Category Archives: exhibition

Under a Blood-Red Sky

Not kidding:

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This is the sky this morning, 8.30 am. No filter, no mumbo-jumbo. Just a crisp, cold winter morning in the city centre of Dublin. We are back to the time where I just about finish my morning work and get up from the desk – to notice the colour of the sky outside. (In deeper, darker winter the sun has not yet risen when I take my breakfast break.)

The image comes with a reminder for all Dublin readers that the annual Turner show is on in the National Gallery of Ireland. I make my pilgrimage to the exhibition every year. It is all the more special because the Turner watercolours are only ever shown in the month of January (as stipulated in the Vaughan Bequest from 1900 that stated the Turner watercolours were to be shown every year in the month of January – as the light was least damaging in the muddy grey of the Irish winter… too right). They match the sunrise in their pinks, reds and oranges – although Turner does not paint with a wide, wet brush or however else we usually see watercolours. There is an amazing amount of detail in the vague, the occasional stronger brushstrokes and the carefully unpainted parts of the images. I find these paintings so un-watercolour-ish, I am astounded every time I see them.

My photo does not reach the lofty heights of artistic expression that Turner perfected. But the view of the sky certainly connects me with him. The beauty of colour. Amazing.

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London, September 2013

With a bit of twisting, the old joke can be appropriated for Dublin: What’s the best thing coming out of Dublin? The frequent planes to London. Well, that’d be putting it a bit too harshly – I really like this place, parochial though it is. But I have to concede that its proximity to London is one of its most enticing features. Well, it has became so, ever since I discovered a) how cheap and easy it is to get from here to London and b) what London really has to offer for photographers (and any other species of tourists).

The first time I went over for a mini-trip was in February 2011 with my fabulous group of gorgeous college friends, with the express purpose of looking at the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize in the NPG and the exhibition on camera-less photography in the V&A, Shadow Catchers, and ever since I have made a point of going every year. I saw Paul Graham in the Whitechapel Gallery and a history of London Street Photography in the Museum of London in June 2011. Last December I caught Patrick Demarchelier in the NPG and a brilliant exhibition in the NG called Seduced by Art on the influence of art on photography. This time ’round I happened on an exhibition by chance that turned out to be hugely inspiring and great fun to look at, Miles Aldridge – I only want you to love me.

What I had actually printed out in advance as a reminder to see, took a backseat against Aldridge. And yet it was well worth making the trip off-Oxford Street. Not only because I had never been down London’s most famous shopping mile, but because I finally managed to find the Photographers’ Gallery, located in Ramillies Street, just off Oxford Street. What initially drew me there was an exhibition of John Hinde photographs – those tacky holiday postcards that used to be on sale everywhere in the British Isles, Ireland included. I remember those images very well from my first visit to this island. The exhibition in the Photographers’ Gallery turned out to be disappointing in the sense that only a handful of images were on show. Nicely blown-up with a postcard original beside it, they were hung in the print archive in the basement of the Gallery. Not that easy to look at, and frankly not enough images. An amusing insight, however, in what constituted a postcard image in times long gone: Typical recreational scenes, including an idyllic beach spoilt by caravans; a busy park with a magnificent fountain, obscured by the revellers; the view of a beautiful cove, egg-shaped 1960s car banged right in front of it. The trademark use of primary colours on details in the images – often manipulated in post-production – was made visible in the contrast of the original colour print and the subsequent postcard edition. Rumour has it that Hinde (and his legion of photographers) always carried a few red-blossom potted plants in the boot of their cars. A hilarious trip back down memory lane – well, before my time even (and I have increasingly less occasion to use that phrase, so there).

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Picture postcard kitsch Ireland. Not by Hinde but by me, and with the trademark red.

Artistically and theoretically more exciting was the main exhibition currently on display in the Photographers’ Gallery. Mass Observation is not just the title of the exhibition but the name of an artistic project started in the mid-1930s in Britain. This is not just a project in documentary photography, but a socio-historical experiment. The founders of the movement stipulated to record every day life in the project. Not only did they take photos of all manner of human life, but also record and categorize human activity in word and relic. In the day and age of data protection and privacy control this kind of thing would not be possible anymore: following unsuspecting members of the public around as they went about their business, jotting down all they did in a notebook. Worthy of a local history museum, the participants amassed material that gives a glimpse of the recreational activities of people in Britain from the 1930s through to the present.

