The Oklahoma-raised, New York-based photographer Rahim Fortune talks to Port’s photo director Max Ferguson

I’m really interested in the fact that you grew up in rural Oklahoma, and the landscape features heavily in your photographs. Perhaps you could start by talking about what it was like growing up there?
Growing up in Oklahoma was great as a kid; we had access to wide-open spaces and animals all around, in a pre-smartphone era. Much of our time was spent outside using our imagination, making treehouses or playing games in worlds of our own creation. It wasn’t until I got older that I was able to process the problems the small community faced – better understanding the hardships of my mother, grandmother and extended family. This work was extremely personal, so I chose to focus on the landscape and my remaining family in Oklahoma.

There’s a photograph of yours that I keep going back to: It’s a gas heater against a wall, with a painting of a glass above it; a paraffin lamp sits on a little shelf and there’s also an electric lamp with a crooked shade. So much going on in the image; perhaps you could speak a bit about it?

The photo you mention appears in Oklahoma vol.2, and is one of my favourite photographs in the series. The photo, titled ‘Propane Heater’, was made inside my grandmother’s home near Coalgate, Oklahoma. The image features multiple items typical in an old home. In Oklahoma we do not have commercial gas providers, so individual propane tanks are filled and used for hot water and heat. The kerosene lamps are dated but kept on hand for tornado season, which brings frequent power outages… All of this accompanied by a few picture frames and walking sticks. Though my urge to photograph the heater was instinctual, upon editing, the photo really struck me for its graphic quality and also for the fact that it shows so many small nuances of life in rural Oklahoma.

You now live between New York and Texas. How do you find taking photographs in New York?

Working in NY was very informative to my work; I was introduced to a world of art and internships that taught me valuable lessons both as an artist but also as a business owner. Upon arriving, there was a bit of a culture shock. Up to that point all of my work was about the American South and my family. It was at this time, while attending a community college in Manhattan, that I began to look at my surroundings as the focus of my work. I realised that my fellow students and friends were valuable realms of cultural production. I generally tend to be a positive person, and so I apply that same outlook to how I portray the spaces I photograph. A lot of my early photos in NY show my classmates, neighbours and people I encountered in the city as a skateboarder. I love people, and in NY folks are in the streets much more, as opposed to Oklahoma where folks are a bit more closed off or tucked away. I am grateful to share space with so many creative and inspiring people.

There’s a classical style to your work, and it’s hard to think about photographs of the American landscape without thinking of tropes of the ‘road trip’ and the early American photographers, but you’re not really an outsider in Oklahoma – this is/was your home I’m curious as to what your references are and what it’s like photographing a place you’re so familiar with?

I worked on this project over the course of four years. When I was first approaching making photos it was a bit of a buffer between myself and the experience of returning to Oklahoma for the first time since my mother passed away a decade earlier. It was interesting walking the line of inside/outsider; there is a particular feeling that comes from being in the landscape that raised you after a 10-year absence. My initial approach was a bit naive, though I often go back to those photos for inspiration. As I developed the work over multiple trips to Oklahoma, I was much more moved by artists like Robert Adams, William Christenberry and Ron Tarver. I think a lot about visual language when sequencing this work.

Is this work finished yet?

I plan to continue exploring stories and themes in Oklahoma, but for this chapter of the work it is finished. The photographs were expressions of a part of my life that I’m no longer in; now I’m more interested in seeing how these photos function in the world. Next year I will be showing these photos for the first time in an Oklahoma museum, which I’m very excited for.

This article is taken from issue 27. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here

Ciprian Honey Cathedral

Max Ferguson talks to Raymond Meeks about his latest book – part photography, part poem

Upstate New York based Raymond Meeks is envious of photographers that “have collections of maps” and “who travel to far off corners to make their work and come back with iconic pictures and epic stories”, comparing himself to a dog staked in a backyard. But, this closeness to what he photographs is surely what makes the work alluring? Several years ago when Meeks and his partner Adrianna were packing their home to move, he decided to photograph the process – to help, “mitigate some of the hardships that most of us associate with moving”.  Clarifying the duality of this situation he says, “the leveraging of such a menial and exhaustive task with that of making a new body of work definitely softened the impact and even excited the process of both.” And perhaps unsurprisingly, he noticed something else while watching Adrianna through the viewfinder of his camera: “I also came to appreciate her particular gestures and movements, which stirred a deepening of my affection for her.” Adding that, “it was almost an out-of-body experience.” This closeness between Meeks and Adrianna is what we are allowed to glimpse in Ciprian Honey Cathedral.

