Photography is somewhat unevenly catered for in London’s art scene. Ages can go by without a single decent show then suddenly there’s an explosion of activity. I decided to only write about what I really liked very much, and so here are my highlights of the year’s photography shows.
My highlights for 2012 included summer’s London Festival of Photography; in particular the wonderful International Street Photography show held in the odd yet atmospheric space at 29 – 31 Oxford Street – a bird’s eye view of Oxford street as well as a terrific show of diverse and captivating street photos from around the world. I was particularly taken by the work of Mexican Alejandro Cartagena, the festival’s street photography prizewinner – you can see more of him on http://alejandrocartagena.com
The London Festival of Photography also showcased the wonderful Minnie Weisz, a London based photographer who has been based in King’s Cross for some time now, photographing the area and its buildings, But her work is not the social realism you might expect: rather Weisz photographs textures, shadows,memories and fleeting moments through the use of artful and creative photographic techniques, including the camera obscura. Photographic places and places that are changing or about to change, she documents their transformation as a process that is almost liquid in its intangibility. One day it’s there, solid as a fortress, the next day it’s different: uprooted, smashed down, built up, covered, renovated. Weisz has a studio gallery right next to St Pancras station, and I have to admit that, on the strength of the show she put of for the festival, it eludes me why the likes of the Deutsches Bourse and similar honours have not yet come her way. At the very least, treat yourself to the website: http://minnieweisz.co.uk/
With autumn came two shows in my own neighbourhood of East London which I feel are worth writing about. The first is the show The Roxanne Series by Julia Riddiough at A Brooks Art in Hoxton. The Roxanne Series is a densely packed, rich series of photos that raises a volume’s wroth of questions and ponderings. The photos in question are said tbe found images that have been reworked. As an educated guess I’d imagine they are screen grabs but Riddiough has worked them so that they are printed as lush, velvety-textured ink-blue-and-midnight coloured large prints. The images are ghostly, as if photographed by one of those 19th century “spiritualist photographers” who sought to capture the world of the undead among the living. The subject matter is almost timeless in art history: a brothel scene. Half dressed ladies displaying themselves to the male client. Riddiough specifically refers to the painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme Phryne revealed before the Areopagus (1861), but Picasso’s Demoiselles is here, as is Titian’s Diana and Actaeon, Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, and so on. The prostitute or courtesan displaying herself to the male is a staple of Western art. The painters were normally addressing the picture from the point of view of the male fully implicated in the transaction, since frequenting brothels was until recently quite socially acceptable for artists. (it’s interesting that in the less worldly van Gogh’s attempt at a brothel painting, everyone is fully clothed). Riddiough’s Roxanne photographs are equally voyeuristic however, the viewer is emphatically not identified wit the male client, who is a shadowy figure on the edge of the picture. Instead, ours is the voyeurism of the screen, the image-hungry media culture that voraciously and greedily dense what it consumes then self righteously condemns. The exhibition made me think much about our appetite for images, about the artist’s role in aestheticizing the images, the fact that the images may have come from pictures of trafficked or otherwise exploited women, that the photographer may have just staged the whole thing. It made me think about voyeurism, about feminism, about the female appropriation of such images and what it means when a female artist creates and presents them. I haven’t found any answers but I’m still thinking about these pictures. I’m uncomfortable that I found them so compellingly beautiful. Well, any exhibition that keeps my attention almost two months since I saw it, has got to be one my shows of the year! http://abrooksart.com/portfolio/julia-riddiough/
The last show I want to mention I found totally by accident. I was walking though Ridley Road market in Dalston, going to buy fruit. Usually I walk through the centre of the market, but it was so busy I went along on the pavement at the side, past the arcane little food shops and rather smelly butchers. The last thing I was expecting to find was an art gallery, yet suddenly I spotted a sign announcing an exhibition. Intrigued, I went down the rather spooky staircase and found myself in the Doomed Gallery. I’m not sure what is the significance of the name, but the place has bags of atmosphere and I was immediately glad I had found it. The group show I saw, Art Of Imperfection, was absolutely stunning, featuring work by Pascal Ancel Bartholdi, Ryuji Araki and Bernhard Deckert. Deckert presented huge abstract prints made in the darkroom; relationships of light, chemical, paper. Araki went in the other direction with highly complex, immersive and fine photomontages inspired by and making a journey from, traditional mandala painting. The works combine the meditative quality of traditional “eastern” philosophy and the lush, glossy glamorous images associated with modern consumerism. Araki somehow brings them together and lets the glossy images melt into a purer, spiritual form. Bartholdi’s work probably resonated with me the most, but that is subjective. I loved his monochrome, highly textured images of places, bleak and deserted places that his use of light and shade made simultaneously enticing, compelling and forbidding. Bartholdi’s work is photography, but there is a painter in there somewhere; his vision is deep and rich, and aware of the art-historical weight that an image is capable of holding, yet is never weighed down by it. Wonderful. http://doomedgallery.wordpress.com/
So that was photography for me in 2012, so far. There are two months left, let’s see what they hold.