Category Archives: Exhibitions

2017 Sony World Photography Awards

Exhibition: Sony World Photography Awards at Somerset House
Date: Wednesday 3 May 2017 @ 6:30pm
Entrance: £5.00  (Student late night ticket)

This was the second year running that I decided to attend this exhibition.

The reason I like going to this particular exhibition is two fold: firstly, it is in Somerset House which is a very beautiful building.  And, although situated in the hustle and bustle of a busy London town, the inner courtyard always seems to provide a sense of calm.  So I was even more pleased that when the evening came round the rain had stopped and I could take the obligatory walk around the courtyard and take photos of the fountains.

Secondly, I like to see the work of upcoming photographers who have managed to get included in this exhibition, and rightly so.  It also gives me some hope that one day I will be able to provide inspiration to others through my work.  The breadth and depth of the images on show is also pleasing and opens your eyes to other cultures, social themes and technical approaches.

So what were the big take-aways for me from this exhibition?  Well there were two main things:

1 – I hadn’t realised previously, as obvious as it was at this exhibition, that I am drawn to images with certain colour palettes, together with those with muted colours, and

2 – I like images of partially obscured people.  This really surprised me as I am a big fan of portraits, full on face, so to be drawn to photos where you can see a person but not their face was very interesting to me.  Maybe I am going through some strange transition on my image likes and dislikes.

The exhibition was split into two sections the West Wing, which is the larger space, and the East Wing.  The West Wing covered:

1 – Martin Parr / Outstanding Contribution to Photography,
2 – Photographer of the Year,
3 – Professional Competition,
8 – ZEISS Photography Award, and
10 – 10 Years of the Sony World Photography Awards.

The East Wing covered:

4 – Open Competition,
5 – Youth Competition,
6 – National Awards,
7 – Student Focus,
9 – Sony Grant Exhibition, and
11 – Shop.

The East Wing was probably where most of my favourite images were displayed.  There was effective use of colour theory, empty/negative space, retouching, composition and humour.

Miniatures is one concept which has been showcased a fair bit recently online and possibly (dare I say it) is a current fashion (?!) but it’s good to see this was represented in the open competition and student focus.

Images taken behind/through something featured too e.g. a person behind a curtain; a hand beneath water covered in petals.  I think this gives a sense of voyeurism to an image.

Another aesthetic I am noticing more in exhibitions is where there is an image of someone or something and then there us a write up beside them as part of the image ‘package’.  I also noticed that all the prints (and there may have been some exceptions) were printed up on c-type matt paper.  I never used to noticed what image were printed on but now I’m fascinated by the choices made in this area.

Some of my favourite photographers and images that were exhibited were:
Nadine Hackemer – 2017 Student Focus, Trigger Me.
Ruby Gaunt – 2017 Student Focus, Untitled
Stewart Main – 2017 Student Focus, It’s the little things,
George Mayer – Portraiture 1st Place for his Light. Shadows series,
Nelli Palomaki – Portraiture 2nd place  (I note that Nelli also won a jurors’ pick prize at the 2017 LensCulture Awards which I entered this year),
Julien Caidos – Still Life Shortlist for his series Errance(s)
Shravya Kag – Student Focus Shortlist for her series The Element of Surprise,
Diego Mayon – 3rd place for his series Athens Studio, and
Spencer Murphy – 1st Place, Campaign, Professional, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

It would be re-miss of me to end this blog post without mentioning Martin Parr, who has indeed contributed significantly to the world of photography and adds the Outstanding Contribution to Photography award to his collection.
Since being on the OCA Photography Degree pathway I have been exposed to a lot of Martin Parr’s work and have been to a number of exhibitions which showcased his images, on one project or another. For me I think his work represents a style challenge. I get his work and narrative but I find his use of colour/style jarring, that’s possibly the point as his images contain at times jarring if not always thought provoking subject matter.
Martin Parr definitely has a style which as Glen Dewis covered in his YouTube live stream, style comes from doing something the same over and over again so you have a consistency of approach and look/feel to your images.  I have not yet developed my style as I am still experimenting and unsure which way to take my photography.  One of the reasons why it is so important that I keep my eyes and mind open to new ideas and techniques.

