London Art Spot: Maximiliano Braun

Meet Maximiliano. Born in 1983 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, he studied at the University of Utah and then in completed his MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography in London where he now lives and works.

While I found his still life photography in the Elephant & Caste Community book published by the London College of Communication, his real interest lies in reportage photography. He is currently expanding on a project called Stay With Me, building a database of multimedia and photographic experiences from families and individuals who have been affected by brain injury.

Maximiliano has taken some time out to answer a few questions for this week’s London Art Spot. He talks about his experience working in the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle, lets us in on the expected outcome of his Stay With Me project and shares some of his wonderful photography.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your photography?
MB:
I think the fact your have so many galleries, awards and other contests based in London, and the UK as a whole, helps seeing the diversity of work coming up from the young emerging photographers to those who are more established and, in many cases (like the Barbican’s This is War and the travelling World Press Photo exhibitions) works that are seldom seen in other cities.

LLO: I first came across your work in the Community book put out by London College of Communication as part of the Elephant & Castle project, an area that is now being regenerated. Tell us a bit about your experience working on the book
MB:
The book was edited by Patrick Sutherland and promoted by the London College of Communication and Southwark Council. As the book mentions, Southwark Council and LCC’s MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography students are commissioned to produce a body of work about the Elephant and Castle area and the changes and life that develop there. The area, as you note, is being regenerated and the book helps keep record of the Elephant and Castle life, architecture and it’s citizens seen through the eyes of those attending the MA at LCC.

The idea from doing Cast Off came after a colleague of mine told me that apartments were being sealed permanently at the Heygate Estate. They do this to avoid squatters to populate the vacated apartments which, eventually, will be demolished to allow for new estate housing projects being developed. I always thought that objects possessed by people tell something about themselves. So I set out to document the objects left behind found in the vacated apartments to speculate about what kind of people lived there.

LLO: You said this still life work was a one off and you are now a reportage photographer. What have you gained both personally and professionally from switching your approach?
MB:
I began doing reportage, or trained for it, before the Elephant and Castle project. The idea of the work is not far, if at all, from the idea of producing a photographic reportage, though it does not contain the traditional approach to reportage. The viewer is welcome to assess the work however they want, but it would be misleading to imagine that I was not doing reportage before the Elephant and Castle project. There were other more traditional reportage ideas that I would have wanted to do during that term, but neither of them came to fruition.

LLO: Your most recent project is called Stay With Me, quite different from what you were doing in the Elephant. How did this project start?
MB:
Stay With Me has been a long running project that began during the MA at LCC. I would say Stay With Me, so far, and compared to my Dad series, is what I have always dreamt of developing since I began doing documentary photography. Roughly in 2004 I read an article in a newspaper about a mother who visited her child who was then, and maybe still is, in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). As my father is old (99 now),  I’ve had the experience of being in hospitals throughout my youth and I could clearly sympathise with the woman written about in the article. It struck me deeply and I never forgot about it. When, for our thesis project at LCC, I was given the chance to document whatever I was interested in, I remembered the article and I decided to find out what is life like for families who have a relative in a PVS. Stay With Me, since then, evolved into looking at family and brain injury as a whole and the way life goes on.

LLO: It’s a worldwide project. Where have been shooting and researching for it so far?
MB:
I have documented families in the US, England, Northern Ireland, South Africa and soon will do some work in Bolivia.

LLO: Tell us a bit about what you hope it will achieve and what will be the final result.
MB:
Stay With Me will, in time, become a segmented story of families around the globe and the lives they lead dealing with brain injury. Stay With Me’s own website will become more interactive not only for the viewers, but for the families that participated by allowing me to document their everyday. There will be a blog type page for every family for them to update the site and its viewers on the latest developments in their lives.

LLO: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far to get a shot you wanted?
MB:
I cannot recall specific shots I ‘wanted’. I pretty much go with the flow with everyone I document. Challenges come out every time when you are shooting. The real and constant challenge is to convey in a photograph what you see and make sure it is good enough the audience gets a hint of it.

