Category Archives: Exhibitions

Exhibition – Wim Wenders’ ‘Polaroids’

The best things about visiting the film director, Wim Wenders’ ‘Polaroids’ exhibition were the accompanying narratives which for me, really captured the essence of the Polaroid:-

untitled (1 of 8)It was the first time it had really occurred to me that the Polaroid was very unique in that the image couldn’t be reproduced, unlike film negatives, slides etc.  Every image we create today can be distributed in a multiplicity of formats; prints, as images on websites, canvases, cups, T-shirts… etc. It gives a very real meaning to the term ‘decisive moment’. Also, Wenders’ choice of subject matter echoed my first adventures in photography as a teenager – taking pictures of the TV just to see what the picture would come out like,  taking photos of food etc., but also he branched out with his Polaroid to try some ‘arty’ effects, like he image below of the reflections off a rainy street:-

I didn’t stay long at the exhibition because each photograph on its own wasn’t really something to dwell on for minutes and digest or read a deep meaning into, it was more a journey of the different types of subjects that Wenders progressed to use his Polaroid with. The most striking visual in the exhibition was two video screens adjacent to each other, both playing repetitious videos which reminded me of a dark Coen Brothers film; Wenders rhythmically taking image after image on his Polaroid, the scene in a seedy pool club bathed in eerie green-hued striplight, the table strewn with Polaroid images:-

The final poem I read at the exhibition summed up perfectly the era in which the Polaroid was born, and the magic that it had given it’s users:-

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Exhibition – William Eggleston, Portraits

I visited this exhibition back in October 2016 following my tutor suggesting it within my first assignment feedback.  I didn’t know much about Egglestone beforehand and so I researched his background. In an article by Fred Maynard entitled ‘William Eggleston, the reluctant portraitist’ (July 2016), I learnt that Eggleston first got into photography by studying police surveillance cameras (in use during the unrest during the rise of the civil-rights movement) and from a friend who worked in the police force and who gave him a roll of film which he fitted into a spy camera. As a result of this, Eggleston documented intimate portraits of his family life.

Eggleston battled against being pigeon-holed into any particular photographic genre and he certainly didn’t regard any of this photographs as being ‘portraits’. His photographs are often described as depicting ‘Americana’; one of his most famous images is one of a supermarket worker lining up shopping trolleys ‘Untitled, 1965’.

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I think this image is contradictory in that it is mundane in its subject matter and yet somehow striking… with stunning late afternoon sun falling on the fair-haired shop worker with the youthful quiff; in the distance the perfectly positioned ‘suburbian, shopping’ housewife in her shades and neatly coiffed hair; a rhythm and repetition caused by the low slung shadow of the boy’s profile against the wall of the shop – the composition is near perfect.

After visiting the exhibition, my other confirmed favourite Egglestone image is ‘Untitled, c. 1970’ which is a photograph of one of Eggleston’s cousins.

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This reluctant bird-like figure, all sharp edges and attitude, dwarfed by the bare-springed sofa, and screamed at by the florals of the seat cover as well as the garish 70s dress, somehow holds her own, defiantly not looking at the camera, and smoking, with the cigarette loosely held in her right hand, mirroring her spindly legs. This photo makes me wonder if the rest of the family are all somewhere else, maybe sitting in the sun and chatting and Eggleston has disrupted her retiring to a temporary sanctuary.

The clashing clothes, sofa and décor also put me in mind of Martin Parr’s famous image below but the character is conversely much more willing to be photographed; smugly serene, engaged with the act of Parr taking the image, undoubtedly proud to be portrayed in her chosen location, despite the battle of the stripes, flowers and garish Constable reprints around her…

Martin Parr image

‘When I looked at the wallpaper and the wallpaper looked at me we instantly fell in love’, 1991. © Martin Parr/Magnum. 

Eggleston is also known for being one of the first great protagonists of colour in art photography, something for which he received a lot of criticism for. Cartier-Bresson once said to him “William, colour is bullshit”.. Clearly Eggleston was undeterred even though he greatly admired the photographer’s infinitely crafted black and white compositions.

