Arts & Culture: Edgar Martins – This is Not a House

Today me and the boy spent the day taking one of our favourite walks, which is along the Thames between Canary Wharf and Wapping, and dropped in to The Wapping Project along the way. Located in a disused hydraulic power station, it houses a restaurant and art space and is currently showing Edgar MartinsThis is Not a House.

Edgar Martins: This is Not a Home at The Wapping Project

The exhibition features a series of photographs taken in 2008, which explore the dilapidated and abandoned spaces which were left behind after the sub-prime mortgage crisis . The photographs were originally commissioned as a photojournalism project by the New York Times and Martins visited six locations across the USA, photographing empty homes, golf courses and hotels.

The curation of the exhibition space fits perfectly with the photographs. The concrete gallery has been blacked out, with only a few spotlights illuminating the works, so they seem to exist in an empty space themselves. Bleak sound effects including dripping water and eerie winds are piped into the background, giving the whole exhibition a really unnerving effect on the viewer.

Edgar Martins: This is Not a Home at The Wapping Project

Edgar Martins: This is Not a Home at The Wapping Project

Martins wanted to convey the way we, as a society, put our narratives and identities onto the buildings and spaces around us. So when these buildings are abandoned, they represent a break in ourselves, especially for a country like the USA, whose whole history and identity is built around the idea of exploration and settling.

“The houses depicted in this series do not refer just to the particular. They are images of spatial assemblages, of kinds of stages on which a number of quite different (and perhaps incompatible) narratives might be enacted,” Martins explains. “These images, these houses, these ruins, reflect back at us the human constructs that we project and impose on them.”

Interestingly, when the project was published in the New York Times, it caused a considerable controversy when it was discovered that Martins had digitally altered some of the images. This not only upset readers but was apparently a breach of his contract. Martins responded by releasing an essay entitled, How Can I See What I See Until I Know What I Know  in which he argues that his photos were not dependent on the ideas of photojournalism but were trying to get the viewer to think about his or her reaction to them. In other words, it’s more about the process of communicating, about getting the viewer to think about the fact and the construction of the image at the same time.

Edgar Martins: This is Not a Home at The Wapping Project

“Bernardo Soares (one of Fernando Pessoa’s many heteronyms) wrote ‘some truths cannot be told except as fiction’. Perhaps it may also be the case that some truths are better told as ‘fiction’,” Martins explains in the essay. I found it quite interesting to think that while we will easily accept digital manipulation in magazines when it comes to images of human beings, we are outraged when this happens in photojournalism. Although I think this should have been made clear in the article, it is interesting that people are upset when they feel their history has been doctored and yet they are only happy to have their own physicality Photoshopped into unreality.

The works in This is Not a House cause us to question what we know about reality and fiction. Even when photos have not been digitally altered, they are still inevitably constructs of the photographer. Someone is pointing a camera, many scenes are artificially set up. Where do we draw the line in terms of what we will believe? What is really important is the inescapable reality of the people who have lost their homes, while the people who caused the financial crisis are back to bonuses as usual.

Style: New Fashion Interventions in Materials and Techniques

New Fashion: Interventions in Materials and Techniques is the newest exhibition at the Fashion Space galleries at the London College of Fashion. This is the first in a series of three exhibits; starting with fashion design, then moving on to illustration and finally photography.

New Fashion explores how eight fresh designer labels are pushing boundaries in how they create contemporary womenswear, with garments chosen from both graduate and recent collections. It is interesting to see how the exhibition has been put up; it’s divided into four categories (emotion, tradition, form and forward thinking) instead of having them presented per designer.

Una Burke

I would say the by far most interesting piece at New Fashion is by Una Burke. Being leather and studs, and very much restrictive in how they are worn, they can almost remind a bit of S&M. They are the only two pieces under the category emotion. Burke had one piece called ‘Praying arm’, which certainly made me think twice, as at a first glance the first word to pop into my mind was a straightjacket. Beautiful non-the-less.

One label I can’t go without mentioning is Fyodor Golan, who won this years Fashion Fringe award. They had two outfits on show, one of which was a beautifully crafted embossed leather dress. Even though made of such a harsh material it looked elegant, sleek, and even feminine.

Fydor Golan

The same terminology can be used to describe both of Nicola Morgan’s dresses, both of which were an eyesight made out of silk jersey in deep red and black.

Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan

Derek Lawlor (main image above) also had two pieces showcased; one from his graduate collection from Central St. Martins, the other one from his A/W ’10 collection. He said he really enjoyed being involved in the exhibit, him being an UAL student himself. For him the garments showcased were all about pushing his technical skills, and further developing what he did through his masters. Lawlor specializes in knitwear, adding wax cord to his knit to make loops and patters, which results in a very curious 3D effect.

Derek Lawlor

Derek Lawlor

The turn up for the opening was great, the gallery stayed packed with people until it closed, and to end with the words of Leanne Wiarzba, one of the curators, ‘you shouldn’t expect anything less with such incredible talented designers.’