The first thing I noticed when I tore open the eagerly awaited brown cardboard package was the book’s cover. The pages, of colour and black and white photographs, are encased in a pale greenish cloth hard back. This in turn is wrapped in a transparent plastic dust jacket. Looking down at the book there is no image on the front. Or title. Meeks didn’t want to give too much away. Not even his name appears on the cover. The only information we have is fifty-four lines of text printed in poetic staccato onto the plastic wrap-around. This inspired text-cover-combo is the work of the publisher MACK’s in house designer Morgan Crowcroft-Brown. Before I’ve opened the book two lines – about three-quarters of the way though of this “text-collage” – grab my attention, “too small to read; trees with pasted-on leaves”. Re-reading I notice the title is on the cover. The words ciprian, honey and cathedral each occupy their own line of fifty-four.

On YouTube you can watch several videos of Nick Cave performing Rings of Saturn – the song that inspired this text-collage – and in each one he recites his trademark narrative prose in a deep baritone. Floating, dancing and mesmerising his audience with the lyrics: “upside down and inside out and on all eights. You’re like a funnel-web. Like a black fly on the ceiling”. Watching these videos, drawn to them by Meeks’ photographs, it’s as if it’s me in the funnel-web. I’m hooked. Looking for differences, so minute in the performances, I notice things I wonder if anyone else has seen. And similarly with the book, I come back to it time and time again as I am speaking with Meeks and writing this article.

Photographs of his partner Adrianna, like a metronome, set the pace of the book – allowing other images their own place in the narrative. In the first photograph she is presumably sleeping, on her back. Her head is resting on white pillow, the crop is close on her face and we can just see her nose and eyelids, but the hair that falls down in loose waves is what we are drawn to. This establishes the rhythm for the intro into the book. “The pictures of Adrianna in states of sleep don’t vary much” Meeks says, adding that “in terms of lighting conditions, camera angle and perspective. This creates a steady, grounded rhythm throughout the book—a place to return to— and allows for a more coursing and free-form flow of pictures that parallel and sometimes function independently, where the relationship between two subjects are maybe less apparent.” Each image on the first five spreads is presumably a photograph of Adrianna, but we cannot see her face, she is obscured either by shadow, crop, arm or wall. Who is this person we are meant to know? Speaking at the great distance we all find ourselves in from each other, Meeks explains that his relationship with Adrianna and how it is presented to us the viewer could be at tension with each other. “Our relationship and my motives have been clear between Adrianna and I, but for the viewer about to experience the work for the first time, I also felt it was important that they could enter with the understanding that she is an empowered woman who lives by intention.”

Halfway through Ciprian Honey Cathedral we come to a photograph of a stack of shallow bowls taken when they were moving house. On top of each one is a torn sheet of corrugated cardboard. The jagged edges are as wild as the plates are perfect. This, presumably recycled from their original intended use, is to protect the bowls from one another. Everything is delicate and the stack is high – as if it may teeter over at any time. It is the textural difference between card and china that stops me on this page. Looking back through the book again I see another photo – perhaps for the first time. In it a brittle leaf lays against the soft skin of Adrianna’s arm.

And the long wait is over. What we are left with is a book – part poem, part photography – that Meeks at one point described as a “love song”.  And another wait, to see what this modern master of photography makes next.

Ciprian Honey Cathedral by Raymond Meeks is published by MACK books

Elf Dalia

Port’s photography director, Max Ferguson, discusses Maja Daniels new book – an otherworldly examination of lost language, photographic fragility and the occult

Maja Daniels

“Älvdalen is part of what I call home,” says Swedish photographer Maja Daniels, “a large part of my youth was spent there, in a small cabin by the river.” Daniels, who spent several years making these photographs, spoke to me about her new book Elf Dalia, witchcraft and returning to this remote forested valley in Sweden where they speak a language closer to the Vikings’ Old Norse than modern Swedish. This language, Elfdalian, is spoken by only a few thousand people. Daniels’ family can speak it, but she cannot.

