‘Theatre of the Untold ‘ My collaborative project with Thai Choreographer Jitti Chompee will be officially launched with a solo show at Galerie Olivier Waltman on Nov 6th 2015 as part of Festival photo Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Galerie Olivier Waltman
74, rue Mazarine
t : + 33 1 43 54 76 14
Métro/RER : Saint-Michel / Odéon
Fourteen years ago today, I landed in Bangkok to begin working as a correspondent for the Corbis Sygma agency. The very last London assignment before moving here was to photograph one of my heroes on stage, the amazing PJ Harvey, a very fitting way to bid farewell to London Town. This old hand print has been on my pin board in every incarnation of my office space ever since and has suffered a fair amount from the humidity, dust and light. I’d like to think that I fared better! There have been some very high and very low points, but over all the experience has been a fascinating adventure… And I thank thee all, including all the exiles, nomads, wanderers, and the departed too, friends old and new, for keeping me on my toes, and insuring there was never really a dull moment!
“It is preferable not to travel with a dead man.” Henri Michaux
Paris, the beginning of summer 1995, I just got the results of my Baccalauréat littéraire (en: literary Baccalaureate) I’m through to the next round and next chapter of my life, university. Excited? Not hugely, as I had picked a field of study for no other reason than the “necessity” of holding some sort of degree. It was a weird blend of linguistics, and other things known back then as LLCE… High-school had been a rollercoaster ride of rock-n-roll, punk, grunge, skateboarding, friend’s suicides and reflections on Albert Camus’ “absurd”, terrible paintings, slightly better drawings, and eye roll inducing poetry, and a brain somewhat fried by the 8 hours philosophy per week imposed on French literature high school students…
I had a cinema student pass in hand and time to kill, after buying a record (I believe it was the new PJ Harvey album), I headed off to UGC Odeon cinema got myself a seat for a matinee session of Dead Man, Jim Jarmusch’s black and white period piece, exploring the themes of voyage, death, purgatory and staring Johnny Depp. It was 11 am and I was alone in the cinema, I had not read up on it, but had watched Stranger than Paradise and Down By Law before and loved them…
There’s really no other way to describe what happened: my mind was blown… From the stunning black and white cinematography by Robby Müller, to Depp’s acting, Neil Young’s trance-like soundtrack, William Blake’s grandiose poetry, a hilarious cameo by Iggy Pop, the film got me on every level… I was transfixed, in shock and there and then knew I had to live my life through creating images…
Bit of a dilemma really, as I had enrolled and been accepted into the wrong field now… But that soon lost its importance as the French system of university studies has some annoying and hilarious quirks to it that turned out to be my saving grace. You see, we had “options obligatoires” literally, compulsory options… Ah France… Anyway, I took a lot of these options, most memorable was Documentary Film Making taught by a completely mad but brilliant professor with whom I eventually drove around the whole of Ireland in my final year for a Uni film project, and got drunk on Bushmills with hardcore republican 80 year olds in Belfast, who threw us out because I had mentioned a “classic Irish song” that was actually written by an English man (oops) “Feck off… That’s not oirish!” Dom is now a good friend and attends my openings in Paris. (There’s definitely a most entertaining blog piece coming on that Irish trip of ours…) There was also History of Cinema and Photography, taught by a somewhat snobby and strict but very passionate man, who happened to be personal friends of Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman. Us meeting Kubrick never happened because he died a month before that was meant to have happened, but he did bring us Boorman and we got to see his brilliant film The General in his presence. I also got to show Boorman my first ever exhibition (on Ireland), which featured one of my first sets of (obviously brilliantly mounted) darkroom hand prints falling off a panel as I showed them to him… He did say he liked my images from Belfast though (one of which was on the floor at the time)…
I had also gotten membership at the Uni’s darkroom and took a printing course with a very flamboyant French-Vietnamese fashion photographer… After getting yelled at multiple times for wasting chemicals I was eventually put on the list of us few who were allowed to use the dark room after hours and on holidays, I ended up spending pretty much all my spare time holed up in there. In the end I paid way more attention to these “options” than the main curriculum, scraped through the course, got my bachelors degree, enrolled for a masters but never turned up… All the while, I was saving money to buy pro gear by working as a translator, teacher and bilingual telesales operator, working on mind numbing projects like giving support to IT professionals on things I had no understanding of, such as 3D design software; answering with the not at all generic name of John Smith (ah the advantages of being French/British).
