In the basement of the T J Boulting building in London is a crypt-like space used for photo exhibits. Currently (until 27th June 2015) there is a chimeric show from photographers Christina de Middel, Benedicte Kurzen and Robin Maddock that is well worth a visit. In the first gallery are photos from a collaboration that has produced a pictorial essay of Nigerian daily life. But this isn’t documentary or reportage, rather it is a mix of straight, manipulated, fictional and surreal images. It treads a tightrope between reality and fiction, between sanity and madness. It is playful but never demeaning to those depicted or Nigerians in general. At the end of the display the viewer is left on another tightrope: on one side is an invitation to visit on the other a health warning!
Attached to the main gallery is a dark low-ceilinged space and entering it is like passing through a portal to another land. Here we find images in various stages of decay from the Museum of Lagos’ archives. The original images are photographs of ethnographic objects that have been stored inappropriately and so are showing signs of decay, reflecting the care/priority that the museum and by implication the Nigerian government gives to preserving its heritage. With faces dissolving back into the Rock they were carved from and mould creeping around the edges of basketwork, we also have the generic metaphor for the eventual, inevitable decay of all cultural evidence thus questioning what the value of an archive really is.
There are two exhibitions here, related by geography but separated by time and concept. Do try to make the time to see them both if you are in central London.