Friday, 7 September 2012

The Photographers' Gallery, London

(This post also appears in the my hard copy Learning Journal with images rather than links)

This week I had a trip up to London to visit the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2012 at The Photographer’s Gallery just off Oxford Street.  There were four artists in the exhibition, each extremely different in the type of work that they were showing, and it was interesting to observe the variation in reaction of visitors to the gallery and their level of interest and interaction with each artist. 

Pieter Hugo showed the most accessible, perhaps I mean real, images in my view and his work could be related to more easily than the others and understood on a human suffering and hopelessness level. I felt it had a story to tell which was lacking in the other exhibitors.  His Permanent Error presentation, for which he was nominated for the Deutsche Borse prize, is based on images taken near Accra in Ghana where high tech waste is dumped for segregation, recycling or burning by the slum dwellers who live there.  In some ways it brought to mind Edward Burtynsky’s Shipbreaking series that I have blogged about before, at least in terms of its subject material and photographic treatment.  Hugo takes more intimate shots than the more ‘industrial landscape’ approach of Burtynsky, but in essence I felt that the stories of forgotten places and desolation they told were similar. 

The actual winner of the Deutsche Bourse prize was UK artist John Stezaker, nominated for his exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2011, although his collages using cut outs from found photographs derived from a variety of printed sources and subsequently recomposed to make a single image seemed to attract little attention during the time I was in the gallery.  On a personal level, I just don’t find this kind of art as having any appeal to me at all, and although I have spent a reasonable amount of time considering its merits, I have difficulty coming to terms with reworking existing images in this fashion.  However, and it is a big however, I was initially highly sceptical about the works of Mishka Henner prior to hearing him speak about his art at the OCA Photography study weekend in Leeds recently (which will appear in a later blog post).  Having had the chance to hear him talk through his approach and objectives for each series of appropriated images I really changed my views on the value of this way of producing work.  I cannot imagine that I will ever go down this avenue myself, but I have moved quite some way from seeing no merit in it at all, which was my initial stance.  I’ll revisit Stezaker again at some point and see if I can make some sense of it all perhaps.

One of the other artists on display was Christopher Williams with his photographs of cameras, models, vehicles and bits of technical paraphernalia he has accumulated over the last forty years.  According to the show guide, he is “alluding to and borrowing from the world of advertising, his conceptual approach continually questions our understanding of reality as reflected and communicated to us through photographs”.  Although his shown photographs undoubtedly display exactly what it says on the tin, I really saw little of appeal in images of a random (apparently) collection of old technical items.

Finally, Rinko Kawauchiwas nominated for her photographic series Illuminance from 2011 and I found far more personal appeal in her images than in those of Stezaker and Williams.  The use of soft pastel shades and soft focus produced some rather ethereal images that had an almost ephemeral quality to them, almost making me want to reach out and touch them to test the reality.  Again, an artist to look into more as I go along. I’m developing quite a list of these and need to step aside at some stage and take a wider view of what each photographer has to offer beyond what has been accessible in the various gallery visits I have made.

Also at the gallery was an exhibition of Japanese photo books.  I spent quite a lot of time looking through these and making notes, so I’ll talk about that part of the day in a separate blog post when I have had the chance to collect my thoughts and research some of the authors a little more.

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