Anyway, I made that cash and I went straight off to London to kick-start my career shooting freelance for Sygma, the French agency and working at a hotel reception part time so as to afford silly London rents… It was a blast, energy levels were very high and working these long hours made perfect sense… Over the course of my career so far, came many moments where I wondered if this choice, to be a photographer, was indeed the right one. But re-watching Dead Man or even just editing work while listening to the soundtrack, was and is always a good reminder as to why I could not consider doing anything else, at least for now… In short, Mr Jarmusch I thank you for this masterpiece!
To be continued…
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
My first encounter with the world of sak yant (yantra tattooing) was at the famed Wat Bang Phra temple in Nakorn Chaisi on the day of its Wai Khru ceremony. This was back in 2003, early on during my stint in Thailand, covering the event for a magazine feature; not knowing then, that I would later go much deeper and embark on one of the most ambitious projects of my career, “Yantra: The Sacred Ink”.
Over the years, I grew more intrigued by local beliefs in magic and how widespread, across all social divides, superstition was in the south east Asian region. I wanted to work on a personal project to explore this and discover how local spiritual traditions often incorporate magic and superstitions. In Thailand, I was particularly curious about people’s need to seek “protection” from bad luck, evil spirits and danger by using sacred and “magic” text, or “Yantra”.
Yantra is often written on cloth, used to bless cars, homes and businesses. But it also adorns the human body in the shape of spiritual tattoos known as Sak Yant (Yantra tattoos). It is an age old tradition, with historical records as old as 200 BC, from the Chinese Qin Dynasty depicting tattooed men in the region. The spiritual Yantra or Sak Yant tattoo tradition (Sak means to tap, whilst yant is derived from the Sanskrit word yantra, meaning scared geometrical design), is practiced across southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. The complex spiritual landscape in the region incorporates elements of Buddhist, Brahman, Hindu and Animist traditions.
The first portrait session happened by chance when, on assignment, I met a shipyard worker, inked head to toe with script and magic spells, and arranged to return the following week with a 6×6 medium format camera.
I was later introduced to tattoo masters who eventually allowed me to witness and photograph countless ceremonies, blessings and tattooing sessions.
I then began seeking out sitters all over Thailand to photograph them for the large format portrait series featured in ‘Yantra: The Sacred Ink’.
Shot on a 4×5” camera the series of black-and-white portraits – the negatives of which are chemically altered by brushing various chemicals onto the emulsion, depict men from all walks of life and all ages, proudly showing the inked protection on their bodies.
The ‘Yantra: The Sacred Ink’ project was officially first launched on May 25th 2011, with a major exhibition at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University Art center, featuring 56 black & white prints, a multimedia display with images and sound as well as antique Yantra shirts (historically used by Thai soldiers for protection in battle) loaned by the Museum Siam.
Extract from the short film “Yantra: The Sacred Ink’ – Currently on show at musée du quai Branly in Paris, (May 2014 – October 2015) and on show at Tropen museum in Amsterdam from March 20th to August 20th 2015
‘Body Art’ MAS | Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp – Feb 16 – April 17 2016
‘Sacred Realm’ Museum of Folk Art, Santa Fe – Feb 28, 2016 to March 19, 2017
‘Tattoos’, Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario – April – Sept 2016
‘Tatoueurs, tatoués’, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. May 6th 2014 – Oct 15th 2015
Body Art, Tropen Museum, Amsterdam – March 20th – August 20th 2015
‘Yantra: The Sacred ink’ Galerie Olivier Waltman, Paris – May-Jun 2014
‘Yantra’ – Galerie Olivier Waltman, London Art Fair, Jan 2014
Festival Photo Saint-Germain-des-Prés Galerie Olivier Waltman, Paris – Nov 2013
ASEAN (‘Sacred Ink’) – Le Magasin de Jouets, Arles – July – Sept 2013
‘Sacred Ink’ – SNAP Photo Festival, Orlando – May 2013
‘Sacred Ink’ – Nov 2012 – Jan 2013 – Farmani Gallery – Bangkok
‘Sacred Ink, The Tattoo Master’ Oct – Dec 2012 Brunei Gallery London – SOAS
‘Sacred Ink’ May 2011 Chulalongkorn University Art Centre – Bangkok
For more info and photographs of the exhibitions, click here
Selected Print publications
“Tattoo” – Actes Sud / Musée du quai Branly
“Encre Sacrée” – Geo Magazine, France
“L’art dans la peau” – Le Monde Magazine, France
“Carving Spirituality” – Picture Power, Newsweek Japan
“Grand designs” – Spectrum – The Sunday Times Magazine
“Yantra: The Sacred Ink” – January Art Magazine, Australia
Yantra: The Sacred Ink” – The Trip Magazine – Italy
“Yantra: The Sacred Ink” Hey! Modern Art and Pop Culture – France
Online features, interviews & profiles:
France Fine Art
Newsweek / Daily Beast
Sport et Style
Art Market Review
Excerpts from reviews
” There’s a certain unnerving juxtaposition about Cedric Arnold’s photography. There is an obvious potency, or aggression – men standing in various stages of undress, stoic, staring, unblinking; yet there is a reverence or calm that provides depth and intrigue.” – January Art Magazine
“Arnold’s powerful, yet sensitive portraits present a mystical subculture through its rituals, and symbols; a chest etched with a fierce leaping tiger, a hand adorned with images of geckos on each finger, a back protected by a monkey God, or a shoulder inscribed with ancient Khmer text…” – Wayne Ford
Gallery representation / Paris
The Irish Playwright, literary critic and essayist was an avid amateur photographer, taking and collecting around 20,000 images between the 1870s to 1950. Shaw began his love affair with photography in 1898 when he bought his first camera, a simple box camera. He continued taking photographs until his death in 1950, using a variety of cameras. Before he began taking pictures himself, Shaw had already been an advocate of photography as an art form, writing on the subject and reviewing photographic exhibitions.
“I always wanted to draw and paint. I had no literary ambition: I aspired to be a Michael Angelo, not a Shakespeare. But I could not draw well enough to satisfy myself; and the instruction I could get was worse than useless. So when dry plates and push buttons came into the market I bought a box camera and began pushing the button.”
Shaw’s collection, which the National Trust handed to the London School of Economics in 1979, gives a fascinating insight into literary, artistic and political life during Shaw’s lifetime. It also features images taken by his friend TE Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia – during the Arab Revolt. A conservation and digitization project was launched in 2010 at LSE the school he was a co-founder of.
On the above photograph he declared: “I’ve posed nude for a photographer in the manner of Rodin’s Thinker, but I merely looked constipated.”
His enthusiasm for photography, the human form and the accuracy of reproduction that the medium allowed is perhaps a reference to the original story of Pygmalion, and the idea of bringing artwork to life, or at least representing the human form as accurately as possible. He certainly saw photography as the perfect opportunity to explore a more accurate representation of the human form, and commented on this several times.
As a reply to press comments on his posing in the nude for “Le Penseur”, “The Thinker” (above) he went on to say: “Though we have hundreds of photographs of [Charles] Dickens and [Richard] Wagner, we see nothing of them except the suits of clothes with their heads sticking out; and what is the use of that?” Though throughout the years Shaw photographed countless luminaries of his time, I found his self-portraits particularly interesting, ranging from the serious to the playful, audacious and experimental… From self portraits showing the intense eyes of a drama writer in classic poses, to more adventurous lighting as well as playful images using mirrors both nude and clothed, Shaw certainly went beyond the norms of early photography.
On photography and nudity Shaw said:
Shaw was also an early critic of image manipulation. “Technically good negatives are more often the result of the survival of the fittest than of special creation or “retouching” which can only be compared to the pipes and moustaches with which portraits of the sovereigns of England get decorated. [manipulated/retouched images] ought…to be excluded from a photographic exhibition, on the simple grounds that it is not photography.” From Shaw’s article for an exhibition by his friend Alvin Coburn (1906).
Now available to view on Vimeo – This short – 4:34 minute cut of the film Yantra: The Sacred Ink uses footage shot between 2008 and 2014, it shows the tattooing process and ceremonies attached to the tradition, as well as the state of trance, or “Khong Khuen” (animal Spirit possession), tattooed devotees enter when “possessed” by the spirit of their tattoos.
The full version of the film will be released at a later date. For more info on the photographic project Yantra: The Sacred Ink, as well as exhibitions please visit this page: cedricarnold.com/portfolio/photographs/yantra-the-sacred-ink/
During a visit to Ireland a few years ago, I went to an exhibition on Francis Bacon and the fascinating contents of his chaotic London studio. After the painter’s death, everything in his famed 7 Reece Mews studio was left untouched for years and eventually all donated to Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery. Paint brushes, canvases, documents, photographs, were all carefully cataloged and moved to Dublin for the eventual reconstruction of the space in Dublin. And the Hugh Lane really did put together something special, I imagined it would be his studio space with the original contents and a few supporting documents, but with all that was made accessible, it turned out to be one of the best exhibits I’ve been to in a long time.
