Monthly Archives: January 2014

David Lynch at The Photographers’ Gallery

A selection of David Lynch’s black & white photographs is currently on show at the Photographers’ Gallery, London (until 30 March 2014). The pictures are moody, quizzical and elegiac. Not surprisingly, the film-maker in Lynch cannot resist using his still images to tell us a story.

The view from the top gallery distracts some visitors from the exhibition temporarily.

The view from the top gallery distracts some visitors from the exhibition temporarily.

As you can see from the above picture, all the images in this show are the same in size, format and framing.  Some images are grouped together in double rows but other than that, all images have similar weight; even images with strong vertical elements that would apparently cry out to be framed vertically are doggedly landscape format.  Although the viewer sees the images one at a time, it is important to consider the exhibition as a whole (like a film) as it takes us on a journey from the outside of a grimy but active factory, with chimneys belching smoke or steam, around the corner to abandonment, then through a door to the decaying inside of the factory where time has virtually ground to a halt, and finally out to a more modern, active, but still industrial, world again where the clock is spinning even faster than before.  Humans are not shown but their presence is felt everywhere from the brickwork to the broken glass, from the wires to the wharves. The photographs were taken at different times and several locations so the story is made by the interweaving and sequencing of time and space.

David Lynch photographs

The pictures take us on a journey from the outside (on the left) through a door (centre) to the inside (right).

Although a few images use perspective to show depth and distance, most have a 2-dimensional, semi-abstract quality to them. Broken or asymmetric frames occur frequently as do strong lines, whether they are power lines, phone lines, windows, fences, barbed wire, poles or pipes. These all form strong graphical elements but they are often not quite horizontal or vertical, which encourages the viewer to tilt their head in a rather quizzical fashion in response to the tilt that Lynch has given the camera. Combine this with detail-less shadows and/or highlights, occasional camera shake or out-of-focus detail and the viewer may consider the images to be rather casual snapshots, but when put together in this show they give an impression that Lynch is quietly passionate about the subject; that he gets beneath its surface and sees that it had and still has value. He sees it warts an’ all but he doesn’t judge it, rather, he loves it.

A visit to the Photographers’ Gallery to see this and the other exhibitions is highly recommended. I’m sorry to say that TPG has now introduced a charge for entry. This is a shame and I’m sure they did this with reluctance, but it’s preferable to not having this excellent organisation. There are times when entry is free, and members get in free at any time, so do consider joining and supporting their work. 

Pothole cone

It’s that time of year when even retired cones get pressed back into service

Pothole cone

Pothole cone

London Art Fair – with photography!

Not so long ago you would not have seen photography present at any serious art event but times change so I was interested to see to what extent photography had made inroads into the art market at the recent London Art Fair (15-19 January 2014).

Photo50, the photography section of the London Art Fair. It was disappointingly sparse.

Photo50, the photography section of the London Art Fair was tucked away in an upstairs balcony. It was disappointingly sparse. Fortunately the rest of the fair had plenty of photographic interest, but I had to search!

The Fair bills itself as promoting modern British and contemporary art so although you won’t find Old Masters here, there is still a lot of scope for different works. The main fair contains 93 established galleries catering for a wide range of tastes – and pockets! Then there is the Art Projects section where you find more experimental, ideas-based work usually by less well-established artists. Finally Photo50, the section devoted to photography.

The opening day, Wednesday, was themed as Photography Focus Day, with 4 talks and 3 tours available. I attended 1 of each. The talk was hosted by the charity PhotoVoice that promotes participatory photography for social and individual change, in which 4 photographers provided insightful descriptions of their experience with the delicate and complex relationship between photographer and subject, and the often difficult and controversial decisions involved when making sensitive work publicly available. A common thread that emerged was the need to first understand the subject and the background and second to work collaboratively with the subject to make sure their interests are paramount.

Jean Wainwright points to the careful work undertaken when re-purposing these old Carte de Visite

Jean Wainwright points to the careful work undertaken when re-purposing these old Carte de Visite

The tour was a whistle-stop visit to most of the galleries displaying photography. Jean Wainwright was our expert guide and provided insights into the works and the artistic intent. It took well over an hour to visit all the photographic works, and that was without the questions and discussions that I sensed many of us were itching for. So there is no doubt that photography has reached firmly into the contemporary art market today.

