Linda Lashford’s Songlines

Linda Lashford travels for a living, and photographs as she travels. Hers are not simple documentary records of places though: Linda photographs by theme and the images in this exhibition “Songlines” are grouped into Intimations of Landscape, The Splintered Coast, and Trappings of Light. Her images are on display at the Joe Cornish Gallery, North Yorkshire, UK until 23 September 2015.

As you might guess from the title, Intimations of Landscape are intimate semi-abstract photographs of aspects of landscape such as water, distressed paint or mist using a limited tonal range and colour palatte. Most show close-up details that imply much larger landscapes.

4 images by Linda Lashford

4 images from Linda Lashford’s Intimations of Landscape series.

Most of the 12 images in this series have little in the way of compositional elements to hold them together or guide the eye; the viewer is left to wander through each image and imagine what lies beyond the frame. These aren’t images of something but rather about something. That “something” is really for the viewer to decide based on the emotions and memories the images evoke. The images hover between a physical reality and a spiritual plane. As Minor White would have said: it’s not what is photographed that’s significant but what else is photographed.

3 images from The Splintered Coast series by Linda Lashford

3 images from The Splintered Coast series by Linda Lashford

The Splintered Coast contains 6 studies of the coastlines of Cornwall, South Wales and Brittany. Of all Linda’s images these are the most anchored in reality, the most literal of the themes. Unlike her other series, most of these contain horizons – perhaps it is this horizontal reference plane that implies the reality and makes it difficult to make the mental jump to any metaphoric plane. Instead I found myself comparing the similarities and differences of the coastlines depicted, which made it, at least for me, the least satisfying of the series.

The beautifully titled Trappings of Light series was taken in an abandoned cork factory in Portugal. “Oh no, not another abandoned-factory-stroke-urban-decay project” you may be thinking. Well no, it isn’t another me-too project about decay; Linda’s control of the photographic process and her eye for isolating and composing details out of visual noise show their strength in this series of 8 images. Form and texture interact with controlled abandon; there is light and shade but the highlights have detail and the shadows never block up. The light is without doubt trapped by these images and give pleasure and intrigue to the viewer that, like Intimations of Landscape, is rewarded by lingering with each photograph in a meditative frame of mind.

6 images from Songlines

Top row: 3 images from Trappings of Light. Bottom row: 3 images from Intimations of Landscape. Photographs by Linda Lashford

Songlines is a varied and satisfying set of images from a talented photographer. My only reservation isn’t about the images but about their display: the presentation and framing of each image is excellent but the hanging splits the series between walls and floors in the gallery, making them less coherent as bodies of work, and appears to associate images by superficial visual similarity rather than developing an underlying theme or narrative. This is understandable as the gallery is quite crowded with images from various photographers and tends towards a hard-working emporium of pictures rather than an art gallery, but it is a commercial enterprise and if that’s what’s needed to keep it running then I’m not going to knock it. Just control your expectations if you go there – and I recommend that you do!

Clare Strand: performance photography

Clare Strand's Getting Better and Worse at the Same TimeGrimaldi Gavin Gallery, London, are currently showing Clare Strand‘s latest photographic works (ends 6 June 2015), which they describe as revealing “Strand’s discordant relationship with the photographic medium, exploring its promise and limitations through unexpected and eccentric means.” Such a description has me rubbing my hands in anticipation and I wasn’t disappointed: I loved the sense of directed play and the irreverence towards “art”, which is something I wasn’t expecting at a gallery situated in an area of London renowned for being rather affluent and well-heeled.

Although there isn’t much time left to see the show, leaving it until the end has the advantage that you will see more output from The Entropy Pendulum. This pendulum has a foot designed to scour the surface of a print in a central stripe. The print is changed each day and the one from the previous day put on display in one of the 35 waiting frames. The original images are not Strand’s but have clearly been chosen for their centred composition, which means the pendulum abrades and corrupts the original meaning, giving it a new meaning. Although I could intepret the images individually I couldn’t make any sense of the sequence, narrative or developing concept, which I think is a trick missed. Though it’s entirely conceivable that it was just me who missed this final point.

Clare Strand's Entropy Pendulum and the display of resulting prints

Clare Strand’s Entropy Pendulum and the display of resulting prints

The Entropy Pendulum in action

The Entropy Pendulum in action. I was attracted to the dust generated by the abrasion of the print’s surface

Rubbings is as close as Strand gets to conventional photography: she photographed the bifurcation points of trees, printed them life-size then pinned them back on the trees for a time thus letting nature create the art, and she photographed the prints on the trees from a little further away. On display were the now-weathered prints from the trees twinned with the record of the work in progress. As an experiment in random decay it’s OK I suppose, but what elevated it for me was its unintended juxtaposition with the concurrent exhibition by Robin Maddock and Benedicte Kurzen at TJ Boulting Gallery, which I saw the same day (see my review here). The latter also examined time/decay of photographic objects, and the two works together were particularly resonant.