And with that thought I will close off this review.  I will at some point provide a review of the photographers that are influencing my current work but that will be for another blog at another time.

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Child’s Play at The Foundling Museum

Exhibition: Child’s Play – Mark Neville at The Foundling Museum
Date: Friday 28 April 2017 @ 4:00pm
Entrance: £7.50  (Student Concession inc gift aid)

I saw the advert for this exhibition in the British Journal of Photography (Issue 7858 April 2017 edition) and really wanted to see it but with so many other things in my diary I nearly missed it!  I managed to re-arrange my diary and freed up an hour, which was thankfully enough.

The reason I was drawn to this particular exhibition was the documentary aspect of the exhibition rather than the technical side of photography.  I had a slightly unconventional childhood, living in a rural location, so I was curious to see what childhood was like in other countries and cultures but also for different generations.

Note: I wanted to write this initial section before reading anything about the exhibition as I wanted to capture my thoughts and feelings about it without any influence from the photographer or other commentators.

The exhibition was spread across 3 rooms on 2 floors together with a lobby/foyer area.   I thought the cost to image ratio was high in comparison to other exhibitions I had been to.  Most of the photos were recent (2003 onwards) but I was surprised that in some respects childhood, as portrayed in the exhibition, was not that much different to that which I remembered in the 1970s.  It was surprising but also in some ways comforting, as I look back at my childhood with fond memories.  I appreciate not everyone is in that position.

There were a number of black & white images which fooled me into thinking they were more dated than they actually were.    I found myself searching for clues in the images to identify when they were taken; clothing, surroundings and the items being played with. This made me consider whether Child’s Play in some respects was timeless.  This also played out when watching the two videos in the exhibition foyer, where sports day past and more present had been filmed and now shown side by side for comparison. Certainly the sack race was an enjoyable comparator.

A lot of the children in the photos were not smiling and looking straight in to the camera. I found this interesting for two reasons; 1) in my mind ‘running free and laughing’ is my archetypal visualisation of ‘childhood’ but this was not being portrayed in the exhibition, although there was very little indication that childhood was a negative thing in general and 2) were the children asked not to smile and perform for the camera by the photographer?  Maybe the write-ups and review will answer with this.

As mentioned above, I had not read any reviews prior to attending the exhibition and on my first pass through the exhibition I disregarded the image narratives so I could get a feel of the images as a collection.

The exhibition made me realise that children are more resilient than I thought.  A number of the images had children in situations which I couldn’t imagine putting my children in to but for these children this was their life ‘normal’ and unquestioned; whether it was cultural, professional, medical or warfare related.  Even the children affected by war were still at play; they seemed to accommodate what was going on around them.

The other thing that interested me was access.  How did the photographer get access to take these images.  At a time when photographing children was becoming more sensitive, I wondered how clearance was given and the process the photographer had to go through to get access.

It was definitely worth taking the time to see this exhibition, it gave me a greater insight into collections of images which represent a single idea.

Technical observations:

  • all the B&W prints were on Silver Gelatin and Colour prints were C-type.  I hadn’t noticed this before at any of the other exhibitions I’ve been too so I will look further in to this aspect.
  • All prints were encased in white box frames, which seemed an un-fussy and simple way to present the images.
  • The second image in the series I thought was a bit Martin Parr-esque.

I will be scanning on the image descriptions very shortly – watch this space.

Taken directly from The Foundling Museum website page (posted here verbatim in case the site removes the page in the future.  This provides a permanent reference):

03 Feb 2017 — 30 Apr 2017
  • EXHIBITIONS & DISPLAYS
Child’s Play brings together an exhibition of photographs, a symposium and a book by artist Mark Neville, who works at the intersection of art and documentary.

Renowned for his socially focused projects, this new project aims to generate debate around the complex nature of children’s play and to advocate for improved provision for this universal right, as identified by the UN in the 2013 General Comment on Article 31 (the Convention on the Rights of the Child). At a time when up to 13 million children have been internally displaced as a result of armed conflict, and traditional public space is being privatised, Child’s Play reinforces our responsibility to ensure that children the world over have full opportunity for play and recreation.