In a way, the photography displayed here was incidental, often not deliberate in its framing etc., sometimes more so – depending on the expertise of the photographer, I suppose. It is a bit of a mingle-mangle of bits and pieces. Quirky. The context is simply the recording of details – but where this all is going, I am not sure.

My meh-attitude to the exhibition probably has to do with the fact that I did not have enough time to engage properly with the concept and the displays. I was en-route to a meeting and flew through the exhibition in half an hour. Not enough time to peruse the displays. It is worth seeing – as a larger project, but not as a photography exhibition, in my opinion. It is an early example of multi-media art. Or a late example of da-da? If I had had more time, I am sure I could’ve given it the due it deserves. I will say, however, that it is worth a visit.

The conclusion has to be that a London visit on photography business needs good planning – and lots of time. Possibly also alone-time – I always get slightly flustered when I am perusing photo exhibitions with non-photography friends. Just because I imagine that they do not want to spend as much time as me poring over prints, examining lighting and gauging the overall experience. Alternatively, get together a group of photo-enthusiasts. It’s high time I did that again.

The Photographers Gallery

Ramillies Street

London

Miles Aldridge – I only want you to love me

By and large, Miles Aldridge is a fashion photographer. Born and raised in the world of fashion (his father was a designer, he has two fashion model daughters), it is no wonder that Aldridge’s work is characterised by strong colours and elaborate set-ups. Women are the subject – or rather object – of all of his work. Whether they are glossy madonnas or tacky fashion divas or victims of household items, they are in each and every photo exhibited in his current exhibition I only want you to love me in Somerset House, London. Fittingly, as I visited the exhibition on Monday, London Fashion Week was in full swing in Somerset House, too, and the images created by Aldridge stood alongside the peacocky narcissism of the bold, the blingy and the beautiful. Fox pelts stapled to the shoulder of fashion victims – you would think that is a figment of a photographer’s imagination, but no, seen on the cobbles of the Somerset House courtyard on a passing fashion enthusiast. The mind boggles. What the – fashion-challenged – photographer cannot understand in real life becomes a statement of irony and deliberate exaggeration in the photographic art of Aldridge: hyper-made up, glamourous women in shrill colours, plastic-y skin and garish accessories. Woman as a victim of fashion?

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My Variation on a Theme by Miles Aldridge

Aldridge works on film – Kodachrome and Ektachrome – and deliberately so, in order to manipulate his images in post-processing and arrive at a “brutal simplification of the images”. Primary colours scream from the prints. It is hard *not* to be drawn (by the signal colours) to the photographs, and as soon as you set your gaze on the image, you are drawn into the stories: a seductively open mouth with a pink-clawed index finger offering a smattering of caviar to the gaping chasm. The domestic goddess in defeat, tray of smashed dinner plate in front of her. Stepford Wives, identical and exchangable, shopping in the supermarket. It is so overdone that it is simply fun to look at, to enjoy the colour, the superficial, polished beauty of it all.  But the elaborate set-ups contain whole stories, as superficial as they may seem upon first sight. They make you think, continue the story in your own mind, prompt your imagination: For whose benefit is the caviar seductress suggestively licking her finger? Why has the yellow housewife smashed her chicken and peas, and for whom are the Stepford Wives buying shopping-trolley loads of Heinz beans???

Yes, we can put a suitably sociocritical superstructure on the message of the images. The searing wounds of oppression by fashion, body image and advertising, inflicted upon the 20th century woman. The dichotomy of domestic goddess and sultry seductress that all women have to live. The pastiche of the Madonna, crying empty tears for the loss of autonomy. They are all victims, wounded women. Oh how ironic Aldridge puts it all. I find his way of addressing the problems of female alienation too simplistic, possibly too lurid, even though that’s what we might *like* to see when looking at oversimplified imagery like this. There are a few quotes by Aldridge throughout the exhibition, and frankly, I wish they hadn’t been there. Such as this one: “My understanding of wounded women, I think, began with my mother.” Does he really understand? Or is his irony perpetuating the on-going wounding of women?