Society: Waitrose Breaking Green Hearts and Social Media Etiquette this Valentine’s Day


This week Social Media Week is happening across the world, celebrating best practice and great ideas in social media. Sadly for the UK, Waitrose, one of the biggest names on the high street, have performed a series of serious social media errors. You may be wondering what qualifies me to make this statement. Well, until very recently I managed a Facebook page for one of the UK’s largest charities with over 4 times as many ‘likes’ as the Waitrose UK page.

Let me quickly set the scene: for the past week at Climate Rush we have been exposing oil company Shell’s environmental and ethical horror facts tweeting @shell with the hashtag #shellishell. During our research we discovered that last summer Shell announced a partnership with ‘ethical’ food retailer Waitrose who have opened two little Waitrose convenience shops on Shell forecourts. A group of us were a tad upset about this, especially as many of us regularly shop at Waitrose because of their supposed ‘ethical’ values. Quite frankly Waitrose broke our little green hearts.

So this week to mark Valentine’s Day we’ve decided to ask Waitrose to break up with Shell. Activists will be handing out oily biscuits and cakes outside the new Tottenham Court Waitrose reminding customers buying Valentine’s day gifts that nothing says ‘I love you’ less than Shell.

Waitrose haven’t taken kindly to having their ethical values questioned through social media. Let me explain how they showed a blatant lack of social media nous. At Climate Rush we decided to organise a little Facebook event to invite people along to our oily biscuit and cakes handout. We firstly did the pretty standard thing of posting on the Waitrose UK Facebook wall, inviting people along to our event. This post didn’t last long before it was removed with no explanation.

Well we thought this was a little harsh and told our supporters our post had been deleted and asked them to remind Waitrose to break up with Shell.

This led to a couple of people posting various posts on the Waitrose wall questioning the partnership with Shell. My post questioned why they are deleting people’s posts about their partnership with Shell, when they were shouting about it in the media back in September and a link to a news story about the partnership. This post was then deleted and I asked to see the house rules, viewed as the go-to resource of any Community Manager. This led to me being banned, no warnings to obide to the house rules which I hadn’t broken. And of course no explanation. I suppose that was to be expected as I hadn’t done anything wrong. Just straight-out banned for highlighting a partnership they were boasting about back in September.

It turned out that I wasn’t the only one to suffer the same fate yesterday. Below are a series of screenshots of posts which led to the posters being banned, none of these clearly violate the house rules. One poster called Lucy summed up the Waitrose approach to community management perfectly, stating her post had been deleted despite doing nothing but requesting Waitrose not to partner with Shell, she didn’t use any offensive language not even a capitalised word. Lucy has since been banned.

[nggallery id=waitrose]

In my experience, being a community manager requires a tough skin at times and yes, occasionally that does mean banning people as the last resort. Previously I have banned people for making strongly homophobic remarks, being overtly racist and inciting religious hatred. This is the kind of situation where I believe a community manager should be taking banning action. Dealing with disgruntled community members is part of the job description for any community manager. The Waitrose social media team are giving a masterclass in how to lose and alienate customers. They need to go back to basics and listen to community members questions and give clear honest answers. Even if the answers aren’t what the posters want to hear, honesty and transparency are always appreciated.

Owners of Waitrose, the John Lewis Partnership, state on their website that they care about the environment and talk in depth about their commitment to tackling Climate Change. Waitrose’s partnership with Shell undermines their supposed commitment to protecting the environment. Shell are proven to be top of the league in showing a blatant disregard for the environment and in 2009 were found by Friends of the Earth to be the world’s most carbon intensive oil company. (See my article on the Huffington Post last week for further information).

It’s no wonder that ethical shoppers are dismayed by the partnership between Shell and Waitrose. If  Waitrose are confident their partnership with Shell aligns with their organisational ethics they shouldn’t be so aggressive and hostile towards polite posters in search of answers to ethically dodgy partnerships.

Unrelated to the Climate Rush campaign highlighting the Waitrose/Shell partnership, there are a number of other angry customers on the Waitrose Facebook community, criticising Waitrose for misleading policies and heavy handed community management censoring sensible debates.

It was announced in September 2011 that Manning Gottleib OMD will be managing the Waitrose social media presence. If anyone is looking for a anti-social agency then get in touch.



Style: The Devil Pays Nada

This week  the capital’s design talent will be showing why London is one of the fashion capitals of the world, as established labels like Burberry and Vivienne Westwood show their latest collections alongside younger designers like Mary Katrantzou, J JS Lee and Christopher Kane. However this year the bloggers, buyers and fashonistas will find themselves joined by a group of self-styed ‘fashion victims’ who will be representing an uncomfortably darker side of fashion by protesting against the unpaid internships that are rife within the industry.

Back in December, the HMRC wrote to all 102 fashion houses taking part in Fashion Week to warn them about the non-payment of the minimum wage to all workers over the age of 21. It is actually illegal to employ an intern for over a month without paying them minimum wage. Those working for less than a month are entitled to expenses for lunch and travel. Many fashion companies, including Stella McCartney and Mulberry, do already comply with the rules, which is great news, but a quick look on fashion job sites show that these companies are the exception, not the rule.

