Performing for the Camera – A Study Visit

Exhibition: Performing for the Camera, Tate Modern, London
Date: Saturday 2 April 2016 @ 12pm

Introduction:
This was my first Study Visit with the OCA and thought it was a really positive and enjoyable afternoon.  I met people from the course which made me feel so much more connected; being a distant learner you can feel isolated at times and this study visit really helped me feel that I was part of something bigger.  I was able to share my thoughts and ideas but also able to consider others thoughts and ideas, which opened up some new interesting thought pathways for me.  I was exposed to loads of photographers that I hadn’t heard of before, which ultimately will expand my appreciation and understanding of others photographers work, techniques and motives.  Also the range of questions I will now ask when I look at a photograph has pretty much tripled.

So what was the exhibition about…
“Performing for the Camera examines the relationship between photography and performance… The exhibition brings together photographs made to document performances by artists, actors and dancers, with works made by artists who use the camera as a tool to produce their own performative images….  [the exhibition] sets out to explore a rich and varied field of artistic practice, discovering that performance art is often more photographic, and photography more performative, than their usually separate histories suggest”

As a newbie exhibition goer I noted that the photographs on display were very varied in layout and size.  The only photography exhibition I had previously been to was the 2015 Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the National History Museum.  All of those photographs were arranged lineally and were the same size.  This was because each photograph was judged on its own merit as an individual piece.  At the Tate exhibition, although there were some individual photographs on show which were actually part of a larger collection, most of the photographs were collections of two or more because the ‘story/narrative’ being told could not be told in any less.

Most of the photographs were hung in a line and the ‘story/narrative’ read from left to right, although there were some laid out in blocks, these didn’t need to be read in any particular sequence but required a more comparative appraisal.

The photographs…
Each of the 14 rooms had a theme and a reason to be (I won’t be commenting on everything that I have seen only on a few select photographs which made me think);

Room 1: Introduction:
This room contained 3 artists;
– Yves Klein was a live performer.  His ‘Leap into the Void’ series of 5 photographs illustrated how his final shot was ‘performed’.  Separate photographs were spliced together in the darkroom so the artist looked like he was leaping from a window on to the pavement.
– In contrast a block of 9 photographs recording body shapes of a diver diving by Aaron Siskind, who was known as a photographer, provided a more documentary feel.
– Lastly 2 photographs by Charles Ray, who worked mostly with sculpture, used a plank of wood to wedge himself against a wall, literally using himself as a piece of sculpture.

Although very different approaches they all understood the relationship between performance and photography.

Room 2 – 5: Documenting Performance :  Performances which could be unpredictable and chaotic, where the photographer needed to make creative decisions on how to capture them.

Yves Klein provided another series this time the subject, ‘Judo’. The series started with an individual photograph to the left had side, a ‘Judo practitioner’ in calm contemplation.  5 photographs followed running vertically, from top to bottom, two people competing as part of a Judo demonstration in different positions.  I did felt at the time that there wasn’t an end to the sequence, however, on reflection I think it may have been cyclical (reading clockwise) and that you return to the judo practitioner in quiet contemplation.

Room 6 – 7: Staging/Collaboration : Performances that exist solely to be photographed.

Room 8 – 10: Photographic Actions : For some artists, the photographic image creates a unique space within which an action can be performed or captured.

Room 11: Performing Icons : For artists, role-playing has the potential to explore deeper questions about identity.

Room 12: Public Relations : Mass media techniques such as advertising and Hollywood publicity produced self-portraits reflect upon the relationship between the artist and an increasingly marker-driven art world.

Room 13: Self/Portrait : Self-portraits have been used by artists to make statements about themselves and more broadly about the role of the artist in the world.

Hans Eijkelboom, a dutch photo-artist, photographed himself posed as head of his neighbours’ families when the father was out at work.  Ordinarily if you saw one family photograph you would think ‘that’s nice’ but when you see 4 photographs each with him as the father figure you start to question the authenticity of the ‘family units’ photographed, especially when he hadn’t aged and there had been no passage of time.  Then when you read his narrative it makes you feel uncomfortable but maybe his narrative is also part of the performance and the families were all in on the joke.  Photographs should provoke an emotional response and I would say for me this succeeded.

Room 14: Performing Real Life : Photography has long been used to document the mundane details of homes, families, hobbies and holidays, more so with the advent of camera phones and the selfie.

I contest the fact that the selfie is a new technology based phenomena.  I remember using up the last photos on a roll of 35mm by taking ‘selfies’.  Agreed it has become more prevalent nowadays as taking a photo is accessible to most with very little cost to reproduce and share.

This room showcased Amalia Ulman, who conducted a 4 month performance via Instagram,  posting about an imaginary life which people believed to be true.
Masahisa Fukase took a photograph of his wife leaving for work every day from the window of their flat, until they broke up. The series reflected the good times and their not so good times.

This concludes my very short summary of some of the works that inspired me at the exhibition.  I will now look differently at photographs as a result of the photographs I have seen and maybe they will influence my future projects and photographs, only time will tell.  I would recommend this exhibition to other students or anyone interested in photography and/or performance art.

Reference: other photographers which have caused me to question the nature of photography and performance arts as a result of seeing their photographs (in no particular order); Niki de Saint Phalle, Kiyoji Otsuji, Yayoi Kusama, Minoru Hirata, Babette Mangolte, Dan Graham, Francesca Woodman, Erwin Wurm, Cindy Sherman, Hannah Wilke, Marcel Duchamp, Samuel Fosso, Masahisa Fukase, Claude Calun, Eleanor Autin, Carolee Schneermann, Jemima Stehli, Tatsumi Hijikata, Eikoh Hosoe, Merce Cunningham, David Wojnarowicz.

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3 thoughts on “Performing for the Camera – A Study Visit

  1. Pingback: Part one – Project 2 – Exercise 1.3 | BA (Hons) Photography : A Different Perspective

  2. Pingback: Assignment one – ‘Square Mile’ – The Middle | BA (Hons) Photography : A Different Perspective

  3. Pingback: Reflecting on Part two – Imaginative Spaces and Assignment two… | BA (Hons) Photography : A Different Perspective

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