Elf Dalia presents two photographers’ pictures: Daniels’ images in colour and Tenn Lars Persson’s archive images in black and white. Daniels explains that “The Local Heritage Foundation in Älvdalen take care of what left behind, which was almost 5,000 glass plates, photographs that he made in the early 1900s.” These photographs reflect Persson’s interest in strange happenings and the occult. Älvdalen has long been associated with these things. In 1668, following a girl being accused of walking on water, nineteen girls and one man were accused of witchcraft. They were all executed, first by beheading and then their bodies burned. The dialogue between two photographers, separated by many decades, is coherent thanks to masterful sequencing. Daniels describes it as something akin to a conversation, saying that “a few of my images create something that could resemble a sentence, and a few of his images respond. Together the images express something that is related to my own fantasies about what an ‘Elfdalian worldview’ might behold”.

Tenn Lars Persson

The time when photographs are supposed to be taken, the golden hour – entre chien et loup – is between day and night, when the light is milky and soft shadows melt into the colours. Daniels’ adeptness as a photographer is demonstrated by using this light balance in both beautiful landscapes and disarming photographs such as a girl turned away from us with ‘RETARD’ tattooed on the nape of her neck.

In another image a room is blackened blue from a fire. The charred wood is everywhere. And above the door, what was wood, is charcoal. We can see the numbers and words from the backing sheet of the medium-format Kodak film burned onto the sixth frame of the roll. This is an insight rarely afforded to the viewer and poses a question – what came before and after this? We see light leaks in other photographs too, sometimes inseparable from the soft dawn or sunset light. For Daniels, these images are both a “symbolic parallel between the fragility of a photographic negative and a language that is at the brink of disappearing”, and, “an otherworldly presence within the image”. But these malformations, usually associated with broken cameras and mistakes, also remind us that this project questions a presumed truth – photographs depict real things.

The title is Daniels’ own bastardisation of Elfdalian. She was keen for the name to be made up to, “ensure that the book is not read in a too straight-forward manner.” We are presented with truths: the language, the place, Tenn Lars’ archive. But for Daniels, who is adept at conjuring narratives, “It does not exist in this world as such. If someone looks at the work and decides to go visit Älvdalen they risk being disappointed.”

Elf Dalia (2019) by Maja Daniels is published by MACK and will form part of a group exhibition, curated by Emma Bowkett, at Peckham 24 this May


Port’s photography director, Max Ferguson, co-curates a charity exhibition featuring Marguerite Bornhauser’s 8 and Suzie Howell’s Sardinian Sculptures

Suzie Howell, Sardinian Sculptures

This Friday at AMP Studios, Marguerite Bornhauser’s 8 and Suzie Howell’s Sardinian Sculptures will be showcased alongside work from established and emerging artists including Tom Johnson, Dafna Talmor, Daniel Castro Garcia, Alice Zoo, Cian Oba Smith, Alexander Mourant, Lola Paprocka and Pani Paul.

All artists have donated work for a raffle to raise money for Protection Approaches, a charity working towards ending identity-based mass violence. Identity-based violence is any act of violence where the perpetrator targets someone because of how they the view their victim’s identity – perhaps because of their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious, or political affiliation. Identity-based violence encompasses hate crimes against individuals, acts of terrorism, and mass atrocities such as ethnic cleansing and genocide. While its victims and the ways in which it manifests often look different, what causes and prevents identity-based violence are very often same.

Marguerite’s Bornhauser’s project takes inspiration from the writing of French author Françoise Sagan (1935-2012). Shortly after Sagan, age 18, published Bonjour Tristeese in 1954, she travelled to the Normandy coast with friends, renting a house a few kilometres from Deauville from 8 July – 8 August. The night before she is due to return home, she visits the casino, playing the number 8 throughout the night and eventually leaving with 80,000 francs. She arrives back to the house at 8am to be met by the landlord of the house. On the off chance, she asks if the house is for sale – it is, and 80,000 francs secures the sale. Sagan handed over her winnings and lived in the house for the rest of her life. Bornhauser’s contemporary interpretation of Sagan’s story takes us on a journey through Deauville – it’s people, hangouts, casinos, hotels and nightlife. The intensity and colours of Bornhauser’s images draw us into the bizarre and fantastical world of Sagan, Deauville and the number 8.

Marguerite Bornhauser, 8

Also featured in the exhibition is Suzie Howell, who in 2018 spent two weeks exploring the Sardinian landscape. She created installations and sculptures from rocks and materials she found – and then destroyed them – photographing the fleeting structures and compositions along the way. Capturing the intensity of the Sardinian sun, the dry landscape and bright blue skies, Howell’s images remind us of hazy summer days, devoid of people, but surrounded by landscape and the wonder of natural forms.