The exhibition presents a series of Neville’s photographs of children at play in diverse environments around the world. Immersing himself in communities from Port Glasgow to North London, and in the war zones of Afghanistan and Ukraine, the artist has captured beautiful moments of free, spontaneous play. On display are new photographs of internally displaced children in Ukraine; residents of Kakuma, Kenya’s second largest refugee camp; and depictions of children at play in London adventure playgrounds, all made especially for this project. Neville’s work challenges the romantic ideal of play with the reality of children’s lives, which is often harsher and more complex. Through his photographs he captures children’s spontaneous urge to play and their determination to do so in the most unfavourable environments, revealing how through play children claim a place of power, safety and freedom. In the context of the Museum, the idea of spontaneous play is set against the institutional play evidenced at the Foundling Hospital.

A book of images in the exhibition, alongside an overview of ground-breaking work in the field of children’s play, seeks to raise awareness of its importance and to focus attention on how conditions for children in the UK can be improved. Disseminated to key policy makers, experts and each of the UK’s 433 local councils, the book is also be available to purchase from the Museum shop. A symposium on 20 March will explore the issue of spaces for play, looking at real and imagined barriers to play in our cities today.

#spacetoplay

Free for Foundling Friends

Buy a print

A limited-edition print created exclusively for this exhibition, is available to purchase from the Museum Shop. More details

The exhibition is supported by The 1739 Club, with support for the book from Outset Family.

References:

(2017) Child’s Play, Available at: http://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/events/childs-play/ (Accessed: 28/04/2017)

 

2 for 1 – Rauschenberg and Tillmans at the Tate Modern

I decided that as I was going to the Tate Modern to see the Rauschenberg exhibition that I would buy a dual ticket and see another exhibition whilst I was there.  For the purposes of this blog I have separated them out and critiqued each individually.

Exhibition: Rauschenberg
Date: Saturday 1 April 2017 @ 11:00am

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was an American painter and graphic artist launched his career in the early 1950s and whose early works anticipated the pop art movement.

The Tate Modern helpfully produces a small exhibition guide, at least for all the exhibitions that I have been to so far.  This is invaluable when trying to remember what you have seen and where.

There were 11 rooms:

1- Experimentation, 2 – Colour, 3 – Combines, 4 -Transfer Drawings, 5 – Silkscreens, 6 – Live, 7 – Technology, 8 – Material Abstraction, 9 – Travel, 10 – Metal and 11 – Late Works.

In the first couple of rooms the two things that struck me the most were 1) Rauschenberg did not conform to the normal artistic approaches of the time and as a result created unique physical works of art/installations and 2) he had a talented number of people around him who were also pushing boundaries in their different artistic fields, for example, John Cage (1912-1992), a composer, being one of these individuals.  [As an aside I performed with the ENO Community Choir at the John Cage Musicircus centennial celebration on 3 March 2012 at the London Coliseum, which was amazing to be part of.]

In one of the rooms there were two works of art which Rauschenberg had created simultaneously but concluded that neither were duplicates or imitations of each other, as each had been created in its own right albeit sequentially.  Although the elements to make up the works were the same, the positioning of the elements and execution slightly differed.  In photography we prescribe to the fact that no two moments are the same and therefore no two images captured can be identical, so Rauschenberg resonated with me creatively.

Rauschenberg was greatly influenced naturally by the lifestyle he led being part of the dramatic arts group that he toured with.  He was involved with all stage activity including set building but also towards the latter part of his touring he became a choreographer and he then had performers acting/dancing around his sets/artistic creations.

I found this exhibition very inspiring in respect of the ideas that it sparked.  I normally attend photography exhibitions but this exhibition showed me that collaboration can (and should) happen across the artistic disciplines and that you shouldn’t feel constrained as a photographer to stick with the tried and tested but instead you should push boundaries and create like any other artist would.  I certainly intend to start pushing some boundaries now that Rauschenberg has given me the courage to do so.

