8 November 2017 § Leave a comment
Anyone familiar with the work of Wim Wenders may suspect that he has more than a passing interest in photography. In two of his movies in particular the use of Polaroid cameras is a vital part of the narrative: in the road movie Alice in the Cities there is a photo-obsessed protagonist whilst in The American Friend, Dennis Hopper snaps himself repeatedly. Both make appearances in the exhibition, the film clip of Hopper showing alongside multiple images taken during the period of filming.
It is not however necessary to have any knowledge of his films to enjoy this exhibition for Wenders is a fine photographer. He is reluctant to admit this, and wants the Polaroids to be enjoyed rather as illustrations of the period and a record of the people and places.
He says “I was learning the craft of filmmaking in those years, and Polaroids were the perfect complimentary tool: as a visual notebook, a quick way of ‘framing’ the world, a verification of my interest in people, places, objects, or simply as a way to remember things.”
Wenders was a prolific Polaroid user, so much so that the company would supply him with cameras and film to test. He himself estimates that he took more than 12,000 Polaroids between 1973 and 1983 although only 3,500 remain. “The thing is,” he says, “you gave them away. You had the person in front of you, whose picture you had just taken, and it was like they had more right to it. The Polaroids helped with making the movies, but they were not an aim in themselves. They were disposable.”
The images are wonderfully evocative. The are instinctive and clever. Sometimes they make clever use of colour and light at others there are moody black and white street scenes. He dips in an out of recognisable styles. In one a car door hangs loosely open, inviting us to complete a story perhaps. In another a pair of spectacles looks back at in front of a blurred cityscape.
There are moments of leisure – a casual image of a bottle of ketchup on a table is cleverly composed and invokes Martin Parr’s casual inspection on culture. An image of Dennis Hopper cigarette in hand is a perfect off-screen image of a celebrity. Stacks of Campbell’s Soup are clearly a reference to Andy Warhol.
Often they were his visual notebook – a way of testing out frames and ideas – but more than that they offered him a kind of liminal space between the subject and the photograph, the photographer and the act of taking a photo, the intention and the outcome.
He is also well aware of the place in photographic history of the Polaroid. “The entire Polaroid process has nothing to do with our contemporary experience, when we look at virtual and vanishing apparitions on a screen … This was a true THING, a singular object of its own, not a copy, not a print, not multipliable, not repeatable.”
Sadly it is now 30 years since Wenders took any Polaroids. “It’s not just the meaning of the image that has changed – the act of looking does not have the same meaning. Now, it’s about showing, sending and maybe remembering. It is no longer essentially about the image. The image for me was always linked to the idea of uniqueness… that whole notion is gone.”
Despite his insistence that this is ephemera not to be taken seriously, when displayed in a gallery and viewed as a body of work there is no doubt that these are important images and easily elevated to the status of ‘art’.
Wenders insists “The meaning of these Polaroids is not in the photos themselves – it is in the stories that lead to them. That’s why the exhibition is called Instant Stories – the catalogue is a storybook more than a photo book.” This is a ‘story’ that is absolutely essential viewing for any photographer or film maker whilst still being a rich and fascinating experience for everyone.
CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of The Photographers’ Gallery
12 March 2016 § Leave a comment
“I like it when one is not certain what one sees. When we do not know why the photographer has taken a picture and when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of a sudden we discover something that we start seeing. I like this confusion.” Saul Leiter
Everyone will be familiar with ’New Colour Photography’, as exemplified by William Eggleston and Stephen Shore: the commonplace photographed as intriguing with colours used for composition and often in an abstract fashion. It is also these photographer’s who are usually credited with being the forerunners of the style, however Saul Leiter was actually already using colour and Kodachrome slide film together with a freer artistic style by the 1940s and actually preceded Eggleston and Shore.
In his photographs, the genres of street life, portraiture, still life, fashion and architectural photography fuse together. Leiter came across his subjects, such as shop windows, passers-by, cars, signs and (a recurrent motif) umbrellas, in the direct vicinity of his apartment in New York, where he lived for almost 60 years.
The lack of clear detail, the blurring of movement and the reduction in depth of field, as well as the use of windows and shadows as natural filters, combine to create a photographic language of colour and abstraction set against the urban space. It is easy to forget though how groundbreaking the use of colour was in art photography. Colour was usually associated with advertising, but in the 1950s Leiter was showing that it could be an art form, and that the marriage of photography and colour could be a powerful medium.
Despite beginning in black and white – his early images were published in LIFE and exhibited in New York and Tokyo – Leiter quickly moved into fashion photography, shooting for Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Vogue, Esquire and more. It is surprising that, despite his prolific career, Leiter did not receive due recognition for his pioneering role in the emergence of colour photography until late in his life. He was often criticised for going against the documentary and art traditions of the day whilst in addition fashion photography always had a bad reputation for being somewhat artificial and superficial, museums and galleries not being inclined to take his work seriously.