Suzie Howell, Sardinian Sculptures

Construction, running on the 23rd and 24th March, 2019 at AMP Studios, is curated by Hannah Geddes and Max Ferguson

New Perspectives: Dorothea Lange

Port’s director of photography, Max Ferguson, analyses an iconic piece of New Deal propaganda from documentary photographer Dorothea Lange

Shot in 1938 by heavyweight photographer Dorothea Lange, this picture shows a barn packed with children celebrating Halloween at the Shafter camp for migrant agricultural workers, in California. The boys are in their Sunday best. Some of the girls are wearing homemade fancy dress and masks. Most of the children are looking at something beyond the frame – perhaps at the blackface musicians we see in another image in the series.

One boy, however, peering through his round spectacles, is straining to see above the other children’s heads. He’s looking straight at the camera, and therefore at us, bewildered. A child of the American dust bowl, he is unlikely to have seen a camera like Lange’s expensive large-plate Graflex before; but he also seems to be questioning the viewer: Why are you looking at us?

Though the people at Shafter camp don’t know it yet, they have been made a part of something bigger: poster girls and boys for a new, modern form of capitalism that would come to define the post-war West.

From the mid-’30s until the early ’40s, dozens of photographers were sent to the poorest parts of America by the Farm Security Administration to document the consequences of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt badly needed support for his New Deal reforms and employed image-makers to provide potent portrayals of a desperate, rural America. These photographers – Lange, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, to name the best known – are held in high esteem as documentary photographers as a result of their work, and they contributed greatly to defining the photographic discourse around the subject.

Across the Atlantic, other governments, notably in Germany and the USSR, were sponsoring artists to create favourable depictions of their regimes. But although the FSA images are not favourable, they are still part of Roosevelt’s campaign to force liberal capitalism to renew itself. To deny that the New Deal photographs, as they came to be known, are anything but propaganda does a disservice to their power.

This article is taken from issue 23. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here

Photography Review, 2018

Port’s photography director, Max Ferguson, rounds up the best exhibitions, books and photographers from 2018  

It’s been a good year for the sort of photography I like: personal, long-term documentary(ish). This list of some of my favourite bits, which is far from comprehensive, should probably have more books but had to end somewhere. The small publishers that have released titles this year are going from strength to strength and I can’t wait to see what comes next. The areas between editorial photography and art are thankfully becoming ever more blurred with periodical magazines such as M le Monde, the FT Weekend Magazine and The California Sunday leading the way by commissioning the best original pictures. As the world turns towards dangerous nationalism and populism, let’s hope photography in 2019 can start more cross-border conversations.

Masahisa Fukase
Foam, Amsterdam
7 Sep – 12 Dec

Sasuke, from the series A Game, 1983 © Masahisa Fukase Archives

Since the death of Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase in 2012, there has been a renewed fervour for the pictures he made until a debilitating accident in 1992 in which he suffered a traumatic brain injury. His melancholy 1986 book of photographs of birds taken in the years following a divorce from his wife, Ravens, is often called the greatest photo-book ever. Colourful cats, nude self-portraits of the photographer with his family and colour photos from the originally monochrome Ravens conveyed Fukase’s constant playful reflection on his depression and loss in this superb retrospective at Europe’s coolest photography gallery.

I’m Home
Blank100, London
27 Oct – 4 Nov

From Liz Johnson-Artur’s Windrush Square

A small arts space in Hackney was turned into a mixed media installation and art show. Despite being a particularly cold evening, the opening was warm and the work of four Black British photographers was one of the most interesting shows I saw this year. I’m Home was curated by the rising-star photographer Ronan McKenzie and, as well as her photographs, featured works by Rhea Dillon, Liz Johnson-Artur, Joy Gregory. A film on a small television set by Artur, a fantastic photographer whose images of Notting Hill Carnival I love, was a personal highlight.

1000 Words
Magazine 10-Year Print Edition

Writing on photography that is theoretical but not prohibitively highbrow isn’t common. However, for ten years the quarterly online publication 1000 Words has been publishing critical reviews and essays that are just that. To mark their decennial this year, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, 1000 Words released a print magazine. Featuring high quality reproductions in the form of portfolios from leading contemporary photographers including: Zanele Muholi, Max Pinckers, Edmund Clarke and Laia Abril.


