The major exhibition at Tate Modern examines the relationship between photography and performance, from the invention of the medium through to social media projects. There are those that documented performance formally and for the artist’s record, such as Shunk-Kender for Yves Klein from the late 1950s to the early 70s; those who used photography as part of their performative practice such as Dan Graham, through to collaborations with performance artists, performing icons and actions and photography as self-portrait through to mass photography and Instagram.
There are themes but they are broad, rich and varied. There are five rooms that make up the exhibition taking you on a journey from Nadar’s studio through to Amalia Ulman’s Excellences and Perfections project from 2014 that was made on Instagram using selfies and captions to create fiction and a changing identity. Just outside the exhibition, on the entrance wall, is a large photograph taken from Romain Mader’s 2012 series Ekaterina, a series that features his smiling bride, a fictional story of snapshots to chronicle lives or in this case imaginary lives and a relationship that never took place.
The exhibition at Media Space, Science Museum, tells the story of the invention of the negative-positive process, and the transformation of photography. Talbot’s revolutionary experiments and invention see him presented as the father of the photograph. The exhibition is informative, shows a wealth of important works from the collection and demonstrates Talbot’s ambitions and mission, as well as the work of some of his contemporaries including Anna Atkins, Louis Daguerre, Hill and Anderson and Clavert Jones. The display reveals the extent and impact of Talbot and includes the first publication illustrated by photographs, his Pencil of Nature, and his iconic, seminal early masterly works from the 1840s. The Science Museum presents the invention and subsequent work as science, industry and art innovation and the narrative as the indexical capture of nature and document.
The large exhibition, curated by Martin Parr at Barbican in London, provides a snapshot of Britain from the 1930s to 2014, seen through the eyes of international photographers (that is photographers from overseas). There are 23 photographers in number many of which are looking at the big occasion and cliches in Britain, and often in London, including the business man in bowler hat, the royal event, the sports championship, urban decay, industrial communities, swinging 60s London, union jacks, red telephone boxes, glass milk bottles and other such quirks. Then in the works exhibited, made in more recent years, the faces affected by life, industry and poverty and the homogenised high street and way of life.
British photographers at this time were making work that was quite different, high fashion shoots and celebrity portraits, and more quietly by the 1960s a more humanistic realism that showed the truer streets and communities of Britain. There is lots of great work to see here, and often photographs not seen before by many icons of street photography, accompanied by a stunning array of photo books. Amongst my favourite works were Hans van der Meer’s pictures of local football matches in the north of England, depicting a cold, misty Sunday morning, community amateur football with the hills of the peak district in the background. A further favourite were Garry Winogrand’s quieter streets of London and surburbia and the humorous gesture and witty moment captured as a less energetic version of his New York photographs.
The exhibition at Tate Britain traces the course of Conceptual Art in Britain from 1964 to 1979 with its unique, sometimes complex and always, experimental and anti-aesthetic characteristics. This is not an archetypal Tate Britain show but is pared down, perhaps how the artists would have intended it, rather than curated for the audience’s enjoyment or fulfilment. It is fun, political and fascinating and shows how pioneering and influential this group of artists were on future generations. The exhibition includes installations, documents, magazines, photography, journals and lots of ephemeral works in vitrines.
The most notable photography comes from Keith Arnatt and Richard Long, challenging the notion of what art and photography are and using their artform to document an act, performance or idea. Long’s work is the document of the remnants of his act of walking, undermining the traditional view of authorship and object and rejecting the artwork. Arnatt’s Self Burial similarly is not the elevated, precious self portrait but the death of the artist, a grainy photographic document, nine images, of him slowly disappearing into the earth. Arnatt playfully questioned what constitutes an artwork and famously questioned Tate’s stance on photography in the 80s as they stipulated they only collected photographs made by artists and not by photographers. His conceptual photography, was and is highly influential in his documentary of the banal, mundane and detritus, influencing later Conceptualists and fine art photographers and those that today utilise social media for their deadpan images.
This exhibition, seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum, provided a special opportunity to see a large number of works by one of the greatest and most influential photographers of the twentieth century. The influence of Strand’s work on both fine art and documentary photography that followed is on view as we see work that covered periods of monumental change in politics, society, economics and foreign policy.
The exhibition is presented chronologically and covers his life works including the pictorial studies, the uncompromising New York street portraits, the images of architectural and urban modernism, his work in Mexico, France and the Outer Hebrides. The exhibition also covers his commitment and innovative approach to photo books. Strand’s demand for objectivity in photography and pioneering modernism can clearly be seen in the first galleries, his honesty then sometimes turning into anti-modern romanticism followed by his search for a new realism in the remote.
Seeing the urban metropolis and machine age image that is Wall Street is a treat for the eyes and the iconic Blind Woman is staggering in its strength, artistic realism and almost brutalism. The Blind Woman questions Strand’s stance on honesty, his hidden camera, with this portrait and those like it taken without the knowledge or consent of the subject, his need for honesty and objectivity. But is the subject really blind? And is there truth in this documentary practice? It is one of a number of New York types in the exhibition which are poignant and compelling as images of poverty amongst the thriving metropolis.
The two art film documentaries by Strand that are exhibited and the photographs from Mexico present his work most strongly in a wider ideological context and it is here we most clearly see the connections between his politics and work. The work in Mexico is transitional and from here Strand went on to photograph more remote and hidden areas of Europe including Britain. The work made in the Outer Hebrides, over three months in 1954, and published in the photo book The Land of Bent Grass is a beautiful, fascinating series showing a new realism and organic connection with the people land and sea.