Sunday, 28 July 2013

Adult Content Warning!



What is adult content?

This is a serious blog for sharing and discussing ideas and events about photography, past and present. It is not written for children. 

Rampant capitalism
Ethnic cleansing
Nuclear weapons
Political prisoners
Detention without trial
Mental health
Conspicuous consumption
Social inequality
Freedom of speech
Conflict resolution
Natural disasters
Man-made disasters
Global warming
Intelligent discussion
Social responsibility
Manufacture of consent

Now you are warned: this is the kind of adult content that interests me and might end up on this blog. Thank you for your attention.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Pingyao Experience Part I, Enjoy the Chaos

The Pingyao Experience

Part I, Enjoy the Chaos

Pingyao International Photography Festival, Shanxi Province
China, 2010, 2011, 2012 

by John B. Turner 
co-editor PhotoForum (New Zealand)

John B Turner: Pingyao, September 2011. Remnants of previous year's PIP linger until removed at the last moment 

"Expect chaos: milling crowds, posters, exhibitions, cameras everywhere; cafes, shops, pedicab touts, open-air mini-buses, tourist's trinkets, Mao mementos, market stalls, performing monkeys, and umbrellas instantly on sale in case it rains...."

This article is written for foreign and Chinese mainland photographers and anybody contemplating going to the Pingyao International Photography Festival, or wanting to exhibit there. I thoroughly recommend PIP for anybody interested in seeing a huge range of work by Chinese photographers in particular, as well as interesting foreign work, and also the experience of this charming ancient city. 

The sheer number of participants and visitors make PIP a worthwhile venue for showing local and foreign work and thus becoming better known. PIP's English-language outreach publicity has been found wanting so it is nowhere near as well patronised by foreign visitors as it deserves to be. I hope this introduction, which I intend to follow up with more critical review and commentary in future, will help you make up your own mind about visiting this extraordinary annual event. 

All illustrations are by myself  unless otherwise noted. The copyright of photographs depicted reside with their authors. Please notify the writer of any mistaken identities, wrong attributions of works, or other factual mistakes. I cannot read Mandarin, but will make every reasonable effort to keep an accurate record of what I saw and how I interpreted it. The opinions expressed are those of a New Zealand photographer, teacher, editor, and occasional curator with 50 years experience in photography, who has twice presented exhibitions of New Zealand work at PIP. 

It is not possible to list all of the fine work seen, or to mention all of the practitioners whose work impressed me: some because it was the best of its kind, and some for all the wrong reasons - because it seemed so superficial and misguided. In fact, I found that some of the award-winning exhibitions were weak or pretentious compared to some potent but overlooked work. 

I am bemused by the Chinese propensity for grand gestures and the display of official certificates of approval for their work - by government agencies - as if the work can't stand on its own or the audience is not smart enough to see through such humbug. It reminds me a lot of the old New Zealand camera club system which was fixated on gaining personal prestige at the expense of concentrating on honing the content and form of the work and its relevance to life in their times.

I am particularly interested in learning about Chinese photography and found that both young photographers and some of the more established exhibitors seemed hungry for informed critical feedback that is not being provided by their peers. It is not much fun when your work is ignored, so they might appreciate the observation that it is ok to make work that nobody seems to notice, as long as it is an honest expression of the things you value and want to share.  That in the Western liberal art tradition, at least, it is expected that our work is made for ourselves, first and foremost. 

What I think, as a critic, may or may not be relevant or useful to the exhibitors whose work I will discuss, but I would like to remind them that serious criticism and disagreement regarding their intentions and outcomes can be a form of respect, not mere grandstanding or a putdown. Why bother criticising work, as I do here, unless you think the photographer might, however grudgingly, come to appreciate having weaknesses or contradictions pointed out and useful suggestions for improvement? Whether your work is praised, glossed over, or condemned, it is important to ask where the response came from, and why? With luck you might get fresh insights into your own work that help you to progress and better define your target audience.