For fashion students, internships have been an essential way to get a bit of real work experience and put a high profile name on their CV. But at some point in the last few years, these roles have been becoming longer and demanding higher skill levels. Many advertised internships want significant experience elsewhere in order to be considered. So you now need experience to get work experience? Also the job descriptions are getting ever longer and more challenging. I currently work as a freelance copy writer, but I can’t tell you how many internship descriptions I have seen that make me wonder if even I would be able to handle the many responsibilities involved (and I get paid good money to do what I do!).

A quick survey among my fashion student contemporaries gives an ever more depressive insight. One of my friends was taken on as an intern at a major PR firm. After a difficult financial performance, they fired all junior staff and replaced about 15 people with interns. My friend basically had an assistant role and spent the whole day running after a high maintenance boss who was constantly yelling at her and expecting her to stay late to run around town doing errands. She stayed there 6 months before quitting, but others who had joined with her stayed over a year. So these young graduates were supporting themselves for over a year in London, working themselves ragged in really stressful roles for nothing but the privilege of putting it on their CV. When my friend left, her boss was so mad she refused to even say goodbye. So she could forget any chance of being recommended for a role inside or outside the company. There couldn’t be a stronger example of the attitude that, ‘you are lucky to be here, we are not lucky to have you.’ Interestingly enough, while reading an industry magazine at the time, she saw that that PR company was the number one performing in the country that year. That must be a bit of a sting to be worked so hard and told there is no money to pay you with when the company is experiencing record profits.

With the economy flat lining and youth unemployment the highest is years, it makes sense for the government to clamp down on these unfair and illegal internships. If every company paid minimum wage to young people in entry level positions, it would be a massive boost for the economy, not to mention boosting the fashion industry itself by helping more creative young people from diverse backgrounds who wouldn’t otherwise be able to do these internships.

So why are so many companies still using unpaid interns? The Times came under a Twitter attack this week after advertising for a nine month long unpaid fashion internship. For a company whose reputation is already being dragged through the mud, it was the last thing they needed, not to mention the hypocrisy on reporting on youth unemployment and unpaid internships while they are doing this. Their excuse is probably that they can’t afford to pay their interns (they are admittedly losing millions). But there is part of me that just feels this is a massive excuse. These big companies know that there are hoards of young graduates out there who will line up to get the experience of working with them. And if they get fed up with the long hours and hard work, well there are plenty who will take their place in a second. See ya!

Internships are not about investing in young people anymore, which they should be. Rather than training people up to play an important role in the future of the company, they are about filling junior roles with whoever will do them. There are so many PR companies, magazines and fashion houses who actually could not run without their interns but the caliber of unemployed young people is so high that they can find skilled people to fill these vital roles who are so desperate that they will do it for free. This begs the question, what about the unskilled ones? If internships are becoming so specialised, more and more young people who are yet to get any experience wont even be able to get one.

Ok, these are bad financial times but it doesn’t take that much to pay the minimum wage, and if you really need interns, you could just go to the effort of replacing them every month. I think that they do it for one simple reason: because they can. I hope that in the not-to-distant future, this will no longer be the case and I really hope the government fulfills their promise to clamp down on these internships because in the long run they are really not doing anyone any favours.

If you are a fashion student or graduate and are fed up of the practice of unpaid internships, please join us at the LFW protest. You can see the info here>

Style: Two Weeks

Two Weeks is an avant garde unisex fashion and accessories label from East London hipster store Bitching And Junkfood that fuses androgynous styling with clean lines and a sporty aesthetic. They unveiled their A/W11 line, which featured leather tops, grungy loose knits and leotard pieces, at London Fashion Week. OhDearism caught up with one half of the design duo Marion Bergin to discuss.

The label incorporates elements of men’s street fashion with more feminine accessories such as the fringe headbands and the designers don’t like to define their creations in the traditional strict gender types.

“With this label we dip in and out of gender definitions much like our customers,” Bergin explains. “My background is in jewellery and accessory design and when I launched the website I was selling some of the more avant garde jewellery pieces I’d made. Even though I had styled them on girls we had a lot of sales from boys too and built up a loyal customer base. When we had an opportunity to show off-schedule at fashion week we decided to go unisex as it seemed like a natural direction for us.”

Two Weeks was launched at London Fashion Week A/W10 when Bergin brought Australisn Kath Blunden in to help with the clothing design. The result is a line that very much mixestheir two disciplines, accessories and clothing, to make one fully integrated collection with a strong signature look that is part fetish and part minimalist.

“We’re still in a very experimental stage with this label,” Bergin continues. “I generally find it very difficult to pigeon-hole what we do into certain aesthetics/trends. I just make things I like and want to wear so I guess it’s selfish. I think the sort of person who we design for is confident, sophisticated and sporty with a rebellious streak.”