time to go to any museum or gallery, of which there seem to be an inordinately large selection, to a point that seems barely sustainable.

On the whole I enjoyed my stay and it's clear that I only scratched the surface of what is on offer but my myopic first impressions were in the end not positive enough for me to say that I will be back soon. Never say never, though.

My pictures of Brussels can be found on flickr here.




Friday, 11 April 2014

Women Who Eat on the Tube and street photography

I started writing this a question on the Facebook group of my photography group and it seemed to turned into something much longer, so I decided to post it here too. 

Those of you based in the UK will probably have heard of the Women Who Eat on the Tube furore that's slowly leaked from social media into the mainstream news cycle. I think this raises some questions for those of us with an interest in street photography (whether just passing or more serious). 

This morning the guy behind the idea was on Today defending his actions as an innocuous personal art project victim of its own success. The consensus among the critics seems to be that the whole thing is sexist and just another way for chauvinists to shame women. 

Although I can see that specifically "targeting" women can be seen as a little suspicious, my understanding is that it was mostly the later (once the thing (started in 2011) got some traction) comments on those pictures that did the shaming. 

But the criticism seem firmly directed at the project rather than the reactions it created in its intended audience. This leads me to question what is going on. Is there a legitimate concern or is it just another hysterical twitter storm? And what does it all mean for us photographers?

I fail to see what is shameful about the act of eating. The pictures were taken in a public space where they were therefore allowed and the "victims" remained anonymous. If WWEotT is reprehensible, shouldn't there have been an outcry when Tubecrush came to notoriety? Is there a double standard being applied here? 

The critics also talk about breach of expected privacy, saying that people should be able to expect not to be photographed and have their image subsequently shared without consent. But that leads me to wonder what we should do with the images of famous street photographers, the Doisneaus and the Maiers of this world, who took (presumably) unauthorised shots of passers by which can now be easily seen be thousands (or more) people. Should their art be banned? Is their work more legitimate and acceptable because they are now recognised artists? what about emerging artists? 

I realise that a group of mostly men is perhaps not the best place to discuss this but I think that, both as gay men (and a few women) and photographers, we have a stake in the debate and I would like to hear people's thoughts on this.