This was my first photo exhibition since starting my Masters in Photography at Falmouth. I came to explore what is happening in photography as a discipline in this gathering of multiple participants from photographers to curators to gallery owners to collectors to critics to people from the general population. As ever I go armed with questions to focus my attention. I will start with my questions and my draft answers and then go on to summarise a fantastic experience with some of the exhibits.
I have to say thankyou to Grace for getting me involved in this work, Francesca for the organisation, Brett for her enthusiasm and attention and the wonderful companionship over a couple of days of David, Iona, Amanda and Dede. Amanda as the photographer and Francesca as the perceptive eye are to be credited with the photograph heading this piece. The folio in my hand was engineered in to the right place by Francesca.
All the photographs here are taken by myself or Amanda…hers being the better ones…and I believe all those I took were with permission. Any reader wishing to educate me on the right way to present copy write please tell me.
Is space like this elitist and a prisoner of capitalism?
The history of photography can be summarised by some as owned by the wealthy white privileged Western male who themselves are in the grasp of the narrative of empire and pushing the agenda of capitalism. From my experience of Madrid I can now add wealthy white Western females to the summary and suggest little else has changed. I include myself in this analysis as I was only here and given access to what I experienced because I could afford to pay for access.
Photography in this space is being packaged in much the same way as any financial instrument. A producer, the photographer, needs to be backed by critical acclaim, a powerful curator and an acknowledged gallery seller who is well linked to the community of collectors. With the right virtuous circle all can profit. In an ideal outcome for money the artist, the gallery owner and the collectors all take a share of the profit and the critic is accepted as a member of the club.
Within this there are many tensions arising. Can the critic be controlled? Is the curator on top of how the market is developing, or, shaping the market? What is a fair share for the artist or the capital risking gallery owner? How do collectors deal with failures? It is like any market.
For the body of work I am looking at what does it add to the discipline of photography?
I credit Cemre Yesil with this question. As my tutor for the first module she kept challenging everything I put up and asked me ‘but what does it add to the discipline of photography.’ She educated me to understand the work I had produced to date was trivial, insignificant and derivative of what had been done before. I am now seeking to find a way to add something new but am excited by the prospect.
It is exciting to say that much of the work I saw has added to the discipline of photography, such as William Klien (wow wow wow) or is now challenging the boundaries, David Jimenez (wow), Clare Strand (wow), Elina Brotherus (wow), Délio Jasse (wow), Sharon Core (wow), Laura Letinsky (wow) and in a very different way Patrick Pound (wow). So what does wow mean for me? Falmouth is already after 15 weeks challenging all my critical assumptions. Rather than relying on base reaction I have been challenged to look first for information and then apply a number of lenses to the critical analysis. For Klein and Jimenez I could walk in to the gallery with no briefing and see they were different to what had gone before and my eye said these are special. I also will want to look again. All of the others I read up on beforehand and was not disappointed. There is tremendous insight added by listening to what the artist intended with her work.
Patrick Pound is unique. On my first two readings of his work I could not have been less interested. On meeting Patrick and going through his ‘show’ I was mesmerised. I will say more about him below but I have seen few better endings to a well curated show called ‘museum of air’ than the last picture in his exhibition. Gone with the Wind.
Did the body of work move me?
I think I don’t need to say much here after seeing the answer to my second question. Happily it did and I look forward to both being moved more as I explore and from that reaction creating work of my own that moves others.
The most amazing thing was that he himself was there. Early on I noticed him sitting by himself before people (me included) realised who he was. There has to be something immensely moving about seeing a man surrounded by his life’s work and being there himself at 91 years old. I saw some of the last performances of Artur Rubinstein the pianist and still dwell on his fingers in my minds eye as I listen to his interpretations of Chopin.
That aside this was my first experience of his work. It sounds like I am lucky as so many others have seen so many exhibitions by William. I am happy to report that the seasoned campaigners also found this to be a fresh and new experience.
I wanted to photograph every piece and had to keep reminding myself to be present and look at the work. I am a youngster at describing my experience but my eye was drawn to so many of the pictures and wanted to and will want to look again and again. The cinematic quality of some of his single images is remarkable. His move from black and white to colour to film to text from New York to Tokyo are an inspiration for any photographer. I am 62 and he is 91 and I am wondering what I can do in the next 30 years.