The Happenstance Generator went even further into randomness with a selection of small images blown about as if by the wind followed by a short period to allow them to briefly settle before being blown about into another random sequence.

The Happenstance Generator

The Happenstance Generator (and a strikingly red sofa)

The Hapenstance Generator maintenance log

The Hapenstance Generator maintenance log. Not content with playing with photography, Strand is also happy for us to see the artwork warts-an’-all!

As a microcosm of the random images we see everyday blurring past us and occasionally visible to our conscious mind, it makes its point well. I had expected to see a random display of images that the viewer could develop a story from during the quiet dwell time of the apparatus but unfortunately the dwell time was too brief for me to grasp more than a couple of images before they were whisked off again into the vortex of the machine, which is a shame because a small adjustment to the timer could have allowed this extra level of interaction and engagement of the viewer’s imagination. So a great concept falling just short of great implementation, well for me at any rate.

There were a couple of other works on show but I’ve gone on long enough. I call her art Performance Photography in the sense of performance art and in this too she is pushing forward conceptually. Suffice to say that I think Clare has a playful and insightful imagination that resonates with my own ‘world view’, and I look forward to seeing more of her work!

Shine Ur Eye: walking a tightrope

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!

Shine Ur Eye main space

The main gallery is wonderfully decorated with wall wallpaper.

 

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.

the second gallery at T J Boulting

The crypt-like space showing semi-decayed images from the archive of the Museum of Lagos.

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.

What a photofest weekend! Photo London and Offprint London

The bank-holiday weekend of 21-25 May 2015 saw a raft of photographic happenings in London. The two big ones were Photo London and Offprint London. I attended both. Was it worth it? You bet!

Somerset House

Somerset House, home of Photo London 2015.

Photo London was based at Somerset House, had 70 galleries from 20 countries participating, along with 10 publishers and 3 special exhibitors. For me this isn’t a huge draw as I find the gallery scene rather rarefied and certainly out of my price bracket, but it’s a good opportunity to take the pulse of the photography collectors’ market and to see which names and styles are in vogue at the moment. It is not a free show; the entrance fee is pitched high enough to keep away the casual viewer and other oiks like me who can’t afford gallery prices. Nevertheless, I took the plunge and spent 5 hours immersed in some wonderful images.

Somerset House made an excellent venue, with its characterful small but linked rooms with lots of wall space making it ideal for the various galleries to display. Being split over 5 floors meant getting plenty of exercise on the stairs, though less than ideal for those with mobility difficulties. There were a few galleries selling historic images but the majority were promoting contemporary photographers. For me this balance was about right. The V&A also had a well-curated display of images from its collection called Beneath the Surface that continues until 24 August 2015.

Guns Love. 2014. Thomas Mailaender. cCopyright the artist.

Guns Love. 2014. Thomas Mailaender. Copyright the artist.

There were, of course, a huge number of excellent images (as well as some I wouldn’t give wall space to). If I have to pick one stand-out artist it is Thomas Mailaender‘s cyanotypes on the Roman Road stand. Although all the images used the cyanotype process the images were not process-driven but displayed a repertoire of playfully diverse ideas executed in an original but not gratuitous way.

Offprint London

Offprint London in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall

Offprint London was my main interest because of my long-running enthusiasm for the photobook. Several people I spoke to said that it was very similar to Offprint Paris in size and scope, though I noticed that some of the more established publishers had decided to exhibit at Photo London instead of Offprint. It was great to see indie publishers from across Europe and even a few from across The Pond! Not all exhibitors showed photobooks but these I just ignored.

There has been a huge increase in the number of photobooks produced recently compared with only 10 years ago, and the number of exhibitors and the size of the crowds at Offprint only serves to reinforce this. Unfortunately there has also been a huge increase in the number of poor photobooks, and Offprint had its fair share of those too. It’s great that photographers want to make photobooks and we all have to start somewhere but some of the work here shouldn’t be inflicted on a wider world. There is too much ego-driven publication and not enough art or craft value in a lot of photobooks today. Having got that off my chest I should also say that there are a lot of good quality books for sale at Offprint. Many are commercially published, which is fine, but it was the artisan self-publishers that took my eye. In particular I liked the work of Jane & Jeremy and Highchair Editions. Their art-and-craft blended approach and interesting design ideas were eye-catching and went beyond what would be expected from commercially-produced books, which is exactly the sort of photobook work I hoped to find at a show like this. So well done to you, and congratulations to Simon Baker and Tate Modern for holding Offprint London – I will definitely attend if it runs again next year!