Exhibition: Wolfgang Tillmans
Date: Saturday 1 April 2017 @ 12:00pm

Wolfgang Tillmans (born 1968) is a German fine-art photographer. His diverse body of work is distinguished by observation of his surroundings and an ongoing investigation of the photographic medium’s foundations.  He became known in the 1990s for his photographs of everyday life and contemporary culture and for his pioneering method of displaying prints as whole room installations.

This was the first exhibition that I had been to which had such a strong social commentary running through it.  It was very different both in that the layout of the photography and written work which was all part of the installation.  You were able to move around the reading material viewing the images from different positions.

There was not the usual blurb for each room/work on the wall, which seems to be standard practice for large exhibitions.  Instead a booklet accompanied the exhibition as Tillmans wanted each room to act as an installation and wanted you to experience the collection without being concerned about the write up.  Also the images were taped to wall so you could interact with the image instead on a frame being its conduit for viewing.

There were 14 rooms in total which covered Tillmans interest in the photographic process and experimentation with it, his commentary on truth, experiencing places for the first time and recording this, his abstract works which looked inward and his interest in society and capturing cultural attitudes which looked outward.  There was a room where you could sit and listen to and appreciate studio music at the quality it was intended as opposed to through sub quality personal headphones.  Abstractions and textures were also Represented.

In one of the rooms he had a TV screen showing another part of the exhibition but it felt more like surveillance / CCTV of another of the exhibition rooms.

Room 4 in particular I found interesting.  It tackled the question around truth and in particular different assertions of the truth, particularly during the mid-2000s when claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction raised both political and ethical questions.  Tillmans used news paper cuttings as part of his installation which were deliberately laid out in provocative juxtapositions with his own photographs.

Another area covered was about the different biases that prevent you from being rational, here are some of them:

  • Zerorisk bias is a tendency to prefer the complete elimination of a risk even when alternative options produce a greater reduction in risk (overall).
  • Restraint bias is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control impulsive behavior.  Maybe one for the controlling amongst us.
  • Status quo bias is an emotional bias; a preference for the current state of affairs. The current baseline (or status quo) is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss.  I can relate to this.
  • Rhyme-as-reason effect is a cognitive bias whereupon a saying or aphorism is judged as more accurate or truthful when it is rewritten to rhyme.  I thought this was amusing.
  • Backfire effect, a name for the finding that, given evidence against their beliefs, people can reject the evidence and believe even more strongly.  I had never heard of this before.  

I do not know enough about the subjects Tillmans referenced in his exhibition or about the impact it has on the fabric of society but it gave me food for thought and I went away with some questions to answer in my own mind.

My main take away from a photography perspective was experiment and think about the message you are trying to convey in your work.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography at the Tate Modern

Exhibition: The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography 
Date: Thursday 9 February 2017 @ 3:00pm

When you think about Sir Elton John, photography is not one of the first creative mediums that springs to mind, being that he exists in a very aural profession, however, with the glamour of a showbiz lifestyle within the music industry of course the visual would come into play in everyday life e.g. when ‘putting on a show’ and presenting oneself to the public.  So I’m not sure why I was so surprised that Sir Elton was also into the visual art of photography.

The short video which accompanies the exhibition explains the background as to how he came to love photography to the point of wanting to collect it. When you find out how he got into photography as a visual aesthetic then you understand why he has become obsessed by it and why he now owns over 8000 prints.

Irving Penn, a photographer who I admire more for his approach and out of the box thinking rather than his photography per say, met with Sir Elton to take some distortion photographs and it was from then that Sir Elton was hooked.  There is only one of these distortion photographs on show in the exhibition but you see the ‘set’ in the short video; they are a great set.  The technique of moving the camera whilst taking the photograph creates a dragging effect which could be interpreted as the inner Sir Elton trying to get out of his face…. you may well have a different interpretation on this of course.

The collection focuses on the photography of the first half of the twentieth century when photography was ‘coming of age’.  As a result most of the prints are black and white, with a few exceptions which use colour as a post production addition e.g. tinting.  A lot of “artists at this time were transforming how photography was used and their experiments and innovations still impact how we see the world today,” [as stated in the free accompanying exhibition leaflet].