Thousands of photographic prints, magazine reproductions, scientific manuals, were found littered around his London studio, ranging from images of Mohamed Ali & Marylyn Monroe, to studies of human and animal movement, war imagery, and reproductions of work by classic painters such as Velasquez and Rembrandt. Most of the images were creased, crumpled even torn and paint stained. I knew Bacon had used some photography as inspiration, but had no idea it was to that extent… A vast database of all these pictures was accessible via touch screens on the gallery’s walls, including information on how they influenced his work, a unique insight into Bacon’s approach to painting, a man who was never filmed or closely watched while painting. The database featured images that influenced his paintings, passport pictures, even holiday snaps, and countless portraits of himself by famed photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson, all paint stained and creased, sometimes torn, and put back together… Discovering this side of Bacon was like discovering a new artist, I stayed there for ages searching through all the documents available, fascinating.
Eadweard Muybridge’s work (above), heavily influenced the way Bacon expressed the human body’s movements. The pioneering photographer developed a multiple camera system in the 1870s to record movement sequences first of animals and humans. A whole room full of paint stained, torn and crumpled reproductions of Muybridge’s work, originally found in Bacon’s London studio was on display at the gallery. Bacon would often go to the Victoria & Albert museum, just round the corner form his studio, where all the original plates were kept, he later acquired reproductions and used them extensively for core elements of his paintings.
Bacon on Muybridge “Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together, and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge and learn about the ampleness, the grandeur of form from Michelangelo. …
Bacon also used a still image from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin as an influence for his Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X 1953 (bellow)
Photography played a major role in Bacon’s work. Many of the photographs found in the studio were of Bacon, his friends and various other subjects. During his lifetime, Bacon accepted only a handful of commissions. From the early 1960s he chose his closest friends as sitters, preferring to work not from life but from their photographs.
He grew up in the age of photo documentary, with then new magazines such as Life in the US and Picture Post in the UK giving him a wealth of imagery which could often filter into his paintings through his unique and seemingly random or even careless treatment of photographs. But on closer inspection it soon becomes apparent that he would often engage in a complex form of pre-painting groundwork with the images that could be described as an art form in its own right. Creases, folds, tears and paint stains on photographs often appear to be Bacon’s own form of sketching.
Early on, he would collect all images that he thought he could use and alter for paintings. But he became more discerning and began commissioning photographers for much more specific projects. Vogue photographer John Deakin worked with Bacon and photographed the painter’s friends and his partner George Dyer. Bacon would later go on to use a Deakin image of Dyer (his now dead partner) as a reference for a portrait of his then partner John Edwards (bellow)
When interviewed, Francis Bacon often talked about his own spontaneity in painting , about how he never sketched before painting or drew outlines on canvases. The discoveries in 7 Reece Mews shed light on how he actually worked his way towards a finished painting. For all his brilliant legacy of portraits, he only ever painted four sitters from life the rest from photographs, this allowed him the space and time for behind the scenes planning with the aid of photographs. I found the damaged, creased, torn and paint stained photographic portraits really powerful and inspiring.
An exhibition in London in 2010 called “In Camera” featured many of the originals, and a fascinating book of the same name has since been published.
The Photographer’s Gallery in London dedicated an exhibition earlier this year to John Deakin’s photographs of Soho. The show, entitled ‘Under the Influence’ (John Deakin and the lure of Soho) featured a photograph of a woman captioned “party goer” – The Guardian newspaper recently revealed in their article “CIA facial software uncovers the artist Francis Bacon – In drag” The resemblance is uncanny but there remains the issue of cleavage…
“One question still remains. While the face is very much like Bacon’s and the mole on the model’s chest closely matches that which can be seen in the famous picture of Bacon holding two sides of meat, it is impossible to ignore the substantial cleavage.”
Paris’ Musée du quai Branly launched its Tatoueurs, tatoués exhibition last week. The biggest of its kind, the 18 month long exhibition features photographs, films, original tattoo artwork on synthetic silicone skins and antique objects from all over the world illustrating the art of tattooing from its very origins and oldest traditions to modern practice.
The museum, along with the flamboyant curators Anne et Julien, the people behind art and pop culture magazine Hey! enlisted the help of anthropologists, historians and modern tattoo artists to source an impressive, comprehensive and fascinating collection.
Here are some of my favorites from the exhibition