JBT©20110917-053_Pingyao_day 1 Saturday before Monday opening. Young photographers and exhibition assistants

JBT©20110918-106_Pingyao_Sunday hanging Moment & Eternity A NZ View - Jan Young's work

Being there, and what to expect!

JBT©20120919-0262 PIP FESTIVAL Opening ceremony September 2012

Expect chaos: milling crowds, posters, exhibitions, cameras everywhere; cafes, shops, pedicab touts, open-air mini-buses, tourist's trinkets, Mao mementos, market stalls, performing monkeys, and umbrellas instantly on sale in case it rains. And handsome hotels and temples with a genuine ancient China flavour.

Expect confusion: the free PIP Art Guide, listing where everything is, comes out just in time for the first day of the five-day Festival. Their elaborate catalogues are sometimes late, arriving at a time when you would rather look at the shows than read a little about them to figure out which ones you most want to see. 

At 298 RMB (about $US50), the comprehensive 450-550-page compendiums (for they are not catalogues or strictly yearbooks) are perhaps a little expensive by Chinese standards, but they are indispensable as a taste of each year's offerings. They print only 2,000 copies and it is only on sale at PIP's small bookshop during the Festival. That is one reason why PIP is not better known in China or overseas. Much of the text is only in Mandarin so I find the need to buy a second copy to write down names and details of work that intrigues me. The rush with which the catalogue is put together with the voluntary help of English-language students doing many of the translations results in some amazing Chinglish. The translation of my US friend, Kirk Crippens, for example, came to something like Kirka Curley. I got off lightly with my birthplace given as England instead of New Zealand, and images from my joint show with Julian Ward were not included in the 2012 book. As annoying as such slip-ups might be, seen in the large picture they are small hiccups indeed.

Frankly, the hard-working PIP staff face a seriously daunting task trying to coordinate and document so many exhibitors and exhibitions at short notice. Despite numerous "typos" (typographical mistakes), and issues relating to untranslated and wrongly translated text, the PIP compendiums deserve far wider coverage as a reflection of the state of photography in China, and current foreign offerings. Perhaps a second, post-event edition with full translations, and images of key exhibits would do the trick of reaching out to the world via the web and/or print?

JBT©20120917-0039 PIP FESTIVAL detail

When viewing some shows another point of confusion can arise over labelling or non-labelling, and it is difficult to know when one person's work stops and an adjacent one starts. Quite a few Chinese exhibitors provide ID in English, fortunately, but by no means all, which adds to the confusion for the foreign visitor. I expect that non-Chinese-non-English-speaking viewers would be doubly disadvantaged. It is too much to expect more languages to be included, and it doesn't matter where in the world such a broad-based show is held, this is indicative of how parochial "international" festivals end up in spite of their best intentions. 

The majority of (other) foreigners I have seen at three festivals have been those associated with guest exhibitions as curators or practitioners, and students and teachers.  It has been rare to see foreign business delegates or tourists in Pingyao who are not associated with the September PIP Festival in the streets in this seasonal takeover of the whole town. The foreign groups, I notice, tend to cluster and keep to themselves rather than associate with mainland Chinese photographers and curators - the language barrier again. As unsettling as it can be for us foreign visitors to step out of our comfort zones and get lost in Chinese wanderings, being saturated with so much new work in unfamiliar surroundings tends to be exciting and challenging. As well as being delighted by what you find, you can also expect to be puzzled, annoyed, or utterly bored by some of the exhibitions or activities. 

JBT©20120917-0160 PIP FESTIVAL Student volunteers hanging exhibition late at night without the main electricity supply being connected

JBT©20120920-040 Turner & Ward exhibition gallery from Auckland Festival of Photography gallery, Pingyao PIP 2012

JBT©20120920-099 attendees at John Turner's floor talk about his and Julian Ward's work, Pingyao PIP 2012

 Without being able to read Chinese signs it is easy to mistake things for something else, like when I thought that a little separated exhibition space, with outside signage, was a caretaker's cottage and never investigated the show inside. 