The exhibition includes so many well-known photographers and photographs in one exhibition and as an amateur photographer I couldn’t help but feel privileged to see some of these images in real life and give a big thanks to Sir Elton for recognising their value, sharing them with the general public and treating them with such respect and preserving their longevity.

The photographs are exhibited across 5 rooms: The Radical Eye, Portraits, Portraits / Experiments / Bodies, Documents and Objects / Perspectives / Abstractions.

Notably there are a large number of photographs taken by Man Ray on show in the exhibition and I wonder whether it was Man Ray’s photography that Sir Elton was specifically drawn to or whether it was the character that was Man Ray himself which is why he features so largely in the exhibition collection.  Maybe the accompanying exhibition guide, which unusually includes I believe every photograph in the exhibition at a reasonable price of £24.99 (before student discount), will explain – I have yet to read it from cover to cover but will.

I think the exhibition was well laid out, not too much to take in apart from maybe the last wall which had a lot of images in a large grid but these were well labelled.  I enjoyed seeing the work of the great photographers Penn, Weston, Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy, Evans, Lange, Adams…. and the list goes on. All the photographs were apparently left in the frames which Sir Elton has them in normally at his home which adds to the intimacy of the collection. There were a lot of photographs of a geometric nature, I particularly liked one of the train tracks in the circular configuration called Rail Spider by Tonz Schneiders 1950, obviously from an engine turning point, which is also a great piece of recording / documentary and gives a sense of history.

There is more I could write about but this is a must see exhibition for anyone into photography, into history, visual aesthetic, in fact anyone would get something from this exhibition. So I will leave it here… this has definitely been an exhibition which will influence me both in my degree studies and in my photography in general.

References:

Collectif,, Mavlin Shoair (2016) Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collec, : Tate Publishing, Limited.

Eggleston’s Portraits at the NPG – A Study Visit

Exhibition: William Eggleston Portraits 
Date: Saturday 1 October 2016 @ 11:00am

On Saturday, 1 October 2016, I went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the William Eggleston Portraits exhibition, London, 21 July – 23 October 2016.  This was a study visit arranged by the Open College of the Arts and lead by OCA tutor  Jayne Taylor.

Image credit: Photographs courtesy of OCA Student Amano Tracy

This was one of the best study visits I have been on so far.  The discussions were engaging and after 7 months of being on the course I felt I could actually participate positively and give an opinion on some of the aspects discussed and also to raise thoughts for discussion.  I have a long way to go but it’s starting to make sense which is a great feeling.  Now back to the exhibition….

William Eggleston (b: 1939)

William Eggleston is, as he is still alive, a pioneering American photographer renowned for his poetic mysterious images. One of his most notable photographs is The Red Ceiling which presents us with a bare light-bulb hanging down from a red ceiling. There are a couple of schools of thought on this, the lovers and the haters. I probably fit into the latter, as to me it seems more like a documentary photograph but I’m still on level one of my degree course so what do I know…. but I think there might be some context I am missing at the moment.

The exhibition has 100 of Eggleston’s photographs from the 1960s to present day. Most of the photographs in the exhibition are colour however there are a number of black and white images which are interesting and hold their own amongst the rich colours that Eggleston is known for.

The deadpan aesthetic is used a lot in his work and although there are some photographs where the subject is smiling or pulling a strange face, most are straight-faced. A number of the photographs have been taken either without the subject knowing or by surprise and this is probably why their expressions are such.

I enjoyed the varied portraits that he had taken and particularly his nightclub series. This is because I am interested in both flash photography and close portrait/headshot style photography. The focus points Eggleston used were at times not where you would expect compared to a typical portrait photo of today, where you would normally focus on the nearest eye of the subject. Instead in one of the pictures Eggleston focused on the eye furthest away which meant the one at the front was out of focus as he used a shallow depth of field. This is curious as if he was using flash he possibly could have used a smaller aperture, slower shutter speed to get a greater depth of field but he chose not to. I think it is these choices that separates Eggleston from other photographers of his time. He is also known for being a ‘one and done’ photographer i.e. for taking only one photograph of his subject/situation so maybe it is this choice that means he doesn’t strive to get that perfect shot which gives his photographs an edge.

