Posts tagged ‘exhibition’

February 21, 2015

Drawn by light – Study Visit

by Suzy Walker-Toye


It’s taken me a while to write up my visit at the end of last year to the Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the Science Museum. The visit was hosted by two OCA tutors, Rob Bloomfield and Wendy McMurdo. Wendy’s excellent review is written up here. I was very impressed that she had previewed the exhibition and really done her homework so she could show us around the exhibition and talk a little about selected pieces which was very interesting and added a lot to the visit. On other study visits I’ve been on its often the first time the tutors have seen the work so there is an obvious element of them winging it (which is also fine because you get their unfiltered responses).

drawn by light exhibition media space

I don’t have a great deal to add that that review really, apart from my own impression of how contemporary some of the images seemed to be. Especially the images of Christina, above, by Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn O’Gorman. This was part of a set of images which were amazingly from 1913. It looks like she’s wearing a red hoodie! In fact I was surprised at how early the colour photographic processes had crept in. I was always under the impression it was much much later. I enjoyed seeing the range of classic images all together in one collection (although a few more sitting down places from which to enjoy the images would have been nice, its a largish sized exhibition across several rooms but in my pregnant state I found it quite tiring to do all at once including the tutor talks). This trailer from the science museum shows some more of the pictures that were on display (no photos inside the exhibition so I didn’t make as many notes on my phone as usual).

I love this quote from the timeout review I read because it sort of sums up the exhibition for me.

Got to love a pun in the name of a serious exhibition. ‘Drawn by Light’ could refer to the pull of the nascent technology of photography in the early nineteenth century, which drew scientists, artists and wealthy dilettantes, mothlike, to this incredible new way of recording the world on light-sensitive plates. But it also reflects the ‘artistic’ tack of a lot of early photography. This was drawing with light: a noble creative calling, whereby the treasures of the earth and the human soul might be delineated, analysed, catalogued. A path to enlightenment, if you will.

I enjoyed the 1850’s Salon style layout of one of the walls of images too, it gave the modern audience an appreciation of how these images may have been viewed when first exhibited.

DrawnByLight wall of images

In the little exhibition booklet it explains that they used images from the V&A (such as the one below) depicting an Exhibition of the Royal Photographic Society 1858 to recreate this typical Salon curation. Its amazing to think of all that great work stuffed into such a small space.


After an hour or so around the exhibition we all convened for a chat over coffee, unfortunately there was much of it I couldn’t hear because the group was very large and I was somewhat on the edge. I think there was mention of the many gaps in topics of the images, since the RPS are “quite conservative” about what topics constitute art (which was quite cheeky I thought coming from the OCA tutors considering that even today academia frowns upon certain genres (namely wildlife photography which I find can be just as artistic as landscape or anything else, just go see the WPOTY exhibition if you need convincing of that).

The one image that really stuck with me was this one of London in the twenties: The Heart of Empire, c.1923, Alfred George Buckham.

The Heart of Empire, c.1923, Alfred George Buckham

It has so many elements that make me love it. The light. The subject (I’m a proud Londoner so any lovely London views, especially around the thames hold a special place in my heart). The point of view, even today aerial views are not as common and mundane as many other view points for photographs so in those days – to take this photo – wow! The plane as the focal point and the shafts of light and the Thames leading the eye through the photo. Its amazing. The reproduction here looks a little newspaper-clippingish but its well worth going to see in person.

With the exception of that one image (and some of the colour ones), overall I think I agree with other OCA student, Sarah-Jane, that I was glad to see it but I wasn’t as excited as I should have been about this exhibition. A lot of these images were amazing for their time-period, and certainly very interesting as an academic collection of historical images however, as a modern audience, people have seen hundreds of images of a similar nature (sure, its good to see where we came from) but I think I prefer seeing the contemporary shows of where photography is now. The modern exhibitions seem to have a trend of showing images super blown up. Does it make me shallow that it’s more impressive? Perhaps. Maybe its just that I’m tired of seeing millions of tiny photos of mediocre things (on a computer screen, mobile phone, or in fact printed as these are) I want to see something that wows me in some new way, something I can get excited about. I’d still recommend going to see it though, its on at the science museum media space until 1st March 2015 (so you don’t have long).

Here are some more reviews not linked to already above
Design week
The Guardian
The Telegraph
BBC Radio 4

June 9, 2014

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014

by Suzy Walker-Toye

Further to my previous post on the Prix Pictet study visit, I took the opportunity of being in town on a Saturday to spend the afternoon visiting the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014. Its quite interesting visiting two such different contemporary photography prize exhibitions on the same day and I really enjoyed last years (which we did as a study visit, not sure why the OCA didn’t this year).