LLO: Before completing your MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography, you studied Anthropology, Mathematics, French and Photography at the University of Utah and then Fashion Photography in London – an interesting mix. How does this background play into your interests and work today?
MB:
I think that all you do and have done in the past influences you in one way or another. Anthropology is useful in photojournalism, as well as speaking other languages. I did fashion photography because I like the idea of creating imagery from nothing. I liked the commercial aspect of it and thought of it as an interesting vessel to communicate ideas, dreams and lifestyles. I began doing documentary because I wanted a more interactive and investigative approach to things I was interested in. As you know and encounter several people around you during your life, you learn several things. All those I have know from the US and those I got to know in the UK and abroad have helped me in looking at things with a diversity of viewpoints. I think the most important aspect I have learnt is how to interact with different people when working.

LLO: You have some stunning and emotional images in a series called Dad on your website. Can you share one of your favourites and tell us a bit about this collection?
MB:
I just want to remember my father and my time with him. There really isn’t much to it beyond that.

LLO: Have you thought about other subjects you’d like to tackle photographically in the future?
MB:
I only tackle things photographically, I don’t know what else I can do, really. I have several subjects in my mind. I always run with at least 3 projects in my mind; the one I am shooting, one that I am about to shoot and one I am beginning to research into. Unfortunately some of these are time sensitive and I won’t be able to elaborate more on them.

Thanks Maximiliano!

For more about Maximiliano or Stay With Me:
http://www.maximilianobraun.net
http://www.staywithmeproject.com

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

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Little Londoner with a Big Heart

It doesn’t seem so long ago that my brother and I would set up a lemonade stall on our suburban New York street waiting for thirsty grown-ups to walk by and pay us a few cents for a glass. Usually, it was just a few stragglers and grandma dressed up as a stranger trying to trick us into thinking she was a real customer. At the end of the day, we would take down our lopsided “Lemonade 4 Sale” sign, divvy up the coins and head to the Corner Store to gorge ourselves on penny candy.

On Sunday, heading back over to Brick Lane from Columbia Road Flower Market with my visiting family, we stopped by a small girl with a little wooden bear stool selling tiny cupcakes she decorated herself. She was 8-years-old and standing there alone by the pathway. She wasn’t at all intimidated by nine adults towering over her asking questions.

“How much are your cupcakes?”
She replied, “They’re a donation.”
“How much do people usually donate?”
“About one pound,” she said.

Photo taken by Pat Sadler

After she answered more questions about the treats topping each one – dark chocolate, sprinkles, Smarties, we asked what she was going to spend her money on.

“I’m not keeping it,” she explained slowly. “It’s for a charity, for an orphanage in South Africa, for children, so they can have a nicer place to live.”

How precious is that?  

London Art Spot: Gill Apple

Meet Gill Apple – creative in every sense of the word, but a tattoo artist at heart, which is soon to become a full-time career. Gill packed up home in sunny South Africa five years ago and found herself some 9,000 kilometers away under the grey sky of London. Despite escaping every winter, she’s still here every time the dreaded cold season passes.

It was in a small town called Vereeinging, just south of Jo’burg, where Gill grew up – often climbing trees to look over the big city for her first perspective of the wider world. She met some fascinating people there: artists, goths, punks, skinheads, drug dealers. It had a strong subculture where everyone belonged – a little Camden. Some of her fondest memories were created in a bar nearby called Rafterz where some great musicians began careers. Rafterz never closed, so Gill and her friends never left. Between periods of studying and unemployment, they would all gravitate there, listening to alternative music, playing pool, jumping off the balcony when they finally headed home.

Happiness 1

When Gill’s not tattooing, she’s reading books on Hindu philosophy by the great Sages. Currently, she’s got The World Within the Mind on her bedside table. The books she reads, as well as the diverse selection of music in her collection, tend to relate to another world – much different from everyday life. These things remind her that there’s more than work and money. Ramdom fact relating to both music and another world: Gill plans to have “Return to Sender” by Elvis, played at her funeral. In her free time, she paints and draws emotions, currently focussed on a series called “Study in Happiness” where all of the pictures are ironically sad.