There is a cinematic feel to many of Eggleston’s images also. The photograph below puts me in mind of the meticulous hard work that Wes Anderson puts into his direction of films such as ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ where the angle of the camera together with the props and the defining features of the characters and their appearance, weave painstakingly into the  essence of the story and set the entire tone for the film.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the Eggleston exhibition and especially attempting to read the portraits and trying to get into the mind of the subjects in them.

Exhibition – Great London website

I was rummaging around on the net recently and found a fantastic website which lists on one page, all the photography exhibitions going on in London, including up and coming ones so you can do some planning! What I really like about it is that it lists all the smaller exhibitions which just wouldn’t hit the Time Out radar at all.. Site to link…

http://london-photography-diary.com/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/

exhibitions diary

 

Exhibition – Crewdson – Cathedral of the Pines

I visited the Gregory Crewdson ‘Cathedral of the Pines’ exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery in London a few days ago. One of the best elements of it was access to a video interview given by Crewdson describing the development of the series of images.

Crewdson Interview

There were a few specific topics which he discussed around the creation of his photographs which really interested me:-

1. Size of Photographs : the photos were printed in a relatively medium size format compared to his previous exhibition prints so that the images themselves echoed the size of a real house window or picture frame; Crewdson wanted the effect to be less ‘cinematic’, more ‘painterly’. I wondered when this decision would have been taken by Crewdson and I would guess that the curation of his images would also have been premeditated and planned with the same meticulous precision that he staged each and every photograph.

2. Decision to use close friends or relatives as subjects : Crewdson explained that he deliberately chose people to feature in his images who were close friends or relatives, in order to increase the sense of intimacy in his images. Combined with the familiar locations (where Crewdson grew up), this makes the body of work a truly personal and all-encompassing reflection of Crewdson himself, to the extent that you could almost describe the work as a series of self-portraits.

3. Atmospheric lighting : in every image containing house interiors, the rooms are lit using light coming through the windows. This not only gives the series a uniform atmospheric feel, it also allows for the repetition of the occupants looking out into the nature outside and the environment outside coming into the internal rooms of the dwellings.

4. Use of mirrors : There is a theme of using mirrors within the photographs to heighten intrigue and allow the viewer some more ‘clues’ to help them build their own personal  story behind the image. This has strong links to the surrealist movement and encourages you to really let your imagination run riot when ‘reading’ the image.

5. Use of props : Visiting the exhibition itself as opposed to viewing the images online, allows you to take full advantage of being able to view all the minute details within Crewdson’s photographs. This enables you in turn to appreciate the level of intricacy and perfect of the ‘production’ all the more. In his interview he talks about his obsession with adding glasses of water, old books, dirty blankets etc. into his ‘stage sets’. There was one particular image which really resonated with me as it reminded me of my own coffee table/bedside table because it contained a watch, a wallet, nail varnish, cream and a nail file etc. I wondered how many times these items had been moved around the table,  rearranged, added to, or been removed from it, before the final ‘take’:-

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I would highly recommend a visit to see ‘Cathedral of the Pines’. It spans 3 floors of the exhibition space at the Photographer’s Gallery and is an mesmerising experience.

Exhibition – Fishermen & Kings – The Photography of Olive Edis

Being brutally honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy this exhibition as much as I did!  At the outset it held a couple of draws – it was pretty much on my doorstep being curated at Norwich Castle Museum and also it was celebrating a local female portrait photographer from an era where I guess proportionally, there must have been far fewer females in this trade than males. Olive Edis was born just 30 miles down the road from me in the Norfolk seaside town of Sheringham. Born in 1876 and growing up with photography an emerging technology, the exhibition summarised what made her remarkable…

At the height of her career she photographed the great and the good; prime ministers, royalty, scientists and artists. She was a pioneer of new technologies, a successful business owner, and the first British woman to be appointed as an official war photographer. For a male photographer to have achieved all of this would have been worthy of note, but for a woman in the era that Edis lived, it is difficult to exaggerate the significance of her success.’

Edis with her large format camera  ‘The Countess’, made by the London & Paris Optic & Clock Company around 1893.

