Seven Day Suit is an artist-led collaborative exhibition, devised and curated by a group of emerging artists working in photography and moving image. In 2015 I was invited to mentor the group as part of the Redeye Lightbox programme. On meeting the group it was decided to work towards and propose an exhibition at Brighton Photo Biennial.
In response to the Biennial’s theme of fashion and identity the artists have taken the tracksuit as their area of research and subject to explore identity and representation – personal and projected images, influences, gender, and politics of style, subcultures and the subversion of social and cultural norms. Through the tracksuit the new photographic and moving image work features identity, subcultures, politics and social and economic impact through the fashion of one garment. The tracksuit has become part of the identity of the wearer, individual and group/tribe. It is an example of fashion that transcends class and cultures, existing in both low and high fashion. The tracksuit has become historically significant, yet has remained relevant to this day, having been recurrent within developing fashion trends. Seven Day Suit opens at Brighton Photo Biennial on 1st October until 30th October 2016.
This exhibition at Spike Island brings together multiple strands of the artist’s research and practice in an engaging and monumental exhibition that includes existing and new work. It is the artist’s largest exhibition to date and it lays bear much of Whipps’ working methodologies including in depth research and the archaeology of image and material.
This is not a photography exhibition but the history and methods of photography support and form the basis of much of the content. The process of setting an image, the photograph as document is presented against a world that is changing, where progress is made and new technologies and industries interupt. In the exhibition archival material, photographs and objects trace the histories of three types of stone. The exhibition grows out of years of research, includes works made over the last 10 years, alongside new works including a new film work that attempts to bring the strands together and act as the core.
The title Isle of Slingers, is Thomas Hardy’s name for the Isle of Portland in Dorset, a place of unique geology. His naming derives from sixteenth century accounts of the islander’s skill of slinging stones at strangers and visitors to keep them away from the island.
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.
Eighty of the world’s leading galleries showing photography, a public programme including talks, symposia, book signings, exhibitions and installations, all taking place at the magnificent Somerset House made Photo London an essential, vibrant and engaging event. Works on display ranged from nineteenth century masters through to conceptual installation works by emerging artists. Large numbers of visitors made their way through the stunning architectural surroundings to see galleries from Paris, Lisbon, Tokyo, New York, Berlin and further afield as well as a strong representation from the London galleries. Spaces that were particularly notable included;
Analog, a small project space, showing Richard Nicholson’s documentary photographs of London’s fast disappearing dark rooms made in 2005/6. Since that time there has been a resurgence in these spaces and Nicholson has now turned his attention to the cinema projectionist’s rooms.
Between Bridges, a commission by Wolfgang Tillman installed in the courtyard of Somerset House next to the pavilions, was particularly engaging and attracted crowds who were interested in his take on the European referendum and Brexit. His artwork was a striking call to audiences.
Works from Christina De Middel’s new project Antipodes (2016)were shown by Dillon Gallery (NY). The photographic works went beyond the landscape, map and document and did not look at the classical representation or beauty of the most exotic and unusual locations but instead showed an inverted world. The gallery also showed works from her series Jan Mayes (2014). This body of work takes the remarkable story of a group of wealthy British and German scientists who in 1911 decided to re-discover a remote island between Greenland and Iceland. Their expedition failed but the photographer among them convinced them to stage a landing on an Icelandic beach to cover up their failure. Middel travelled to the Isle of Skye and using the detailed journals of the scientists (provided by the Archive of Modern Conflict) she recreated the hoax. Her project includes her coloured photographs, historical documents and recreated documentary style photography.
Twelve by Craigie Horsfield, curated by the Wilson Centre for Photography, was a highlight of the event. The exhibition clearly showed how the artist contributes to how we experience and understand the photograph. The large, unique portraits of the artist’s friends, family and associates made over a period of 50 years (from the 1970s and created in London, Bath, Rotterdam and Barcelona) are striking in their intensity. The exhibition shows the portrait as a collaborative process between the artist and the sitter and also remarks on the position and experience of the viewer.
Also notable was the Don McCullin exhibition featuring his works that look at conflict both on the streets of 1960s London as well as during major wars like Vietnam. The exhibition clearly demonstrated why McCullin is the best British photographer of conflict, war and divergence.
The giant corn dolly Kern Baby is a five meter high sculpture, created by artist Faye Claridge as a result of a research residency where she studied the images and archives of Sir Benjamin Stone. The sculpture has been exhibited at Compton Verney and at the Library of Birmingham, accompanied by a series of handmade prints entitled A Child for Sacrifice.
Claridge uses folklore and reminiscence to examine our past relationships and our current sense of national and personal identity. In making this work she also worked with young people from a Warwickshire village to re-interpret customs using artefacts from the Marton Museum of Country Bygones.
A new work by Akomfrah The Airport is a three-screen film installation which recalls the work of two filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick and Theo Angelopolous. The work is epic, beautiful and transcendental and a visit to see it at the marvellous Lisson Gallery, London, is a revelation. His work is given the space it deserves and requires, the screens and seating areas are appropriate to the scale of the work. The poetic and politically charged work grapples with race, politics, identity and postcolonial attitudes. Filmed in the Southern Greek landscape, within an abandoned airfield, the narrative, complete with a wandering and meandering astronaut and a prowling and stalking gorilla, contemplates the significance of empire.
The film has a flexible and expandable sense of time, like much of Akomfrah’s work, where characters from different eras encounter one another. In so doing the artist creates ghosts which linger in our consciousness, both physically through the architectural ruins and metaphorically through the traces and histories of the previous generations.