Anyway, enough of the grumblings. What did I see, and what did I think about it?
JMU was the first exhibition I got in to see. Three exhibitors, the first being a slideshow by Jill Jennings on the Maze prison in NI (post release of prisoners). Forgetting the photography for a moment, I actually found it an interesting documentary, looking at the inside of the cells, with floral style wallpaper borders pasted onto the bars and the like to try and make some semblance of ‘home’, similarly the mural of Pinocchio in the visitors waiting room, presumably to make it less oppressive for children. There was lots of other stuff too, and yes it was generally interesting. However, being a slideshow it ‘suffers’ from the fact that pace is decided for you. For example, I wanted to look longer at one of the images titled “Long Kesh”. but obviously, I couldn’t. Is there a solution to this? Possibly not...
In considering the photography, there were a few different ‘styles’ on show. Some photographs were taken through windows (where access wasn’t allowed), and these felt somewhat melancholy, as though the outside world is inaccessible even though the camera was sometimes looking in. There were photographs of little details: slogans written under viewing slits, bags of porridge or trays full of cutlery. Some of these were photographed very square and deadpan (the slits, for example), and I thought about whether these were supposed to be ‘objective’, but that’s a discussion for the YOP blog.
Also at JMU were series by Victor Sloan and Paul Seawright, again on NI. Sloan was interesting in his use of other media in conjunction with the photographs, such as toner (print toner I assume, rather than printer toner) and gouache. I’ll probably take a look at Sloan’s website and post some more comments at a later date. Seawright’s work showcased differing opinions through words and shadows, although my favourite image was the overpainting of a Union Flag on the side of a house. Simple, a square framing, political.
The work of both of these artists were mounted in pairs, a Sloan and a Seawright, with little concern to the consistency of scale, large next to small at one minute, then similarly sized images together the next. I think this is very much in vogue at the moment; similar approaches were seen at Derby Format (Polly Braden, for example) and at last weeks Cornerhouse visit. Is consistency therefore relegated to the past? I don’t think so, but it certainly feels like there is a growing desire to do something different, to make it stand out from the crowd. There were images I liked here, and images I felt indifferent to but of course that will be the case wherever you go, and whoever the artist.
After the disappointment of finding both Milk and Sugar and Open Eye closed, next up was the Bluecoat. A number of different artists on show here with a theme of “confined”. With the first room entered, the variety of size is seen again. David Moore’s photographs are printed on aluminium (despite the apparent concerns over the media, this is very popular at the moment) and the two opposite walls are as follows:
(ignore the colour casts - quick and cheerful...)
In looking now, I’m suddenly unsure whether the majority of prints were the same size, I think they were (using positions of plugs as a guide). Certainly the one differently sized print on the second wall was larger than the others. Why was this one larger? I’ve truly no idea. And interestingly, the larger picture is reproduced smaller than the rest in the catalogue.
The photographs are quite mundane and formal, but I like that in a photograph, it makes me more interested in seeing what we sometimes overlook, what people sometimes ignore in search of the more traditional idea of beauty or magnificence. In addition, these photographs also look at the concept of surveillance as well as confinement, certainly the first wall of images do, with the relationship drawn between the monitor and what is in the room, together with the privacy screen for body searches and also obscuring the toilet facility in the monitor image.
Edmund Clark also uses variety of scale in his images. Starting to look at his exhibited works, the first image is 30.4 x 25.4cm whilst the later ones measure 152.4 x 121.9cm. The difference is significant. The large size didn’t really do anything for me, they didn’t give me a “wow” response, and in many ways it felt like they were large so as to be “art”, rather than “photographs”. Not for me, this one.
Darwell’s Dogs in Cages was for me though. I like dogs, and the series pulled at the heart strings (again something I will talk about on YOP). The work certainly fits in with Darwell’s approach to photography and his style, with some of his vast portfolio anyway. The use of selective focus informs primarily about the cage, the animal almost becoming subtext although an important one. The photographs are about being imprisoned, the fact that it is dogs questions the adage “man’s best friend”, although the insertion of a caged man between those of the same dog pacing it’s cage within a triptych also then questions incarceration in general.
The presentation of Darwell’s images is large, although not as large as Clark’s, which which it shares a room. The chromogenic colour (fancy name for C-Type)photographs measure 76cm square and are without frames, being mounted on some form of board (not sure what, and didn’t think that fingering the mount would go down too well with the gallery staff). The walls here were painted a grey colour, not the standard white, and as such acted as a frame in itself. Perhaps it also made the series feel sombre than it would have done on white.
Ben Granville photographed prisoners being transported in the back of prison vans, putting the camera to the small windows to take the photograph and illuminating the inside with flash. The resulting photographs are candid, raw and in many respects, “happy accidents” - there’s certainly an element of luck in what is captured. In keeping with this slightly hap-hazard means of capture, these prints were simply tacked on to the black walls with pins. as a means of presentation, I believe it worked, and I guess it is akin to the editorial selection processes that will have been involved in their original purpose as journalism.