The other aspect I enjoyed about Eggleston’s work shown in the exhibition was his use of colour.  Eggleston was one of the pioneers of colour photography and used a method where by he split the negatives out into three coloured filters red, green and blue (RGB) and transferred them onto transfers of cyan, magenta and yellow (CMYK). Would he be famous had he not been one of the fore-runners in the process of colour photography?  I’m not sure.

The colour photographs in the exhibition largely consist of greens, browns and red tones. It may well have been as a result of the colour film and processing that was available, and that he was using, around the early 70s which influenced his colour palette but the fact that he continued to use these colours in his later work feels more like an aesthetic choice. The colouration he used, I think, gives his photographs a cinematic feel.

He conforms to the usual compositional rules such as rule of thirds,complimentary shadows, pairings, mimicking body language to name a few. The largest print in the exhibition is Untitled 1969-70 (a lot of Eggleston’s photographs in the exhibition are untitled) a photograph which depicts a car parked in what appears to be a rural area, driver at the wheel, with the car door open and two men standing beside the car looking in the direction the car is facing. Both of the men are facing and standing in the same way and this made it hard for me to believe that this was a ‘one and done’ image in the sense of capturing a fleeting point in time, this must have been painstakingly set up /staged to get the men in exactly the same position/pose.

I was also interested in why the curator had hung a number of large prints very high up in such a small room so it meant you had to stand back away from the photographs almost on the other side of the room with your head cranked back to actually view them, individually or as a whole set/sequence. It seemed as though more space could have been assigned to avoid this but maybe this was done on purpose.

The one photograph I was particularly interested in was one of Eggleston’s girlfriend, Marica Hare, laying on the grass with her brownie camera. He had used his special colour technique to make the colours come alive and he also used a shallow depth of field, which meant his girlfriend’s face as well as her arm were in focus. The focus in this image does not seem to follow the depth of field path and seems to be sharp in non-corresponding areas. That said the concept and colour pallet works well.

Another take away for me from the exhibition was Eggleston’s method of selection and sequencing his photographs for presentation. He would print them out in a smaller format and arrange them in different formations to see which formation worked best. He also asked others to give their opinion on the sequencing. Something we could all employ especially via the OCA Level 1 Photography Facebook page.

I could keep writing about Eggleston’s photography as there is so much to say, and I probably will in a future blog post, but for now I must stop.

References:

2016. William Eggleston Portraits – Exhibition. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/eggleston/exhibition.php. [Accessed 01 October 2016].

WILLIAM EGGLESTON – William Eggleston’s Guide (Intro). 2016. WILLIAM EGGLESTON – William Eggleston’s Guide (Intro). [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.egglestontrust.com/guide_intro.html. [Accessed 01 October 2016].

WILLIAM EGGLESTON. 2016. WILLIAM EGGLESTON. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.egglestontrust.com/. [Accessed 01 October 2016].

Originally published 5 October 2016.
Amended 2 March 2017 to correct a typo.

Georgia O’Keeffe at the Tate Modern

Exhibition: Georgia O’Keeffe
Date: Friday 5 August 2016 @ 12:30pm

I had the pleasure of going to the Tate Modern on Friday to see the works of Georgia O’Keeffe and I wasn’t disappointed!  I didn’t know much about her work apart from her well-known clichéd paintings but I would definitely recommend the exhibition which runs until 30 October 2016.

Georgia OKeeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) is most well-known for her flower paintings that have sexual connotations but there is so much more to Georgia O’Keeffe than this.

The exhibition covers O’Keeffe’s work from the 1910s to the 1960s and includes her paintings, drawings, charcoals and a sculpture together with work from those who inspired her works and photographs from Alfred Stieglitz (1864 – 1946), her husband.  O’Keeffe was Stieglitz’s muse so there are a number of photographs of her in the exhibition.  There are 13 rooms so if you are going to go, pace yourself give yourself at least an hour and a half to take everything in.