Expect fatigue, and pace your viewing. Few spaces have seats in them. Take a torch - some display places are seriously dark, and if you want a closer look to figure out technical stuff, take a magnifying glass, or make sharp digital closeup to examine at your leisure on your computer. 

There is always far more work than one can possibly see, let alone contemplate. So taking pictures of interesting images or displays, which has become commonplace now with cell phones and other digital cameras, makes a lot of sense. But recording whose work one has copied and crediting them for reference is another issue entirely. (The world's most prolific neglected photographer of all time, Anonymous, is creating more pictures than ever, just to torment librarians and future historians:))  Printing barcode signatures on one's images could be one solution to the problem of identifying our exhibited work when somebody snaps it in a hurry; and our computers could be trained to extricate and list the photographer's name for us. But I'm not convinced that such electronic tags could be made as elegant and integral as the Chinese artist's chop if we signed our work in that way?

JBT©20120921-259 Oh Soon Hwa's (Singapore) floor talk PIP Pingyao 2012
JBT©20120921-189 Kirk Crippen's floor talk PIP Pingyao 2012

If you are fortunate enough to become a PIP guest exhibitor, you can also expect some confusion about exactly where and how your work will be displayed. Exhibition spaces are generally not well marked or signposted, so it could be difficult to find where your work will be. Of necessity, with such a huge balancing act to perform, the decisions are made fairly late, and too late, often, for the inclusion of the location on your poster or publicity. Communications with the organisers can be fraught, like when the slide show I thought was expected from me, was listed as a floor talk instead. But one of the highlights of exhibiting at PIP is to get to know the wonderfully helpful student volunteers who help with everything from interpreting, travel arrangements, accommodation and food, and hanging a show. Most are students or friends of Amy Liu, the diminutive fireball who looks after all of the foreign visitors and does more to make one welcome than any other individual at PIP. It is hard to imagine what PIP would be like if she and her volunteers did not work so hard day and night to solve the myriad of problems that crop up. 
JBT©20120919-0472 PIP FESTIVAL Amy Liu (centre) who coordinates volunteer help for foreign participants, takes a back seat during the opening ceremony, 2012

Because I only managed to get to the last two days of the 2010 PIP Festival, I was surprised on my 2011 visit by the spectacular opening event and its emphasis on welcoming foreign visitors. Shanxi Province is serious about drawing visitors to Pingyao, and generously hosts its foreign exhibitors with a fine banquet after the opening. Don't expect colourful speeches to match the display of pomp and ceremony. But you can expect remarkable tolerance for photographing the opening ceremony, official guests and fellow photographers from every conceivable angle. The welcome is genuinely warm. Foreigners should also be prepared to pose with a bevy of  locals who want to stand next to you, as a total  stranger, and have their photo taken. Especially if you are grey-bearded old man or stylish young blonde. A book or exhibition about this stranger speed-bonding could be interesting. Certainly I would like to know what the pictures are used for? The thought of an attractive woman having a picture of us together on her bedroom wall, or even on her fridge or screensaver leaves much to the imagination. 

Don't expect to see everything or get to all of the talks or seminars that interest you because, as a tiny microcosm of China itself, there is far, far too much going on for any individual to take in.  

Enjoy the chaos - and the friendly atmosphere.

JBT©20120918-0188 PIP FESTIVAL Turner Ward exhibition preparations. My student volunteer team just after midnight in dim lighting


Chapter II: A Kind of Review, will give a background to PIP and deal with my experience of meeting outstanding photographers, curators and teachers, and viewing some of the best and worst shows of 2012 .... 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A dialogue with Dave Heath

Dave Heath (1931-2016). RIP

i have only just learned that the great photographer and teacher Dave Heath had died a month ago on his 85th birthday. RIP Dave. He was a very special person whom after a period of correspondence and print swapping, I eventually met in Canada way back in 1980, while on my first University sabbatical. My slightly modified blog from 2013 is below:

Forty-four years ago, in 1969, I read a review of Dave Heath's book, A Dialogue with Solitude (1965), in Aperture magazine. To see Dave's book I requested a copy from the New Zealand National Library Service, which promptly acquired it. That is how we got to see books that would never reach a local library, let alone a book store, in those days. In the sense of how the term has recently been popularised by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, for example, A Dialogue with Solitude is a classic photobook. It is poetic and deeply personal while dealing with universal themes. And it is an emotional coaster ride through highly crafted black and white images exceptionally well printed to imitate in ink the full tonal scale of his silver prints. Few photography books had reached its level of perfection. I tried to buy a copy of  A Dialogue with Solitude but it was already out of print. (1) 

Dave Heath: Vengeful Sister (1956), from A Dialogue with Solitude

Dave Heath: Kansas City, Missouri, 1967

Through the kind help of Grace M Mayer, Curator of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art, I got Dave's address and wrote to him in Philadelphia, telling him what his book meant to me. I asked him how much he sold his prints for? And also asked if he would, perhaps, consider a print swap with me, so I didn't have to apply to the Government for an import licence. (Foreign currency was strictly controlled then, to prevent the spiralling overseas debt that has become commonplace today.)
Dave chose two prints - mounted and signed - and I sent him a series of eight unmounted "8x10"'s from my 'Beer Garden Wall' series which I had been working on with the poet, Patricia Godsiff, to make a book. One that never eventuated.(1)

Dave insured his prints for $US35 each, so in October 1969 I had to pay $NZ8 customs duty on delivery. He chose for me what became known as his 1956 'Vengeful Sister' image from A Dialogue with Solitude, and a new 1967 picture of a woman in a Kansas City street. for me. They were beautiful prints, so different tonally and emotionally, like night and day. I got them framed to hang on our living room wall in Paparangi, where they joined  two John Daley prints and some signed Paul Strand gravures from his then recent book, Tir A Mhurain. I couldn't afford much, but I was starting my own collection with work that I loved and was challenged by.

Such is time, reputation (and inflation), that today, when I need to raise more money for my publishing ambitions, one of Dave's prints is much more highly valued in the art market than his other. One print from his edition of 10 Vengeful Sister's, sold at a Swann's New York  auction for around $US17,000 a few years ago. That makes it the most expensive print in my collection, so far as I know. His other, equally strong but different, and virtually unknown 1967 image has been valued at around $US4,000, the price of a new work by a reputable photographer, or a solid early work by New Zealand's Laurence Aberhart or Anne Noble, for example. Admittedly, it is easier to love a classical image of a known theme - sibling warfare - than one of a clothed woman who continues to stare at the viewer with unsettling indifference. The disparity in market valuation, I suspect, is not so much to do with the content or craft of each work, but largely due to the fact that one has been often published and exhibited and the other has not. Collectors usually buy what they know - images or variants of images they have seen before - and examples with a pedigree of approval. Thus, Ansel Adams's 'Moonrise over Hernandez...', which in my view is not one of his very best works, but was eloquently written up by Nancy Newhall, became one of the all-time most-collected safe bets in photography.

I will be sorry to sell my favourite Dave Heath picture, but the sale of that one print could pay for the cost of printing a whole new book in China. I haven't seen the new version but A Dialogue with Solitude was republished in a slightly larger format a few years ago and is already fetching a good price through outlets like Photo-eye  ( which specialise in fine books and provides a valuable newsletter as well as auctions of quality books and prints.

While thinking about selling his prints, I contacted Dave Heath via a 2011 blog by Chris Buck (, one of his past students, to let him know of my intention. Chris had done a good interview with Dave in a 2006 blog, and was alerting friends that Dave had been hospitalised after a paralysing fall in his bathtub.