A forgotten figure for most of the 20th century Leiter didn’t have a gallerist until 2008, his irreverence, modesty and lack of ego perhaps lent him a low profile with his first exhibition in Europe actually not arriving until 2008. The Photographers Gallery is attempting to put right this neglect with this exhibition. It features more than 100 works, including early black-and-white and colour photographs, sketchbooks and ephemera and is Leiter’s first major show in a public gallery in the UK.
Leiter always saw himself as both a painter and photographer, drawn to shapes, shadows, surfaces and textures in his paintings and pictures, and the exhibition includes a broad selection of his non-photographic artworks. These show the influences of his painting upon his photography but are not surprisingly perhaps the weakest part of the exhibition. Dull, derivative and amateurish, his paintings pale against the innovative and inventive style of his photography.
Much imitated Leiter’s is a style seen to be everywhere from adverts to Instagram. The sheer ubiquity of such images detracts a little from the initial impact of the exhibition – it is easy to feel that we’ve ‘seen it all before’ – but it is well worth visiting to celebrate the work of a true pioneer of the genre.
Saul Leiter: Retrospective is at The Photographers Gallery London until 3 April 2016
For more information visit www.thephotgraphersgallery.org.uk
7 January 2016 § Leave a comment
This post is also featured on the online cultural magazine CELLOPHANELAND* – www.cellophaneland.com
Photography has since its invention been primarily seen as a medium which reproduces reality, albeit more or less honestly. There are of course many photographers who are still documenting reality, and in the digital age these resulting images have an ever increasing shape-shifting flexibility transferring with ever-greater ease from the camera to the screen, internet, print, photo-book, advertising hoardings and even T shirts or mugs.
There is however an increasing movement of younger photographers who seek to deconstruct, alter and redefine the medium by foregrounding such formal aspects its physical form and the chemical or technical processes involved. Grouped loosely under the term ‘constructed photography’, the work of artists such as Matt Lipps, Walead Beshty, Daniel Gordon and Antonio Marguet makes the scaffolding of the photograph explicit whilst re-building photography as both a physical and technical art.
Noemie Goudal is one of the latest wave of these photographers having only graduated from the RCA as recently as 2012. Our attention was originally drawn to her work in an excellent High House Gallery group exhibition Re:Vision at 44AD in Bath and it is a significant comment on her talent that after such a short time The Photographers Gallery has given her a solo exhibition.
Southern Light Stations continues Goudal’s interest in man made interventions within the natural world. Her practice is to use props, large photographs or constructed photographic sets and rephotograph them within natural settings or other existing backdrops. For one set of images she looks at historic celestial and solar perceptions – the sky once being considered for example as a solid plane. Roughly built circular forms are hung within landscapes, their theatricality clear to see, and photographed.
Reflecting a fascination with our relationship to the sky, the exhibition draws upon a rich history of myths, legends, religious symbolism and early scientific theories. Through photographs, stereoscopes and architectural installations, the exhibition aims to explore the intangible nature of celestial space – long considered a mirror of terrestrial turmoil as well as an expression of the sacred.
For another series of architectural objects Goudal has digitally manipulated images of concrete buildings before affixing the collaged prints on to wooden constructions. These are then placed within barren landscapes or seascapes and again rephotographed.
Both series draw upon the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, highly influential German deadpan photographers – who documented German Industrial architecture with multiple images of similar objects such as water towers. Goudal’s work nevertheless adds to their work, is thought-provoking and fascinating.
For more information visit www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk
8 November 2015 § Leave a comment
Spurred by swift developments in digital technologies, both photography and music have seen significant changes to the channels for ownership and distribution. Traditional frameworks that once upheld a distance between photographers, fans, stars and their labels have collapsed allowing a myriad of new routes of production and consumption.
The changing relationship is quickly and clearly highlighted – music photographers formerly worked to limited briefs for specific publications, but now are much more in control whilst musicians themselves play a more active role in their own image creation and distribution. The audience too is involved, as they capture and share their own versions of gigs, and interact with the wider fan base.
A big change has been the dramatic power shift from industry to both image-makers and the musicians. Stars now eschew traditional shoots, and create their own artistic egos with high concept imagery from top name photographers. Ryan Enn Hughes’ images of Katy Perry present the singer in five comical disguises, whilst Lady Gaga is depicted in portraits ranging from angelic to gruesome in shots from Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.
Performers reach out to collaborate with photographers who they feel provide the right visual context for their music – don’t miss Jason Evans’ hugely inventive publicity images of Radiohead or Roger Ballen’s photographs of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord.
Despite the rise in images taken by fans, backstage and behind the scenes, access still provides photographers with an element of exclusivity. Daniel Cohen depicts singers and bands during moments of rest between the gig and the encore.