I was particularly drawn to Edis’ comments about getting a sense of the character of the subjects of her photographs  … she explained:-

I believe a photograph should represent truthfully the subject at his or her most attractive moment. I have never yet found a human being who did not have such a moment. The face is an index of the character, and the photograph, if you like to put it that way, should be the X-ray of the soul. One is not truly a photographer unless one’s work shows what is inside the sitter, as well as what is outside’.

Despite Edis’ charitable comments about seeing the best in every subject however attractive or less attractive, the exhibition made it clear that she was not ‘averse to making subtle changes‘… e.g. by using the method of removing wrinkles by adding a scratch to the surface of the negative which would disappear when the image was inverted.

One of the elements of her history that attracts me to Edis is her fascination with photographing the local fisherman, some of which had glorious names such as ‘Belcher’ Johnson or ‘Squinter’ West. Edis seems to have been magnetically drawn to photographing the strong characters she met in life.  I can relate to this motivation with my own photography and one of the most arresting images of the whole exhibition was this portrait below of the fisherman ‘Lotion Tar’ Bishop.

Lotion Tar Bishop.jpg

I have deliberately kept the image large so that the real quality of the photograph can be properly appreciated in this blog: The eyes are piercingly sharp and the background pleasantly blurred (including his fisherman’s smock).  It’s rare that I have seen images from this era in the 20th Century which aren’t veiled in some way by the passage of time, either suffering from being blurred, or lacking contrast through poor print development. This photograph almost feels like it is transporting you back in time to come face to face with the subject, not that you’re looking at a photograph which is almost a century old.. It would easily stand its ground today in the Taylor Wessing Portrait competition!

Of course what Olive Edis ultimately became famous for was being the first female official war photographer. If you hadn’t fallen for her as a photographic heroine by this point in the exhibition, you would definitely succumb on reading this excerpt from her journal:

I examined the precious white pass which Lady Norman said hardly any woman had been given  – a permit to travel wherever the British Army was in occupation. One clause amused me, armed with my photographic outfit as I was. It seemed a little suicidal to add my name to it. It ran as follows:- 

The holder of this pass is specially warned that under no circumstances is a camera or any other photographic apparatus, instrument or accessory to be brought into the Zone of the Armies. If this order be disobeyed the Camera etc., will be confiscated, the Pass will be cancelled, and the individual who has broken this rule will be placed under arrest”

I signed it, however, and took the risk’.

Then whilst her images showed the scourge of war in their depiction of the wounded in hospitals, her journal gives away both her naivety and empathy for those suffering:-

Above left: Doctors, nurses and patients in the German ward of No. 4 Stationary Hospital, 7th March 1919….’I did a ward of English surgical cases and another of German prisoners, and I was glad to be able to talk to them a little in their own lingo. The danger list from influenza and pneumonia hanging in the office was terrible’.

Above right:  French civilian women repairing tents using a treadle sewing machine, 11th March 1919. …’We went onto the 8th Ordnance Depot, where French labour was superintended by WAACS. There was a big clothing store. I did a charming group of little French children, and another of some lovely French girls mending tents which hung from the roofs, quite the prettiest scene of the kind I had had a chance of’.

Edis also shared some of her ‘challenges’ of being a photographer (not least having to lug her equipment around which endeared me to her all the more….

Above left: Technical Administrator Miss Nicholls and women of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps … 17th March 1919… ‘We next went to the Motor Ambulance Transport and I did a most difficult long group, with a great many figures in it, in an office about 100 foot long’.’

Above right:  Dining Room of a Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps camp, 17th March 1919… ‘I did a group of nearly 400 in the great dining hall, many lined up in a queue to fetch their dinner. It was hard work explaining what I wanted to so many, and meant a lot of running around and talking’.