I find myself having to adjust my definition of photography these days.  Roland Barthes notion that something must have literally existed in front of the imaging device in order to produce a photograph still holds, but the idea of a photograph being a well-crafted single image from a camera is now confined to a small niche in the wall that is photography today.  There is an increasing number of artists working with photography (or lens-based media as it is sometimes called) and they are much in evidence at this art fair. I have a rather simple view of the difference between an artist and a photographer: an artist has lots of ideas but lacks the craft skills to produce consistently good photographs (perhaps that’s why they often use other peoples’ images) and a photographer can produce well crafted images without artistic depth, but when the artist-side and photographer-side get together, well-crafted work with some intellectual depth can result. (for the sake of completeness I should say that “photography” also includes the moving image, which was represented at the London Art Fair but I didn’t have time to investigate it).

Alternative processes, particularly the cyanotype, were in use by several photographers: Tessa Shaw particularly impressed me with the 3-dimensionality of her prints. Re-working of archival material was in evidence and seemed to be selling well, with the uniqueness of each image being a strong selling point I suspect.  Photo collage is thriving, especially using images appropriated from the Internet. I find the underlying social commentary about the quantity and quality of images on the ‘net now rather hackneyed, and not many artists seem to find an original way of using them. The Internet is just infrastructure; if photographers went out in the early 20th century  and photographed all the cars on the new-fangled roads then most of these images are now consigned to the dustbin of history, and I suspect that’s what will happen to the majority of artworks derived from the industrial quantities of images on the Internet.  The sooner artists get over this craze and into a post-Internet era the better. Image appropriation work has to be of an exceptionally high standard to impress me – of the calibre of Bloomberg & Chanarin – and I’m afraid that not much of this genre did it for me in Photo50.

It was good to see several of my favourite photographers’ work in the galleries: Lottie Davis and Emily Allchurch to name just two. It was also good to find a new name to add to my list: Ra Di Martino, whose exhibition I missed last year at the Tate but whose work was being shown by Tryon St. Gallery. Derelict factories and disused shipyards are popular subjects with some fine art photographers but Di Martino manages to subvert this by photographing old movie sets as if they were surreal archaeological sites. Here are a couple of examples:

Every World's a Stage. Silver gelatin print. ©Ra Di Martino

Every World’s a Stage. Silver gelatin print. ©Ra Di Martino

33°50’34 N 7°46’44 E Chot El-Gharsa, Tunisia 01 September 2010. ©Ra Di Martino

33°50’34 N 7°46’44 E Chot El-Gharsa, Tunisia 01 September 2010. ©Ra Di Martino

She has lots of other interesting work so do check out her Web site.

E-magazine: 43mm

There are an increasing number of on-line magazines devoted to aspects of photography. One that has caught my attention recently is 43mm Magazine, published by TZIPAC, which claims to be “an organisation who is crazy about art and photography”. If, like me, you are more interested in the image than in how it was made, or the meaning over the content of a photograph, you should find something to interest you within its virtual covers. I’m guessing that the title is a reference to the diagonal measurement of the 35mm film frame and hence the focal length of a “normal ” lens for that format, but the mag is not about equipment or technique.

43mm e-magazine Issue 1

43mm e-magazine Issue 1

Issue 1 contained results of several competitions and work by Sarah Jarrett and Meghan Ogilvie

43mm e-magazine Issue 2

43mm e-magazine Issue 2

Issue 2 has a monochrome theme with work by Larry Louie, Dominic Rouse, Clayton Bastiani, Scott Gilbank, Uwe Langmann and Jackie Ranken.

The magazine is published on the issuu platform, which I don’t particularly like (the page navigation is crude and there is shading to imitate a gutter down the centre of the page, which is an unnecessary visual interference to images that spread across the page). Despite this, the content is varied and high-quality. the publication is rated as 18+ as some articles may contain adult material – in the name of Art, of course.

Pekka Sammallahti: Arctic Mindscapes exhibition

Pekka Sammallahti has an exhibition at the Siida museum, Inari, Finland until February 2014.

Pekka Sammallahti: Arctic Mindscapes exhibition
Pekka is a professor of Sami languages. He is also a very competent photographer as this exhibition shows. There are masterful portraits and landscapes from around the arctic region that go beyond simply recording their subject to providing the viewer with insights to life and light in a region that sees no sun in midwinter. Since December/January is the time of my visit, I was impressed with Pekka’s handling of twilight and it’s limited tonal pallet.

20140103-183127.jpg

Another aspect of this exhibition that impressed me is the blending of black & white and colour images: this can be difficult to do but the subtle, subdued use of colour did blend very well. Many of the photographs appear to have been taken on film and spread over several decades, so I assume that the show is a retrospective; there are changes and developments is his style between sections of the exhibition that adds an interesting variability along with the more obvious thematic grouping of the images.

In case the photographer’s name seems familiar to you, his brother Pentti has an exhibition at the Photographers Gallery, London at the moment and has recently published an excellent book “Here Far Away”

Pekka Sammallahti: Arctic Mindscapes exhibition