Deirdre O’Callaghan’s excellent project The Drum Thing documents assorted drummers lost in the music during practice sessions whilst – taking a different angle both physically and metaphorically – Pep Bonet’s images of Motorhead are shot from the stage.
Downstairs the fans get their own coverage. Ewen Spencer catches the crowds at UK garage nights whilst William Coutts’ images document the violent, visceral experience of the mosh pit and its sweaty or burnt out aftermath.
The biggest name on show is Ryan McGinley who very effectively turns his lens from hedonistic models to present close-ups of festival goers. Gareth McConnell similarly focuses on the fans – this time for dance music in Ibiza.
The exhibition would not be complete without featuring those fans for which dressing up as their idol is an essential part of the experience. James Mollison features Lady Gaga fans from The Disciples whilst Lorena Turner lines up a rather spooky selection of Michael Jackson wannabes.
There is lots of welcome variation. We have high production studio shots alongside low tech or grainy black and white ones. Formats range from big to small, and from film to print publications. We have vitrines, frames and screens. This is a delightful exhibition that will keep any music – or photography – fan amused for hours.
The exhibition runs until 20 September 2015. For more information visit www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk
29 October 2015 § Leave a comment
Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, The Condé Nast Years 1923 – 1937 has its UK premiere at The Photographers’ Gallery, presenting over 200 vintage prints, many on public display for the first time since the 1930s.
Steichen was universally regarded as the first ‘modern’ fashion photographer. He was originally appointed to take portraits for the society pages of Vanity Fair. His images had such an effect on the readership figures that he was persuaded to turn his attention towards the fashion pages in Vogue.
In 1923 when Steichen was offered the chief photographer’s position at Condé Nast, he was already an internationally celebrated painter and photographer, but during his time there, he became the highest paid photographer in the world. His work defined the culture of his time, and for the next 15 years, he captured iconic figures in politics, literature, journalism, dance, theatre and haute couture. Chanel, Lanvin, Patou, Schiaparelli all feature, sitting along portraits of Greta Garbo, Cecil B. De Mille, Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich and Amelia Earhart.
The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to witness a key period in history as well as gaining an insight into Steichen’s distinctive approach towards portraiture and fashion photography. The works in this exhibition convey his forward thinking and ‘painterly’ techniques. Steichen borrowed from a range of aesthetic movements including Impressionism, Art Nouveau and Symbolism to create a characteristic Art Deco style. His compositions were meticulous; he treated his subjects as vehicles through which to explore shape, form, texture, light and shade.
Providing an Art Deco backdrop for the images is a series of three unique wallpapers that Steichen designed for Stehli Silks Corporation as part of their Americana Prints collection (1925-27). This collection features specially commissioned patterns from noted artists and celebrities of the time. Steichen used abstract arrangements of matches, eyeglasses, jellybeans, rice, buttons and threads to create his designs. Also on display are a selection of rare copies of Vogue and Vanity Fair presenting Steichen’s photographs in their original context.
For further information, please visit: www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk
All images used courtesy of Condé Nast Archive, Condé Nast Publications, Inc, New York/Paul Hawryluk, Dawn Lucas and Rachael Smalley.
21 April 2014 § 1 Comment
A duck attacks the lens, a dog snarls at the camera and a toad lies dead in the road. In his own truly unique way Giacomo Brunelli pictures animals unlike any other photographer today. Typical wildlife photography is very much of a kind – candid images taken with long lenses, one imagines the result of hours of patient waiting . It is worthy and pretty but not very, how shall I say, exciting. Brunelli on the other hand records his animal subjects by approaching them provocatively and from unusual angles.
He not only takes his photographs very quickly and almost instinctively but frequently from very close up indeed. We are invited into a different place – where animals are not just neat text book images but as they really are in, what is essentially, a human world. We somehow can empathise more with their experiences, understand their fears and see their problems. Can we perhaps feel their animalistic urban angst?
Often working in the early morning he exploits the low light, shadow and contrast. Locations are backyards, streets, small villages, fields and farms. Hopping on his bicycle he will frequently work in the streets and parks local to his Wimbledon home.
Brunelli entitles this juxtaposition of styles ‘animal focused street photography’. Working entirely in analogue format with an 1960’s Eastern European Miranda Sensomat 35mm camera his practice includes the meticulous hand printing of his photographs as limited editions.
I have been fortunately enough to view the work of Giacomo Brunelli at two exhibitions. He has been commissioned by The Photographers Gallery to create a series entitled Eternal London. Using his distinct film-noir style he created a unique and evocative view of the capital and its famous landmarks. This excellent show finishes very shortly whilst Animals, at the wonderful little Oxfordshire space – High House Gallery – only opens this week.
