Monthly Archives: May 2012

Avi Gupta at Sainsbury’s

The University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, is host to the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. The Centre collects, exhibits, researches and occasionally commissions new works.

I was in the area so took the opportunity to see what was happening there. Alongside the permanent “glass cased” exhibits there are three displays that would interest photographers: Bill Viola’s ‘Submerged Spaces’, Anderson & Low’s ‘Manga Dreams’ and the surprise (for me): recently-commissioned work by American Avi Gupta’s ‘There is Here’.

part of the Avi Gupta exhibition, Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, UK

part of the Avi Gupta exhibition ‘There is Here’, Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, UK

There is Here compares the domestic interiors of family houses in Kolkata, India and Washington DC, USA. Apart from the introductory text and a couple of brief explanatory captions, the photographs stand witness without words to the cultural similarities and differences between the homes.
We are left to observe, compare and listen to the messages in the photographs. The lack of captions is well-judged by the curator/artist: the images speak for themselves.

The photographs are intimate without being intrusive. There are no people directly depicted but there is evidence of life everywhere. It is as if we had been welcomed into the room and briefly left there while the host went to make tea.

Avi chooses his focal length and uses shallow depth-of-field to concentrate our attention on intimate detail or take in the whole scene in a controlled but not imposing way. Viewing these photographs as single images is a contemplative exercise made richer when considering them as part of the whole. It is a fascinating microcosm of cultural borrowing: what changes and what remains the same when we up-root and move to somewhere different.

An idea that I’ve been working on recently is what I call “the animated still”. That is, a picture that is composed as a still image but which gains another dimension by having some movement.  Avi Gupta has had the same idea, and presents a short video of just such images. Air movement animates interior details in a simple contemplative way. My particular favourite is a cushion that moves as if it has a pulse – a beating heart that turns it into a living thing. This could easily be read as a metaphor about turning a house into a home.

Avi’s work alone is worth seeing, but combined with the other temporary and permanent exhibitions makes it an experience that is well worth the trip to Norwich.

Photographers’ Gallery reopens

It is so good to have the Photographers’ Gallery back in operation in central London again after its 18-month makeover. The architects, O’Donnell + Tuomey, have done a great job squeezing in the space and facilities needed for world-class exhibitions, though I was reassured by Brett Rogers’ opening address, that the Gallery is strongly linked to Soho, so we can expect that local and emerging photographers won’t be forgotten.

This is good news since it was one of their founding principles and has been a strong thread in their activities until the Gallery closed for building work. It’s the main reason I have been and remain a member – to fill the gap between small commercial galleries and the large museums. I hope they will also put on some historical shows too, which they have been reluctant to do in the past (understandably, given the limited space and strong contemporary ethos).

The Photographers’s Gallery has its critics of course, and constructive criticism should always be listened to. One of the criticisms levelled at the Gallery in the past was its lack of relevance, but the Gallery now has a Digital Curator and The Wall – a space for presenting electronic exhibitions – that will change more frequently than the other shows. This is in acknowledgement of the mode of consumption shifting, the screen becoming more significant than the printed page, at least in numbers of images though not necessarily in quality!

We also have to acknowledge the change that technology is producing by allowing sound and video to be accessible to creative photographers. I’m sure this will feature too.

The Gallery has always had an educational strand to its activities, and it seems like this is set to get stronger, with an education facility in the centre, both literally (it’s half way up the building) and strategically.  This is good to hear. In the basement is the excellent bookshop, which is still well-stocked, and print sales. They represent a good selection of photographers, several of them amongst my favourites (if only I had the money)!

The cafe is now on the ground floor and clearly visible through the large plate windows. Although this design will probably boost trade I have a feeling that the space provided will prove too small. It seems significantly smaller than the old Great Newport Street cafe, which could get very crowded at times. I hope my fears are unfounded as I used to look forward to lunch or some of Billy’s cake. We’ll see. I will also miss Billy, though I gather it was his own choice not to return to the refurbished facility.  They will be serving Lavazza coffee – a safe rather than exceptional choice – ah well. In the end though, it is a photographic gallery, and there are plenty of cafes in the area to choose from.

Leaving my comments on Edward Burtynsky’s Oil exhibition until last isn’t meant as a slight, after all, I did review his larger exhibition in St Johns, Nova Scotia, in 2010. It is good to see some additions to that show in the form of aerial photos of the Gulf of Mexico spill. This is an exhibition well worth seeing if you’re in London, or even make a special trip and combine it with a few of the other galleries in the area and some shopping in Oxford Street!

Sony World Photography Awards

Sony World Photography Awards at Somerset HouseI am ambivalent about photo competitions: most of them judge a single image and I am long past the time that I think a single image is the measure of a photographer. Although a competition can inspire us to do better work, my own inclination is towards collaboration with others as I find this a more creatively rewarding stimulus. Also, exhibitions of competitions are discordant affairs – like a bag of Licorice Allsorts, each photograph competes for our attention, with the loudest winning. On the other hand, you can get to see some good images, and that I never object to.

It happens that the Sony World Photography Awards top entries are on display not far from where I’m currently working – at Somerset House near Temple tube station in London UK. So, have an extended lunch hour and take in the show, I thought. And I’m glad I did.
Having paid my entry fee I was politely informed that photography was not permitted in the gallery. You have to laugh at the irony of a competition designed to promote photography actually banning photography! I would have taken a general picture to include on this blog, but I’ll just have to leave it to your imagination.

The exhibition layout was good with clear but not dominant labelling and a reasonable amount of white space to let each picture breath.
I was impressed by some of the work being done by or for amateurs: City Projects and Londoner’s Photography Competition, though my biggest surprise – in a good way – was the Moving Image Award. I didn’t do it full justice in the limited time I had, but I was impressed by the creative effort that had gone in. I was particularly impressed by “No Entry” by Vargha Mark Tillosh, with great distortions/warps and flows from one scene to the next; excellently pre-visualised and executed.

I always try to leave an exhibition like this having discovered a new photographer. With my interest in landscape it’s not surprising that I endorse the judges’ decision to award top prize, L’Iris d’Or, to Mitch Dobrowner for his series on storms in the American mid-west. But he’s not my ‘discovery’ since I already knew of his work from publication in Lenswork. My New Discovery award goes to Lee Chee Wai for his minimalist and high-key images of fishermen, fishing poles and boats from Xiapu county, Fujian province, China. I enjoyed the quiet moment spent looking at Lee’s images in the middle of a busy day.

And finally, honours to Sony for making an excellent job of what could have been a naff competition. Well done, long may it continue!