She also writes poems like this on that never rhyme:

‘Push the splints of your disillusion into me
Through me
Holding me
Deep into the earth
Over which fire, water and air find entrapment and redemption
Give to me the very essence of being
The secrets some dare tell
Blow the soul of a weeping willow around what i despise
and then
move me to the foot of a forthcoming end
for i failed to hold the sun
when i could no longer see’

Gill’s London lies mainly in Camden, but on a night out you might catch her dancing the night away anonymously, lost in her daydreams at Slimelight (Isllington) or Electric Dreams (a regular club night at The Purple Turtle in Camden or The London Stone in the City). If you meet her there, she will play up the dream and tell you stories about a life that is not her own. Meet her in daylight, she will tell the truth. For this week’s London Art Spot, Gill’s shared a bit of that truth as you just read and shows off some of her tattoo designs:

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
GA:
 London to me is busy and bursting at the seams with a contradiction of cultures and experiences; it has a million little worlds inside it. Where you move around in it defines how your life will unfold. At times I feel like a voyeur. This strange sense of feeling isolated within one of the busiest places  in the world inspires me to draw and create my emotions. When I create, I am interacting and documenting my time here. I can most vividly remember how I felt in a certain moment when I look at something I’ve created. Obviously, being in a very creative city forces you to push the boundaries.

LLO: How long have you been tattooing?
GA:
4 years

LLO: Which London-based tattoo artists do you most admire?
GA:
Kamil Mocet – I love his bold designs; they remind me of oil paintings

LLO: Best London tattoo studio?
GA:
Evil From the Needle

LLO: Which design are you most proud of and why?
GA:
I guess my newest design – the arm piece on myself. It is a freehand design with red flowers and grey wash backgrounds. The colours work well together and the design flows. But having said that, every piece I do I always see areas I can improve. I’m still in search of perfection… 

LLO: Describe your style.
GA:
Art noveau, organic. I love the flowing freehand designs, patterns that weave and flow. I love using only black or a few bold colours offset with grey shading. Flowers are my current ‘theme’, I guess, with Japanese backdrops or pattern work.

LLO: How do you see your art fitting into your future?
GA:
In the future I plan to only tattoo and create art pieces, so to answer your question, art will be my life in the future (right after I quit my day job).

LLO: What obstacles would you face to get into the business of tattooing full time?
GA:
Mostly getting the capital and confidence to say ‘right thats it, I’m opening up my own shop’. I believe most obstacles are self-created, that we are our own obstacles to success.

LLO: How do people get in touch with you if they’re interested in your work?
GA:
 Mail me – w.gillian@live.co.uk

Thanks Gill!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

World AIDS Day

 
Today is World AIDS Day. Coincidently, I just finished reading a book in which the protagonist commits suicide after discovering that his lifelong habit of seeking out unprotected sex with random women had left his body infected with AIDS (The Company of Women by Khushwant Singh). I thought I would post on the topic since today seems to be the day to raise awareness.

Sunday Times article about possible plans to make HIV testing routine in this country stated that: “There are believed to be 77,000 people living with HIV in the UK. More than 25,000 people have developed AIDS and 18,787 have died.” The CIA World Fact Book listed countries by number of people  living with HIV/AIDS in 2009. African countries fill the top ten with the virus most prevalent in South Africa. The exception is India fourth and the US eighth. While the UK may not be extremely high on the list, a lot of people who come from high risk areas do live here and Brits travel to high risk areas as well.

The Metro highlighted a story the other day about Poipet, a border town between Cambodia and Thailand where sex trafficking is an issue and so is AIDS. Forced or voluntary prostitution also spreads HIV. A number of Western tourists who travel abroad where the underground sex industry is in easy reach are at a serious risk of bringing it home.

Mr Kumar thoroughly enjoyed “the company of women” and his life story was certainly interesting, but his suicide highlights the stigma that still exists around the virus (whether or not it is sexully transmitted) and the end of his life was early, tragic and full of regrets.

LINKS

Events in the UK

World AIDS Day 2009

The Company of Women