I pick this image out. I won’t say anything. Form your own opinion. OK. I will say this was ahead of its time and remains contemporary today.
I couldn’t stop looking at this. As someone who had a film camera in 1967 I am so much in awe of the skill to capture this shot.
This time in colour and you can imagine the frame before and the frame to follow. Cinematic.
Here you get a sense of him pulling together so many threads. He was a painter. He was a photographer. He was a filmmaker. If I put something like this up it has no meaning but the context of William’s life gives so much meaning and power to this series.
David in our group took us here and what a rich picking. The gallery space was a water tower and somewhere I would love to go with a tripod and make images. So many angles, shapes, light compositions that I was drooling. For someone like me who has a problem with heights it is also challenging. Thankfully there was a lift.
Once again this was my first experience of his work. As someone living in Spain it was wonderful to see and I want to learn more.
This image is just unbelievable for me. The play of lights and darks, the compositions but beyond all that the spiritual quality of the image. There is something about me in this picture and I imagine you too.
A simple statue of a horse but what incredible tension. The positioning of the horses mouth amidst the shadows and to the right and the use of empty space to dramatic effect gives me such a sense of anger and frustration.
I don’t yet know why I love this panel so much but I really do. I am engaged in seeking to make sense of it but also happy to let the playful shapes and flow of each image tell me its story. I have to get some of his books and enquire further.
Clare’s work is at the centre of the challenges of human beings communicating. She takes the mathematician Channing’s work looking at source information to destination with noise in between. A simple process of asking her husband to choose 10 images, then coding a matrix of the image in to one of 10 shades from white to black and telephoning the results across to Clare who was working in Paris at the time.
In the exhibition it is a beautiful exposition of the miss-understanding that arises between the sender, who thought she was being clear, to the receiver who thought he was understanding clearly. In the exhibition the difference between image and coded receipt is dramatic. As Clare says when you reduce the bigger received images to the same dimensions as the original the effect of Chinese Whispers is lost. For me the way the exhibits were presented the impact was immense.
As a coach I sometimes stopped a meeting and selected someone and asked them to repeat what the speaker had just said. The message to the room is we are so often listening to ourselves rather than the speaker was strong. Clare’s work touches on this important psychological process taking place between communicating individuals.
What I have to say about Sharon’s work is that the images are so good I wanted to go and touch the flowers and put my nose to them. She is recreating great still life images from the history of painting. But she is doing more. She grows the flowers, she makes the tables and vases she puts the flowers in and she patiently waits for it all to come together to make her shot. I want to visit her garden, I want to sit and watch as she makes her preparations for an image. As an aspiring landscape photographer I am interested in her decisive moment.
This is an example of work that it is easy to pass by. Sharon chooses her subjects carefully. It could be the last still life done as a painter before colour photography arrived.
The image here does not do justice to the work to create this and the quality achieved.
Laura’s work is understated colours, well balanced compositions and thought provoking images. For me one of the most interesting things about her work was the amount of effort my own mind was putting in to making sense of them. She is taking images from catalogues and magazines and then constructing them in a way to stimulate curiosity. It is a beautiful experience…or at least it was for me.
There is so much to look at and make sense of in this image. The horse, why? The shadow of the figure on the horse. The finger on the lower left. The face in the middle. The beautiful balance of shapes and suggestions. Even the lighting dots which may only be from my experience through my lens. They all ask questions.
Before coming I had little interest in this exhibit. On leaving I wonder if it is the most significant. Patrick is effusive in his explanation of what he does. It can be considered banal and mundane but as I got in to it I thought how interesting.
This is the museum of air exhibition. Patrick collects from everywhere and rarely are there any of his own photographs in his exhibitions. He adds mistakes and humour to his work. This is an example of work where context and briefing are helpful. This wall shows air. To the right are pictures showing air moving to the right. To the left the equivalent and above and below.
Patrick is engaging and fun as he explains what he is doing. I asked him what was the most he had paid for a print and he hesitated, looked at his wife and declined to answer. It is also clear that from a collectors perspective he can’t mention his name if he wishes to buy something as the price rockets. What I found interesting is that there are few competitors doing what he is doing.
What a week. Learnt lots and stimulating ideas for practice. Looking forward to Arles in early July and will go with three new questions. I repeat that my answers to the questions I pose here are draft and welcome any inputs to improve my understanding.