Junction (Middlesex University Degree Show)
Freerange, London
21 – 26 June

From Sophie Gladstone’s ‘As you like it’

I love the weeks in mid-June when the various photography courses spread around the country descend on the capital for their triumphant moment – their end of course shows. They are a great way for me to meet new photographers to work with­­. Standing out at Free Range, an extravaganza of almost thirty university shows over two weeks at London’s Old Truman Brewery, isn’t easy. Middlesex managed it this year with a fantastic show. A particular highlights was a photographer I was unaware of but have gone on to work with this year – Sophie Gladstone.

Peckham 24
Copeland Park, London
18 – 20 May

My London, curated by Emma Bowkett

The middle weekend of May has become known as the biggest few days of the photography calendar in London. Photo London, Offprint, Foam Talent and most recently Peckham 24 are all happening concurrently. In a weekend of too many photographs it is the new kid on the block that excites. Set in the industrial Copeland Park and surrounding galleries it has the feel of a DIY photo-festival but the quality of something with much more money and kudos. Full disclosure – I produced a show titled My London, curated by Emma Bowkett from the FT Weekend Magazine. Watch out Photo London!

Halfstory Halflife by Raymond Meeks
Published by Chose Commune

Halfstory Halflife by Raymond Meeks

So many good photo books have been published this year, not easy to pick one but I think Raymond Meeks’ sensitive book, showing muted monochrome photographs of young Americans at a local water-jump spot in upstate New York, is my favourite. I wrote a more detailed review for Port in the autumn, which can be read here

Photography Degree Show
Royal College of Art, London

From Tereza Cervenova’s June

Degree shows from the RCA sometimes expect too much critical knowledge from their viewers, who are almost certainly lacking a complete understanding of what they are looking at. This year’s show was largely good, with some fantastic projects from graduating students. Stealing the show was Tereza Cervenova’s June, an unprecedentedly intimate look into the life and emotions of a young European photographer, but there where other standout bodies of work from Eleonora Agostini, Simone Mudde and Jennifer Martin.

Peckham 24

Port‘s photography director introduces one of the most exciting events from a weekend devoted to photography in London

The third week in May is fast becoming the most important in the London photo calendar. In part, this is because of the launch of Photo London, Foam Talent opening at Beaconsfield Gallery and Offprint taking over the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The most exciting event, however – taking place in the south London district of Peckham – is the three-day festival, Peckham 24My London, one of the highlights, occupies the trendy Copeland Gallery, tucked away behind the Bussey Building, a Victorian cricket bat factory-cum-mixed-use art space.

Since the first edition of the art fair Photo London launched at Somerset House in 2015, The Financial Times Weekend Magazine has been publishing a photography special to coincide with it. For each issue Emma Bowkett, the director of photography at the FT Mag, has invited four contemporary photographers to produce a series of images about the city. Bowkett, who was also the photography director for our 19th issue, is showcasing works from nine artists involved in the special issue of the FT Mag: Campbell Addy, Jonny Briggs, Antony Cairns, Juno Calypso, Chrystel Lebas, Tom Lovelace, Hannah Starkey, Dafna Talmor, Lorenzo Vitturi.

Tom Lovelace, Black-Marble London No.1

There are not many young photographers who can claim to be more London than Juno Calypso, who was our alternate cover star for our five year anniversary issue. Over the past few years, she has been taking the capital’s art world by storm, and it’s fitting that visitors to Peckham 24, the capital’s youngest and coolest photo festival, will be greeted at My London by Light Therapy – a larger-than-life, pink, three-meter-tall self-portrait of Calypso. Campbell Addy, who heads up Nii Jornal and Nii Agency, is showing a new series of twenty-five images of his milieu, in a work aptly titled My World. The photos sit in what is one of the most interesting and ambiguous spaces in photography – somewhere between fashion and art.

Contrastingly but also newly produced, Dafna Talmor has photographed the Thames and produced an artwork by collaging sliced negatives. The work fits within her existing practice and becomes part of her series Constructed Narratives that “references early Pictorialist tendencies of combination printing as well as Modernist experimental techniques such as montage, collage and multiple exposures.”

My London runs at Peckham 24, Copeland Gallery, Copeland Park, 133 Copeland Rd, London SE15 3SN from 18th-20th May 2018