The artist will be present this Thursday 24 April 2014 for an evening preview event from 6-8pm. The gallery advise me that all are welcome but should first rsvp to email@example.com for an invitation.
Giacomo Brunelli – Animals is at High House Gallery. Exhibition runs from 26 April to 18 May 2014. Open Thursday – Sunday 12am – 6pm
Giacomo Brunelli – Eternal London is on until 27 April 2014 at The Photographers Gallery, 16 – 18 Ramillies St, London W1F 7LW and thereafter by appointment with the sales department.
31 January 2014 § Leave a comment
Undoubtedly Burroughs’ exhibition is the most revealing of his wider work and despite the lesser appeal of the other two shows triple exhibition is well worth catching whilst it’s here.
Until 30 March 2014
The Photographers Gallery, 16 – 18 Ramillies St, London W1F 7LW
+44 (020) 7087 9300 firstname.lastname@example.org
Mon – Sat 10.00 – 18.00, Thu 10.00 – 20.00, Sun 11.30 – 18.00
Admission to Warhol, Burroughs and Lynch
£4 (£2.50 concs) – last ticket 17.30
Free admission on Monday from 10.00-18.00 and
Thursday from 18.00-20.00
Free Entry to under 17s
4 September 2012 § Leave a comment
John Stezaker was announced as the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize winner at The Photographers Gallery last night. As I cleverly predicted in a recent blog Stezaker snaffled the £30,000 first price from the shortlist of four. Actually I can claim little credit for being particularly perceptive as there seemed to be a general consensus within those I haven spoken to about the award that he was the clear favourite for this years prize.
I feel rather sorry for the runners up because the playing field was not that level. The prize is judged on a ‘specific body of work’ and in this case it was Stezaker’s Whitechapel show – ie: a review of his entire life’s work – whilst his competitors merely offered up specific collections such as Rinko Kawauchi‘s Illuminations book.
Still, his win was well deserved. He received his prize from past winner Juergen Teller. All speeches were gratifyingly brief, with a very modest Stezaker making a short Oscar-worthy speech thanking everyone down to his 11 year old son.
The Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2012 exhibition is at The Photographers Gallery until 9 September 2012
High House Gallery is currently featuring John Stezaker in The Momentarily Absurd exhibition, running until 16 September 2012. They currently have two works available for sale.
- deutsche borse prize at the photographers gallery (akickupthearts.wordpress.com)
- Deutsche Börse photography prize 2012 – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Deutsche Börse photography prize 2012 – in pictures (oxfordschoolofphotography.wordpress.com)
- Deutsche Börse Prize, Photographers’ Gallery, review (telegraph.co.uk)
10 June 2012 § 5 Comments
Last week I managed to make it over to the brand spanking new Photographers Gallery in Ramillies Street which has just re-opened after a multi-million pound renovation. The gallery boasts two big exhibition spaces which occupy the upper floors, alongside its excellent book shop, a small print sales gallery and a pleasant cafe. Despite the fact that the whole renovation was scaled back (to a mere £9m) after fund-raising fell short this is an impressive new space which should serve the gallery – and its visitors – very well.
The Edward Burtynsky exhibition has taken over both of the top floor spaces and, despite the fact I am not a huge fan of his, is an impressive show. The Canadian photographer chronicles global industrial landscapes on, you might say, an industrial scale. Working with large format cameras he records produces images of large scale industrial works like quarries, dams and railway cuttings which are reproduced on giant colour prints, typically around 6 feet high. Burtynsky seeks to create images that reflect our times that might attract and repel in equal measure. Images that reveal the destruction resulting from our desire for progress. They are not made for easy viewing.
For over fifteen years now, since he had an epiphany at a petrol (or should I say gas) station that oil controls every aspect of our lives, he has been working on a series entitled Oil. Not an insight of great depth one could say, but since then he has worked tirelessly around the globe to document this defining material of our age, the exhibition subdivided in to sections with themes like Extraction and Refinement and The End of Oil.
What is impressive is the sheer overwhelming effect of the images. The giant images record vast panoramas in even the tiniest detail. Gargantuan rusting hulks of ships lie stranded on a beach, rows of abandoned aircraft stretch far in to the desert and piles of used tyres fill giant dumps. The images can be satisfyingly beautiful and it is easy to drift in to enjoyment of the image before one is jolted back to the realities of what is being illustrated. This is the glory of the sublime landscape yet in horrifying detail.
For an opening show this is not an innovative exhibition from a ground-breaking photographer (dare we hope for that in the future?) – it is a safe exhibition from a long-established artist. Any yet this is still mightily impressive. These are works that offer little impact viewed on the screen or in a book but in ‘real life’ the sheer overwhelming scale and detail make it essential viewing – in short perfect for a gallery. It is an excellent start from TPG and we are pleased to have them back!
Burtynsky: Oil is on until 1 July 2012 at The Photographers Gallery