Finally, Jürgen Chill’s work. I like this a lot, and it’s not immediately clear how it was achieved, although a read through the exhibition booklet reveals they were taken using a boom and composited from a number of frames. In approach, this is creating an objective plan view on the room. It’s very matter of fact, and devoid of any apparent emotional input from the photographer. There’s a graphic something about the work, and also a strange god-like feeling that the top down view gives. Looking closer and actually inspecting the photograph brings out all sorts of little details of the space, another form of surveillance that the rooms normal occupant must no doubt be subjected to. All of these little details inform of the sort of person living there, and how they have responded to institutional incarceration.
Over at CUC, I was disappointed to find a number of the galleries closed off, with only the Mohamed Bourouissa collection Peripherique and the combined Paul Graham, Tish Murtha and Marketa Luskacova exhibition open. Bourouissa was the subject of a discussion over on weareoca some time ago, looking at the apparent documentary nature of the photographs, which is not claimed in any way (the associated exhibition text actually points out that they are posed). Personally, I feel that the term “documentary” and “document” would need to be clearly defined. The photographs are documents, albeit of a re-enactment. What they might not be is journalistic images in the traditional sense. It all comes down to semantics.
Back to the work, they were all large and both mounted and framed in white - another “unusual” choice by traditional standards, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen this. I quite like it, but I’m not sure it would be ‘right’ for my own photographs at the moment, but we will see how things develop - hopefully I’ve got a good few years ahead of me...! Now, with the staged nature of the images, Jeff Wall comes to mind, but these are not in the same style at all, not in terms of sheer quality anyway. I don’t mind this, and it certainly isn’t a negative comment, just something I’m noticing more and more. I think it’s marking a departure from trying to emulate the like of Wall and Gursky as well as possibly could with a DSLR, and perhaps embracing more the non-technologically “pure” aspects of photography evident in the Japanese photographers I’m currently searching through. I’m noticing more positive uses of colour noise for example. A corner has been presented to me, and I’m peeping around the corner...
The trio of photographers looking at Thatcherite Britain (Graham, Murtha and Luskacova) presented an interesting vision on the era. It was also interesting to see that the images, shown in groups with one from each photographer, mixed colour and black & white, landscape and portrait. It worked, it was cohesive, and it certainly didn’t make me think “eek”, other than in response to previous comments from tutors on not doing it. Maybe this is something else that’s actually changing. it just needs to be thought about, rather than being random (even if it sometimes seems random).
On writing all this, it’s apparent to me that I’m concentrating perhaps a little to much on how the images are presented, rather than the images themselves. This is something I’m looking at at the moment, so only to be expected. Maybe next time I’ll make more notes on the images themselves.
It’s claimed that the work explores the family and national connections, the Algerian struggle for independence and identity, memory. Unfortunately, some of this was too obscure for me, I lack the knowledge to be able to tie all this together and see these messages the artists are trying to put across. I guess Barthes would claim I was philistine, but then again, it’s impossible to know everything and I’ll just try the best I can.
On the first floor of the exhibition, there’s the work of 4 artists (I’m not going to discuss everyone here). John Perivolaris is the first on show, and I was quite taken by his approach. I’ve really noticed a departure from technical quality recently, and this is what we see here. In a photograph of a woman walking, there’s colour noise blown up to a size I would have resisted, but it works. Rather than being ugly, there’s a charm. It forms a pattern that is then almost integral to the picture. Another aspect of this set I found interesting was the different presentations, some with a white border, some full bleed, etc. This variation also made me think, it’s all too easy to keep everything landscape format, 3x2 and mounted in the same frame/mount combination. I’m thinking sometimes that can become a little staid, a little too safe. Although of course it depends on your intentions.
Bruno Boudjelal’s work really caught my eye. Arranged as a series of touching frames in a grid, there was a real sense of energy, movement and narrative to the set. It felt like you were sharing the journey, the movement of the car, the movement of the people and what I took as a sense of adventure, although maybe this was urgency as the text mentions civil war. In some ways, this reminded me of the work of Moriyama Daido - the images filled with black & white blurred ‘happenings’. The bure of the are, bure, boke trinity. Again, technical quality does not matter, it is the story and the feeling they deliver that makes the impression. The one thing I wasn’t too sure about was the single image to the right of the others, why was it missing from the grid? Was it just that it was portrait and the others landscape in orientation? Was the little girl in the photograph someone he met at the end of his journey? I felt like I was missing the conclusion, and this anomaly demanded one. I will say now that I don’t think the photographs would necessarily “work” in isolation, but I was not viewing them in isolation, they were a mosaic that invited the eye to wander. I liked it, however I originally thought I was going mad, as the exhibition leaflet (and the Cornerhouse website) speaks of Algeria from East to West (a colour series) but the exhibited photographs are from Journey to Setif....