About the prize:
The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 is presented by The Photographers’ Gallery, London. The annual prize of £30,000 awards a living photographer, of any nationality, for a specific body of work in an exhibition or publication format, which has significantly contributed to photography in Europe between 1 October 2012 and 30 September 2013. The winner will be announced at a special ceremony at The Photographers’ Gallery on 12 May 2014. source.

See this on vimeo here.

This year the winner is Richard Mosse and for once I’d actually seen the original exhibition for which he was nominated (at the Venice Biennale 2013, The Enclave at the Irish-via-the-Congo pavilion).

His exhibition featured photos & videos of rebel-filled forests made using military surveillance film that turns the world psychedelic pink colour. The first room of giant scale photographs were a beautiful counterpoint to the traumatising videos in the next room. Here is a quote from the curators statement leaflet I picked up there:

Death is plainly observed by the camera, which pans over twisted bodies lying on the side of the road, already bootless, looted by passersby.

Not really honeymoon material but powerful nonetheless.

From the Mapp catalogue:
Mosse documents a haunting landscape touched by appalling human tragedy in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where 5.4 million people have died of war related causes since 1998. Shot on discontinued military surveillance film, the resulting imagery registers an invisible spectrum of infrared light, and renders the jungle warzone in disorienting psychedelic hues. 

See this on vimeo here.

As per usual in the Photographers Gallery there were video interviews you could watch with a headphone set. I was quite disappointed there was no interview with Richard Mosse, only this video:

See this on vimeo here.

The other nominations were all new to me.

Spanish photographer Alberto García-Alix is nominated for his publication Autorretrato/Selfportrait (La Fabrica Editorial, 2013), a book featuring black and white self-portraits which offer an insight into the artist’s life over nearly four decades. These include the upheavals at the end of Franco’s dictatorship in the early 70s through newly gained liberties in the mid-80s and into the present day. 

In the exhibition there was quite a long video presentation of the images (and some footage and voice over in spanish) and I stayed to watch most of it, it was quite atmospheric if a little depressing. The photos themselves are printed quite large, not as large as the Richard Mosse images but large enough to have some impact in a busy gallery setting. Some of the photographs are quite sexually explicit in nature (especially some in the video) so be warned, I wouldn’t take children to this. There is a small notice in the lift but I missed it until I was leaving (because the lift was full when I got there). I also enjoyed his interview (below):

See this on vimeo here.

I always seek the face of my subject, fixing his or her eyes on a point which will correspond to the eye of the spectator, so that the spectator is also observed by the image. That is the mystery of photography for me, its virtue: that is, that the image should observe the spectator.

Alberto García-Alix

I watched the video interview of American photographer Lorna Simpson before I saw the work and I’m not sure if that was a good idea or not. I think I should have viewed it then watched then viewed again like I usually do (but it was so busy that day).


She was nominated for her exhibition Lorna Simpson (Retrospective) at Jeu de Paume, Paris (2013). Simpson’s work links photography, text, video installations, most recently archival material and found objects. Emphasizing a conceptual and performative approach, she explores themes of gender, identity, culture, memory and body. She had found an archive of photographs of an unknown black women learning to pose for the camera (Hollywood style) and her work was re-exhibiting this as a body of work with photographs of herself inserted alongside. I thought that sounded really interesting and it was expect that there looked to be a few duplicates of her new images which ruined it for me. It was as if she wanted to lay it out in a certain way but didn’t have enough images and thought no one would notice if she duplicated a few, it would have been ok but there were no duplicates in the archived images, to me it just smacked of laziness. She needed to shoot new ones and not treat us like idiots.

See this on vimeo here.

Last but not least is German photographer Jochen Lempert. He is nominated for his exhibition Jochen Lempert at Hamburger Kunsthalle (2013).

Originally trained as a biologist, Lempert has been using photography since the early 1990s to study humans and the natural world. His approach is scientific and poetic as well as humorous. Always working in black and white, his work engages with a diverse range of subjects and genres, ranging from everyday views, to abstracted details.

four frogs

I had mixed feelings about this work. I loved the photograms. They were truly extraordinary, especially the “four frogs” series (above) and the one of sand which looked like static from far away but as you get closer looks sharper and sharper. However the other work and the poor presentation let this down. I know the presentation is deliberate to emphasise the actual medium of a print however it did just look like he’d laser-printed some images on cheap paper and blu-tacked them to the wall. I would have liked a proper interview with him also but you can see for yourself below:

See this on vimeo here.

