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Preview: The Spoken Image with Eamonn McCabe (Radio 4)

Not so long ago the idea of a radio programme devoted to discussing photographs might have seemed a bit odd. How effective could a presenter be in describing the images? In fact, the idea has worked well in the past. Earlier this year Radio 3 did a series of five programmes which discussed The Five Photographs That (You Didn’t Know) Changed Everything.  With the right presenter radio is often a more effective medium than television in discussing with visual media. These days, of course, for much of the audience radio is supported by online resources and the images can be viewed before or during the programme. For many, of course, the images will already be familiar, part of our personal visual memory.

This programme uses the photographer and former Picture Editor at The Guardian, Eamonn McCabe, to curate his personal photography exhibition on the radio. He has selected ten images that have inspired or moved him during his fifty years in the business.

The selection includes Don McCullin’s The Guvnors, Finsbury Park, London  (1959). This was the image that launched McCullin’s career with a half-page in The Observer and inspired McCabe who came from a similar background just a few streets from McCullin. David Bailey’s The Kray Twins (1965) and Chris Smith’s Mohammed Ali in Miami are each powerful portraits. By contrast Willi Ronis’s Le Nu Provençal, Gordes, 1949 is an intimate portrait of his wife. Nickolas Muray’s Soldiers of the Sky which McCabe first discovered in The Royal Photographic Society Collection applies a fashion aesthetic to war propaganda;  and McCabe’s former Observer colleague Jane Bown’s portrait of Anthony Blunt, 1979, is perceptive, revealing more than her subject would have wished.

There are four photographs that are not portraits: J H Lartigue’s Automobile Delage, Circuit de Dieppe, 26 June 1912 marks a start in photo-journalism and clearly resonates with McCabe. Joel Meyerowitz’s  Assembled panorama of the World Trade Center site, Fall 2001 captures a high-definition view of Ground Zero showing a detail and stillness that remains gut-wrenching and painful to observe nearly fifteen years on.  The final two: Michael Kenna’s Curraghs, Dingle, 1982, and Raymond Moore’s Pembrokeshire, 1967, both provide a sense of peace and calmness and a view into other worlds.

So what does McCabe’s selection tells us as viewers of photography? The interviews with some of the photographers and the use of the own words adds a background to the images. The photographs reflect McCabe’s own interests as a photographer and photo-journalist. As someone who has looked at millions of images he concludes that, ultimately, photography is not about freezing a moment in time, nor about the equipment used. The best photographs are about capturing an emotion and connecting us with the past. Bailey says as much ‘it’s the emotion that counts’ and McKenna’s black and white image of upturned curraghs reducing the scene to its monochrome core and bring out emotions in McCabe from childhood. Ronis’s work, to McCabe, is ‘pure poetry’.

And that is why a radio works so well with photography.  Look at the photographs, listen to the programme, feel emotions inside you stir and hear the images speak.

Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS

The Spoken Image

BBC Radio 4
To be transmitted Monday, 7 Sept 2015 at 4pm and then available on the BBC iPlayer
Producer:  Olivia Landsberg
The images can be seen here:

Hear more photography on BBC Radio 4 here:

Image: © Jack Stephenson / BBC. Eamonn McCabe.

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