Speaking of which, Photo London has already announced next year’s dates as 19-22 May 2016. Fingers crossed that Offprint will also repeat.

 

Christopher Williams’s The Production Line of Happiness

The Production Line of Happiness by Christopher Williams at Whitechapel Gallery, London, (until 21 June 2015) is not an exhibition to wander into unprepared. The images span the period 1981 to 2015 (though some expropriated images are older) and Williams demands as much from the viewer as he has put in over the 34 years he has been compiling this work. But with some work on the viewer’s part it is a thought-provoking and worthwhile visit.

catalogue from The Production Line of Happiness

The Whitechapel Gallery is one of those irritating institutions with a blanket ban on photography so I can’t show you any installation shots. Instead, here’s something off a production line. ©Malcolm Raggett

Williams’s long-term enquiry into what makes us happy/unhappy and how consumerism is designed to give us the illusion of happiness is wide-ranging and, like all good art, is intended to provoke questions rather than provide answers. There is an integrity and consistency to this work and I empathise with Williams’s skepticism concerning consumerism. In the end the work leaves me dissatisfied (and I don’t mean this in a negative sense): okay,I get that happiness is an emotion that we attempt in vain to satisfy by spending on more and more stuff. But happiness is transient anyway – it is always balanced to a greater or lesser extent with, for example, sadness and longing.

For me the void at the end of this work is that it doesn’t continue by addressing the issue of how to substitute a quest for contentment (which I take as a long-term stable state) for the pursuit of happiness. This has set me questioning how I would approach this as a photographic project with a title like “The Hand-crafted Line of Contentment”. Food for thought – thanks Christopher!

=, Human Rights, Human Wrongs

Rather stupidly, I was late in getting to this exhibition, Human Rights, Human Wrongs, at the Photographers’ Gallery, London. I wouldn’t call it a pleasure but it was certainly worth the visit for other reasons.2015-03-23 12.31.40-1

Human Rights, Human Wrongs is a 2-floor, extensive show of densely-packed images from conflict zones from 1945 to about 2000. ‘Conflict zones’ does not necessarily mean war zones: the struggle for human rights is, as you would guess from the title, strongly represented too.

The first gallery deals with the immediate aftermath of war and armed conflict. We don’t see the fighting and there is no glorification of war (thank goodness). Instead it feels more like a visual accountant assessing the costs, but in terms of human bodies and moral degradation.

The second gallery is about conflict of a different kind – civil conflict and the fight for rights or the domination of beliefs. The choice of images emphasizes just how much physical and moral force needs to be applied, by all sides in the conflict, to support or overcome ingrained attitudes, the status quo and vested interests.

The whole exhibition is a presentation of curated evidence, and like any good show leaves the viewer to draw their own conclusions from this evidence. For me, it shows a fundamental truth that, at an animal level, humans are easier to kill than to live with in peaceful coexistence. Yet the Declaration of Human Rights displayed on the gallery’s walls show that our species is capable of more than killing, that ink is more powerful than blood. I also noticed the = sign used on the forehead of some protesters during the American civil rights movement: we should all use this symbol on our keyboards a little more!

Well done to the Photographers’ Gallery for re-invigorating the documentary photograph.

Human Rights Human Wrongs is at the Photographers’ Gallery, London, UK until 6 April 2015.

An essay on the struggle for human rights is on the Photographers’ Gallery blog

Jeff Wall at the Canada House Gallery, London

I came across this show in the Canadian High Commission by accident. I was walking through the north west corner of London’s Trafalgar Square, noticed that the Canada House Gallery had just opened and they’d chosen Canadian photographer Jeff Wall as the inaugural artist. The gallery is open, via a security check, Mondays to Saturdays 11.00 – 17.45 until 15th May 2015.

Jeff Wall's exhibition at the Canadian Embassy, London

Jeff Wall’s exhibition at the Canadian Embassy, London

It’s a one-room gallery and Jeff Wall’s works are decidedly in the over-sized category so you don’t get many to the metre – only five works in this case, plus some blurb. The photos seem too large for such a compact space though that’s the way Wall likes us to experience his images: to become almost part of the scene. Personally, and I would have preferred to see more, smaller works in what is quite a small space, but hey, it’s good to see another gallery opening for the visual arts and displaying photographs.

The images are an eclectic mix with no obvious theme or relationship other than a grab-shot quality to them and yet apparently they are very deliberate and considered. As Sara Knelman says in her leaflet accompanying the exhibition: ‘Wall works somewhere between the possibilities of capturing and constructing the world around us.’

If you are in central London it’s worth popping in to see the photos – and support the Canadians in their effort to open a new gallery space!