The exhibition is on until 22nd June, its worth a trip if you’re in town.

June 4, 2014

Prix Pictet 2013 – Consumption: Study Visit

by Suzy Walker-Toye

Last weekend I attended the study visit to the V&A to visit the Prix Pictet exhibition, The global award in photography and sustainability. I really enjoyed the 2012 exhibition: Power so I was keen on getting to this one. This year the theme was Consumption. All the artists were very different so goodness how they judge this.

Sadly since my visit the winner, Michael Schmidt, has died aged 68.

His entry, the Series: Lebensmittel was really interesting. Initially when I looked at the entries of the all the artists online before the visit it wasn’t one of my favourites, however seeing it all laid out so that it rippled and flowed as a series was most impressive.

(© Michael Schmidt © Prix Pictet 2013):
Michael Schmidt - Lebensmittel, Prix Pictet

As part of the pre-work we were expected to read the following article from Sean O’Hagan of the Guardian. This piece was written before the winner was announced and O’Hagan wanted Rineke Dijkstra to win.

“It is an intimate work about a single subject that is filled with political and cultural resonance.”

Although its a beautiful series of images (of a Bosnian refugee child becoming a woman in the Netherlands) it didn’t seem to be related to the theme so I wasn’t surprised it didn’t win (whether or not Dijkstra is a woman doesn’t come into it really).

Since then Sean O’Hagan has written a obituary for Michael Schmidt here.

If I was going to pick from the women to win I would have thought Laurie Simmons exploration of the unreality of consumer fetishism with the series Love Doll would have been it. She photographically tracks her days with a life-size sex doll trying to give her a personality.

(© Laurie Simmons © Prix Pictet 2013):
Laurie Simmons Prix Pictet
The Love Doll / Day 26 (Shoes)

I think the most visually impressive was the huge scanned creations from Chinese photographer Hong Hao. It was the most literal interpretation on the theme, for 12 years he had individually scanned in many of the items he consumed and then grouped them together into giant collages of “stuff”. One was a great trip down memory lane with retro items such as floppy disks and cassettes. It was interesting to try and discern his criteria for grouping items together. One was the underneaths of items so we were trying to guess what they items might be.

Another artist who’s images I was impressed with was, surprisingly, Mishka Henner. I’m not usually a fan of appropriated images presented as new work but I felt this series of Google earth images, Beef & Oil really highlighted global sustainability issues in a successful and impactful way. It does bring up the usual interesting topics of his he really a photographer or not (because his images are selected from satellites) but the images themselves are beautiful and really bring home what we’re doing to our world.

(© Mishka Henner © Prix Pictet 2013):
Mishka Henner Prix Pictet

The other artists nominated made less of an impression on me and although conceptually interesting, in my on personal opinion, were also-rans.

Motoyuki Daifu‘s series on his family reminded me of a sort of Asian Richard Billingham.

Juan Fernando Herran had a interesting idea for his series Escalas which explored the very edges of cities which were expanding outwards, the first things people do in these makeshift areas are create steps and makeshift walkways in their struggle for space.

Abraham Oghobase‘s untitled series depicted him making various actions in front of walls covered in person graffiti adverts for used cars, piano lessons etc.

Boris Mikhailov‘s series Tea, Coffee & Cappuccino is a street photographers take on the encroachment of the ‘west’ on his village in the Ukraine and the influx of cheap plastic signs and adverts. For me (as a Westerner) it wasn’t the cheap plastic which was the problem but the people taking a crap in the street. Nice.

Allan Sekula‘s series Fish Story is a series of prints exploring the now defunct LA shipyards.

Adam Bartos‘s series Yard Sale addresses the theme from the the other way, recycling by selling on the items you no longer have use for. In the UK car-boot sales are the equivalent and are big business for the farmers who’s land they are hosted on. This series of photographs depicts the way that people lay out all their old stuff in a way that they think other people might be attracted to it and therefore buy it.

I really enjoyed the exhibition, its well worth a visit. You simply cannot get an appreciation of the scale and impact of some of the images shown when you see them on the internet.

The tutor who accompanied us said we should review the exhibition with regard to our own work but on discussion went on to laugh and tell me not to bother when I told him my work was underwater nature photography. “Maybe try taxidermy if you want to photograph animals, thats more artistically interesting”. Thanks. I’ll leave my comments on that small-minded conversation to another post but suffice it to say here that I think I could make a pretty convincing case for showing nature photographs in a sustainability photography prize such as this considering what we’re doing to our planet.