O’Keeffe decided to be an artist before she was 12 years old.  I think back to when I was a child and although I had aspirations to be many things, working in the Pensions industry was not one of them… maybe that’s why I am now a frustrated wannabe photographer.

One thing I noticed particularly about her abstract paintings was the gentle calming use of colour.  She used pale blues, pinks, greens, greys and white, which were blended so softly.  She used rounded, flowing lines and an effective use of shading to take the eye on a pleasant journey within the frame.

There were many pieces that inspired me but a piece called ‘Shell No. 2 1928’ oil paint on board especially has given me some ideas for a future photography project.

 

Paul Strand at the V&A – A Study Visit

Exhibition: Photography and Film for the 20th Century
Date: Saturday 2 July 2016 @ 11am

Study visit number three took me to the V&A to see Paul Strand’s photographs spanning 50 years from the 1920s through to the 1970s – Photography and Film for the 20th Century. Curated by Martin Barnes.

Paul Strand (b: 1890 d: 1976) “was an American photographer and filmmaker who, along with fellow modernist photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, helped establish photography as an art form in the 20th century.”.

All the photographs exhibited are black and white. So too are the 3 films in the exhibition, the earliest of which, Manhattan he filmed with Charles Sheeler in 1921 and the other two, Redes (1936) and the Native Land (1942) were set to music without dialogue.

Strand used a camera with a fake lens on the side, this was so his subjects did not know he was taking a photograph of them and the results he found were more honest.  He used a prism on his camera right up until he went to Italy, at which point his photography became more direct.

The exhibition in the main covered his travels to: American Southwest and Mexico (1920s/1930s), New England (1945), France (1950), Italy, Scotland (1954), Egypt and Morocco (1965), Ghana (1963), and Romania (1960s).  He liked to embed himself within a place so he could capture the real essence of the place and it’s people.  His wife Hazel traveled with him and the exhibition had a map of Ghana where she plotted the route taken, which was up the gold coast and the wealthier regions.

As as aside, James Barnor (b: 1929), a Ghanaian photographer now based in London, who is only now receiving recognition for his photography, met Paul Strand.  They both took photographs in the same regions of Ghana and although their photography is quite different it makes for an interesting comparison of a place and its people.

The exhibition runs pretty much in chronological order; ending with his later years where he retired to France and took to taking photographs in his garden, however, compared to his other works this was not his best period.

You can see throughout his work that he had preferences e.g. using a frame within a frame, liked to photograph still life especially in nature, used deep depth of field, his portraits had a similar composition (liked to photograph people central to the frame without expression) and used light and shadow to enhance.

The period of his work which I enjoyed most in the exhibition was in New England.  “Strand found that he was able to satisfy his desire to reach larger audiences by presenting his prints in the form of books.  In 1945 the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York opened the first major retrospective of Strand’s work.  His work on the exhibition led to a book project titles ‘Time in New England’.”

There was a passage of a book at the end of the exhibition from which I made a note of a couple of the points made which resonated with me:

1 – “selection becomes the arbiter of content” – I picked this out because as part of our course we are asked to select photographs to submit for assessment and it is these selections that we are judged on.  So the selection process is a really important one for success.

2 – “evolution itself evolves” – this I thought was interesting because we accept things change but with every day that passes a new piece of information is presented to us so where we thought we were heading is revised.  The world is in constant flux and it’s important not to continue doing something just because you have always done it that way.  As new information presents itself, reflection and change should be natural steps in the process.

I’m not sure I’ve done his work justice on my blog but hopefully all the links and references will.

References:

Wikipedia. 2016. Paul Strand – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Strand.

Vimeo. 2016. Paul Strand – An Introduction on Vimeo. [ONLINE] Available at:https://vimeo.com/159045116. (see above)

The Guardian. 2016. I posed for Paul Strand: the day the great photographer walked into my village in Italy | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/mar/16/i-posed-for-paul-strand-the-day-the-great-photographer-walked-into-my-village-in-italy.

Fotomuseum Winterthur. 2016. Paul Strand after Margaret Mead – Still searching – Fotomuseum Winterthur. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.fotomuseum.ch/en/explore/still-searching/articles/26986_paul_strand_after_margaret_mead.