I forgot to mention that I did get my own copy of ADWS in 1969, when Dave sent me his only spare copy, which had a large blot on one page. The huge egg-sized hickey is an irritating eyesore when you get to it in the sequence, but I have come to think of it as special, in the way stamp collectors take perverse enjoyment (and cash) from printer's mistakes.

Dave has aged since we met in Ottawa, Canada, during my 1980 sabbatical from the University of
Auckland :) Now 82, he has put his camera aside and given up printing his work. At the time we met there was an exhibition of 'A Dialogue with Solitude' plus an exhibition of his polaroids, 'Songs of Innocence IV (after William Blake)' at the National Gallery of Canada. And he was also presenting a massive sound-slide show of his collection of vernacular photos, called 'Le Grand Album Ordinaire' with a sound track of Beatle's music at the time. It was an ambitious and impressive presentation which did a lot to capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s-1970s period.

I imagined that his second book, with the self-deprecating ironic title of Dave Heath's Art Show ( Ontario, (2007) may have grown out of his temporal multi-media productions, but he tells me that it is a collection of his digital colour work from 2001-2007.

His latest book, Eros and the Wounded Self, was self-published in 2010 to no acclaim by Blurb. He got 25 copies to give to friends, he told me, and has sold three copies through Blurb. Well, blow me down - this is laughable - and crazy - that the latest work of this brilliant photographer could go the way of self-published never-promoted digital books by thousands of competent, and occasionally talented workers much less accomplished than Heath. The way to obscurity - or virtual disappearance, as well as fame, is paved by blurbia. But that is still better than completely hiding the work by not publishing at all.

Dave Heath: from Eros and the Wounded Self

Dave Heath: from Eros and the Wounded Self

Dave Heath: from Eros and the Wounded Self

Dave Heath: from Eros and the Wounded Self

Blurb won't ship to my China address, I discovered, so while ordering a copy to be sent to Auckland instead, I decided to accept their discount of 30% on a second copy (smart last-second selling on their part). The books (hardbound version with dust jacket $US130.04, hardcover image wrap $US84.99) ended up costing $NZ150 each, and from the short time I spent looking at Eros and the Wounded Self on Blurb's website, and knowing Dave's earlier work, it is expensive but still good value. Why it hasn't been published as an offset book still alludes me.  Dave said that one problem with Blurb and buying copies in batches is that each batch is printed by a different printer, so quality is a bit uneven. 

The typography and design of Eros and the Wounded Self looks like it could do with some tweaking, but Heath's colour photographs of women (mainly) are distinguished. The book is dedicated to 'Sarah, the unknown mother' and in one sense, he is still the orphan child searching and longing for that all-important figure missing in his life. But he is an adult now having to deal with the complexities of sexual attraction, beauty for its own sake, as well as a sense of betrayal and an intense desire for intimacy and acceptance. 

The kind of longing and restraint expressed in Leonard Cohen's exquisite line, "I touch your perfect body with my mind," can be applied to Heath's new work. And however palpable it can be suggested in a photograph, or however illusory, there is often a feeling of intense held-back intimacy about Dave Heath's work, whether photographing strangers or people he knows and this feeling is heightened by colour.

Check out Keith F. Davis's poignant obituary and tribute to Dave from I Photo Central below:
Dave Heath obituary by Keith F Davis on I Photo Central

As Davis notes, a career retrospective curated by Michael Schreier was mounted at the Ottawa Art Gallery in 2013, and a book titled Dave Heath: A Heritage of Meaning, with an introduction by James Borcoman, was published by Blurb. Davis's show, titled 'Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath', with a book of the same title, debuted at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the fall of 2015, and will be on view at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Nov. 19, 2016 – March 19, 2017.  

(1) In fact, I wanted to buy three copies of A Dialogue with Solitude to share around as an example of what could be achieved with a personal essay. Coincidentally, at the time I was helping John Daley to make his own book. Then a shy and lonely young photographer working at the DSIR (Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) in Lower Hutt, he spent his spare nights and days searching for the meaning of life in Wellington city. Tentatively called 'City under Surveillance' his essay, extended to include images of Auckland, was finally published 30 years later as The Big Smoke (2004). Heath's book helped point him in the direction he wanted to go, and even as a successful commercial photographer in Auckland, John continued to make his personal work as well as inject its spirit into commercial assignments.