Moving upstairs to some work by Omar D, one of the images - part of a Saharan triptych - really didn’t work for me. I felt my eyes constantly drawn back to an area of shadow in the dunes, it was hard to look anywhere else. Not the same for everyone, and I know this from the conversation on the day, but this was my impression. The other work presented by Omar shows an array of passport style photographs. On looking at these, I assumed that they were a collection of found photographs, just like with the film Amelie. However, reading the background reveals the truth to be much darker, as they are actually photographs of people who “disappeared” during the civil war of the 1990s. The context makes the images very political, and again, it shows that the viewer brings so much to the image, and that the author sometimes has to tell of the truth, needing to be more generous of his information in order to tell the story. Is this then in contradiction to the message given by Dinu Li earlier in the day? It’s a fine balance between understanding and the unknown, and therefore also between liking and rejecting the art. Somewhere there may need to be compromise.
Moving upstairs there was a photographic installation by Amina Menia that seemed to fly in the face of what I expected. The text on the wall to this level talked of the “role played by women as guardians and transmitters of memory and history.” The work, shot in what I would consider a deadpan way was blown up to huge proportions (life-size apparently) but then seemed to lack the quality that you would expect from others with work at this size. Now obviously the quality of the print is not the issue here, the driving factor as it may be for Gursky, but this would be my expectation. The photographs successfully challenged those expectations, and made me ask questions, however I’m not so sure they were the questions I should have been asking. Again, my cultural ignorance will be a factor in this - I’ve no idea why this related to the woman’s role mentioned.
One final note - I found out a later (reading the Cornerhouse tweet) that I’d just got on the train home when the curated visit was taking place. Now that would probably have completely altered my perceptions. Maybe this twitting thing mentioned by Redeye has something after all...
I’ve just realised that I forgot to mention something. During the Redeye seminar, it was mentioned that aluminium isn’t the way to go for prints, there’s some concern over the archival quality. However, upstairs in the exhibition, there were a number of aluminium examples.
It sounds quite expensive, so I won’t be having a go any time soon.
Anyway, the day started out with a talk by Dinu Li, photographer and video artist. It was quite interesting to hear his talk, but at first I thought I would have liked to hear about his images, but then of course, this wasn’t about his art, it was about his experience of exhibiting his self-generated projects, of obtaining funding and residencies (where he is paid to recharge his batteries - an excellent idea, but frowned upon I gather...).
One of the things he came up with was that he never self-finances, he always used grants or commissions. I guess that’s easier said than done, even when you’re established, but more on this later... Another thing that he has drummed home is the subject of networking, and how he has a support network of around 10 people he can count on, and maybe another tier of 50 or so people. Networking is something I’ve never been very good at, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that I need to get to grips with it. Again, more on this later...
The projects that Dinu has been involved with are concerned with culture, and some are Chinese in location. With a 2010 project, the nature of the piece became apparent quite by chance - he was on a bus and saw some people gathered in the middle of a dual-carriageway. Getting of the bus to see what happened, he discovered the people used to live in that very spot, and that the “developers” had demolished the village to build the road. This moment of serendipity spawned his video installation. OK, this is maybe a long way around in saying that sometimes projects just “happen”, and that I should take some solace from this - I tend to take to much time worrying about how things will be before they’ve actually had chance to fully gestate. I’m constricting the natural development of my projects. I need to let them develop, and maybe take some of the self-applied pressure off at the same time.
Something else that I took great pleasure in hearing is that he creates work for himself, not to massage the ego of others. This sounds so obvious, but it’s all too easy to worry about what others think about your work. If I take my Roundabouts series, this was a difficult one for me to put out there for people to see. Yes I’ve done it, but not to the same degree as my later Night Walk series, which is much ‘safer’ and parts of which are up for sale in the Saatchi online gallery (no joy on this yet though). Part of this is also tied up in the “generosity” of the image (and the caption for that matter). If an image tells everything, and is supported by the caption, we’ve become accustomed to seeing that, accepting it and moving on. There is no need for the viewer to engage with the image, everything is given to them on a plate. Some people need this, granted (and I was there not too long ago myself, I guess), and I’m always being asked to put stories with my photographs so people can relate to them, to make them sell better. I guess it depends on the market...
I had to step out for the second part of the seminar, a talk by Lucy from the Ceri Hand gallery. Flicking through their pamphlet that was handed out on the day, they’re perhaps not quite my “thing”, but no doubt she dispensed a bucket full of useful information that I missed...
Later, it was a discussion on marketing (and yes, I’m now signed up as a twit) and grants, and very useful this was too, especially concerning the ACE. OK, the information is actually available on the Internet, but as with most things you have to know it’s available in order to look for and find it. Perhaps this is the more significant part of what I found out on this day. Not that Dinu Li got off a bus, but the host of information about gallery names, resources and the like. Not to mention the kick up the backside to actually do more to promote myself...
I’ll poor over my scribblings in conjunction with the electronic notes package that I’m expecting to receive from Redeye, and no doubt I will post more on here.
Yes, an informative day and happy I went.