The exhibition also had a section showing a film of a series of stills of self-portraits that Edis took, explaining that she felt that ‘knowing how to sit for self portraits meant she was able to help others pose well for her’.  I was drawn to the self-portraits she took of herself in her studio which was designed to be flooded by natural light coming from skylights. They have an ‘environmental documentary’ quality to them and I like how she is reading, almost seemingly oblivious of the camera, and her inclusion of her home comforts and taste in furniture style allowing us a glimpse into her sense of style.

self-portrait

Norwich ‘twee’ emerged in a corner of the exhibition dedicated to the visitors dressing up in a fisherman’s sowester hat and cape, which made chuckle but not enough to attempt to bring ‘Belcher’ Johnson back to life! However the exhibition was really interesting and almost life-affirming in terms of reading her journal excerpts..

The exhibition in Norwich closed on 22 January 2017 but the full Olive Edis collection is available online at http://norfolkmuseumscollections.org/#!/collections/search?q=olive%2Bedis

Exhibition – Terrains of the Body

I’m really keen to catch this new exhibition opening at the Whitechapel Gallery in London on 18 January 2017.  The image which drew me in to read more about it is this ‘Untitled’ photograph from Hellen van Meene in 2000.

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The Guardian publicises the exhibition as:

‘An intriguing group show culled from the archives of the National Museum of Women in Washington that looks at the female body as a medium for visual storytelling and personal revelation. Artists such as Marina Abramović, Nan Goldin, Justine Kurland, Hellen van Meene and Shirin Neshat turn the camera on themselves to explore female identity and experience in the contemporary world though still images, video and installation.’

I think the exhibition may be particularly useful given my impending next assignment which requires me to develop ideas for a self-portrait.

Exhibition -Masters of Japanese Photography

I made a trip today to the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia to see the ‘Masters of Japanese Photography’ exhibition. The exhibition focussed on three photographers – Nobuyoshi Araki, Eikoh Hosoe and Kikuji Kawada.

One of the more interesting aspects of the exhibition were the historical narratives about photography and Japanese culture. One of the later periods of the 20th century was described as follows:-

‘During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the modernisation of Japan that had begun in previous decades, resulted in an increasing tension between the past and the future, as the influence of foreign trends and the ascent of mass consumption became more apparent. Photographers struggled to reconcile their desire to join the international art world without losing sight of their cultural and national identity’.

It struck me that whilst globalisation and revolutions in photography happen the world over, they must be all the more difficult to accept in distinct and unique cultures such as the Japanese one, which is intensely traditional with strict rules of acceptability for its inhabitants. Pushing the boundaries of photography must have been challenging in this atmosphere but perversely it appears that it encouraged more subversive photography, designed to shock and this seems particularly apparent in Araki’s work. He often seems to focus on themes of female sensuality, frequently depicted in flower forms such as in the images below:-

On researching more of his photographs online at home, I stumbled across an image by a younger artist, Mika Ninagawa, which I found much more accessible than Araki’s style. Her image below is similarly vibrant and it definitely seems to have traces of Araki’s influence embedded in the photograph, retaining the overriding sensual floral theme, but in an altogether more modern, playful way. The bold colours of Japanese floral nature still hit you straight between the eyes also:-

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Eikoh Hosoe’s ‘Eye of Photography’ image below left is a multi-layered, surrealist photograph and this stood out for me in the exhibition. I like how the face of the human figure is replaced by the clock-face and the torso and head appears as yet another layer at the base of the image. There were several other images from his ‘Ordeal by Roses’ series in the exhibition and the photograph of the rose in front of the model’s face below right, is powerful for its gritty texture and strong contrasts. I later read that Hosoe teamed up with the Japanese writer Mishima as his subject for several months to create the series and that Mishima later committed suicide by seppuku (the Japanese ritual of suicide by disembowelment). Nothing very cheery here, but the depth of Hosoe’s imagination used to create these photographs is positively febrile:-

Kawada’s photographs were based on astronomical phenomena such as eclipses and the supporting script suggested that the light and shade involved was intended to reflect the powerful opposing forces of good and evil. I must admit I strolled quite quickly past these images as they didn’t interest me.

Overall it was a eye-opening exhibition and my first introduction to Japanese photography, and unlike the Taylor Wessing experience last weekend, this time I had the entire exhibition centre to myself and the security official, so not bad at all!