(2) I was never quite happy with the resolution of my 'Beer Garden Wall' series, and now realise that I had nobody, apart from Trish Godsiff, to enthuse about it and spur me on to surmount my hurdle of doubt. Making art is difficult enough, but making a fine photobook is more so. Not even the relative ease and low cost of electronic self-publishing can stop the niggling doubts of some of the talented people I know from preventing the birth of their own cherished book projects. Such niggles, in the big picture, are just that - small reservations with often little or no bearing on the actual quality of the work in question. But they are just as effective as bad timing, lack of ready funding, or the absence of positive support when it comes to aborting worthwhile projects. For a productive outcome, determination, courage, risk-taking, and anger at the world's indifference can beat the niggles every time.

(3) I would like to thank Dave Heath for allowing me to present some of his images on this blog, and more particularly for his inspiration and generosity.  I'm only just learning about designing this blog so the layout and typography is not yet what I am trying for, nor the selection of images as full as I would prefer. I'm looking forward to seeing Dave's latest books in the flesh.

(4) I think the final picture in this set of my choice is of Dave's good friend Robert Frank and his wife June.

Dave Heath: from Eros and the Wounded Self

Dave Heath: from Eros and the Wounded Self

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Saving and filing digital images - a potential nightmare

Well, the link to and from my website works and although I'm still shy about sending it to everybody on earth or cluttering the clouds, a couple of helpful comments from the small group I posted to show that the system is working. Now it's my job to work out what its use-value could be, in addition to saving paper and starving our postal systems in the process. And showing off.

I've shot so many digital images, made beautiful scans of historical and relatively contemporary analogue prints, and downloaded from the web so many interesting images by others that I now have a dozen external hard drives to search for "backed up" copies. One problem is that I didn't know what I was doing so made my first digital photos (in 2004) as jpegs because my then computer system could not open raw files. Later, to much advantage, Ian Macdonald, (who got me exhibiting again, through his Matakana Pictures gallery) advised me to shoot raw, which I habitually do now.
One early problem was that I stuffed up quite a few images when I was learning to use the dodging tools in Photoshop. Being colour blind I could not see the effects of the holding back and burning in that I was accustomed to doing in black and white silver printing. It had to be pointed out to me by Mala Mayo, who is a fine photographer with astute colour vision, that I had stripped out layers of colour as well as tone with my dodging. Very dodgy indeed. But then, when I was learning to print my own black and white images in the 1950s, the print quality wasn't so good either.
Another issue is that I used to turn the jpegs into tiffs so ended up with two sets of the same images, favouring the tiffs with subtle improvements. After that I made small jpegs from my tiff files so they could be emailed and took up less storage on my computer's hard drive. That seems ok, except that I am trying to get rid of surplus copies now that my upgraded computer system can handle more and bigger files with ease. I forgot that my very first original files were jpegs, so while banishing my surplus jpeg files, I accidentally trashed some of my earliest jpeg-only images. Which, I imagine, is the equivalent of ruining negatives or transparencies by spilling tea or coffee on them, without any possibility of enhancing them with the wear and tear.

Greer Twiss, John Leech Gallery, Auckland, 2010
Greer Twiss exhibition John Leech Gallery, Auckland, NZ, 
13 July 2010.
Anyway (as we all say today), while searching my collection of external hard drives for elusive Te Atatu images for my upcoming book, I came across some photographs I made at the opening of Greer Twiss's sculpture show at John Leech's gallery, Auckland, three years ago. I intended to burn a set to a CD for him but that never happened. Instead, today I am able to put a selection of jpeg copies of the best of them in Dropbox for him to pick up. When, that is, I can find his email to let him know. That's progress for you.
As usual, a few of the images seem quite good to me, so I will share them here as well, and might even put a set on my blog as an example of a fairly typical art show opening in Auckland. Which means: no formality - no introduction to the artist/s, probably on the assumption that everybody knows each other anyway! But they don't. I cannot put names to some of the faces in my pictures. The process of actually selling some of the work is also discreet. Nobody asked me to take any photos but I did. And so did Gil Hanly, who has an extraordinary record of the Auckland art scene, and as also for the social-political scene she seldom misses a significant event. Claudia Pond-Eyley, Paul Hartigan, Robert Ellis, TJ McNamara, Robin Lush, Allan Smith, gallery owner Gary Langsford, Dee Twiss and John B Turner were among those in attendance. It was a good show.

TJ McNamara and Gary Langsford behind admirers at Greer Twiss show, 2010


Starting this blog

Starting this blog is part of the learning curve I am on at the moment, trying to focus my energy, prioritise projects, and improve  my means of communication. I have lost touch with so many valuable friends and acquaintances over the years, and even family members, while busy with this or that project. Reconnecting and at least starting to catch up, albeit in a small way, is an exciting and rewarding aspect of the internet, as is making new contacts and friends.
As a teacher and editor I tended to be a kind of back-seat driver, keeping quiet about my own activities as a photographer to concentrate on helping others, except in an emergency. And, because good work deserves an intelligent and informed audience, and should speak for itself, I have encouraged many students, friends and colleagues to promote their own work more than they had - because it seemed significant. I enjoy stepping up for a cause like improving photo education, and sharing the excitement of engaging in detective work on aspects of the history of photography. Or encouraging personal growth through self-revelation via art and social commitment.
What I did not like about academia was how commercially obsessed with its own image it had become, and how little it really cared for the traditional ideals of a university, like encouraging truly independent thought and challenging the status quo. The ideal of academic freedom, of teachers and students becoming the critics and conscience of society (intellectual whistleblowers), has been grossly undermined. Public discussion of the failings or potential failings of one's university, is taken as a threat, rather than an opportunity for all points of view to be considered before it is too late.
Artists and art academics who vie for the positions of power are expected to become amateur bean counters, and the art of bean counting, as exemplified by the PRBF (Performance Based Research Funding), tightens the noose around academic freedom. Planning (not "forward planning" - is there such a thing as "backward planning") for improved PRBF results has become more important than encouraging self-revelation through making art, testing it with different audiences, and honing one's craft. Little time is scheduled for reflection or trying again to extract the essence of  what one is trying to say, through critical analysis of the first stumbling steps, that when, and if, understood, lead to work of greater depth and elegance.
That's enough about art politics, at least for the moment. It is what our students make of their talents that really matters. Though, occasionally I wonder about how far we have come without progressing when it comes to photographic education.
The point I want to make is that in "retirement", ironically, my usual aversion to blowing my own trumpet is being tested. Instead of grazing my life away, I decided on a radical change requiring not a little reorientaton and reinvention. I've got 50 years of my own involvement in photography to investigate and some interesting stuff to share. They include experiences and memories not yet committed to the public record, and, not least, thousands of my own photographs made, largely, for posterity, or just for myself to ''scratch an itch", as David Vestal put it.
Although now living in Beijing, I'm still involved in PhotoForum Inc, New Zealand, as PhotoForum's co-editor with Haru Sameshima. Among other things, we are working on my book of Te Atatu Peninsua photographs, and on 'PhotoForum at 40' (working title), a book and exhibition due out in 2014. More about this later.
I have just started my own web site, designed to function as a kind of  train station, with a gallery and museum attached, on this wwwonderful public transport system. I had to blow my trumpet to get it started, but it is not running properly yet.
To paraphrase an early Shanghai photo studio's motto I have just seen: Tell your friends if you find my blog and web site worthwhile. Tell me if you have any complaints or suggestions for improvement.

Beijing, 3 July 2013