Don’t get me wrong. I did not look at this exhibition expecting to see a documentary on the state of women’s lib in the 21st century. I quite simply enjoyed the wonderfully oversaturated colours, the lurid scenes, the Barbie-doll artificiality of his subjects. I felt blissfully removed from these fantasy creatures. Nothing in my life can even remotely relate to the scenes depicted. And I thought to myself, “can we please just see this as pop-art fun?”. Yeah, I *am* interested in the issue of gender equality, but that does not mean I cannot savour simple aesthetics or over-emphasised irony. Therefore I almost enjoyed the most sexist of Aldridge’s work the most – his fashion editorial for luxury watches was simply splendid – implicitly explicit scenes of male domination where all that is visible is a male wrist (always with the clunky precious-metal watches on view) on the thigh of a be-suspendered woman, pubic mound lurking behind the lacy thong; the male thumb invading the seductively opened mouth (again); the male hand splayed across the woman’s cheek. Oh yes, woman in chains of oppression and sexual submission. In the name of advertising. That is actually more (worth) telling than the implied imbalance between the genders.

What you make of it depends on your own personal taste. If you need the cloak of an artist’s statement that assures you “oh no, this is all meant ironically”, then there it is. If you are happy enough to look at highly aestheticised images with a twisted sense of humour, and you can take sexism without putting on your purple dungarees and employing your bra like a catapult, this exhibition will make you smile and allow your eyes to feast. If, however, you have a feminist agenda, don’t go. It’ll get your back up and your knickers in a definite twist. Lacy-see-through or not.

Miles Aldridge – I only want you to love me

Somerset House

Until September 29, 2013

Feeling Faint, Rather than Faint-Hearted

Sometimes you get more than you have bargained for. And I really shouldn’t complain, considering that I am continually blasting bland photography exhibitions on the ubiquitous topics of the isolation of the highrise-dweller, urban monotony and human misery. Yes, I cannot stand insipid photography projects on the blandness of suburban supermarket car parks. And I think there is nothing more tedious than another solo-show on the ghost estat-ism of current-day Ireland. But whoa – I certainly didn’t see what was hitting me when I recently went to see an exhibition called “Skin” in the Royal Hibernian Academy.

To be fair, I had been warned. My friend D___ had mentioned that “it was not for the faint-hearted”. But since he had also told me that there were two prints by a big-name photographer in the show, I chose to ignore his warning and see the exhibition, anyway. “Skin – an artistic atlas” sounds harmless enough: Skin makes an appearance in all graphic art. Well, whenever there is a person in it, there will be skin. And this largest of all human organs is obviously a wonder in itself, can be quite beauiful and is certainly something we encounter ourselves on a daily basis. On the basis of “every single moment of our lives”, more like.

Maybe I should’ve taken heed of the fact that the exhibition in the RHA was organised in conjunction with the launch of the Irish Skin Foundation, a newly-formed charity to support people with skin conditions. Can you see where this is leading? Yes, it led to some art that was quite hard to stomach. Even a stoic like myself had to acknowledge that. It was mostly the painted and drawn art that had me clutch my stomach to stop it from reeling (or worse) in the face of growths, discoulourings and gaping abysses. Particularly the video piece Barbed Hula by Sigalit Landau had me shudder – a video sequence of the artist doing the hula hoop with a hoop of barbed wire that left scratches, lacerations, and bloodied marks every time it swirled around her body.

Thank goodness the photography was nowhere near that level of self-harm. Even looking at the project “The Morgue” by Andres Serrano was not as harrowing – and did not feel like an act of self-harm when looking at it. Granted, one of the images was violently evocative – a detailed look at the bloodied corpse of a stabbing victim. And yet there was a strange calm and peace in the images, despite the violent deaths of the victims. (Ok, probably evident in the fact that these were dead bodies in a morgue…) Cara Phillips used infrared photography to show the vulnerability of the individual sitter in their portrait. This made for interesting effects when the sitters sported freckles on their skin – mottled with black spots, the usual interpretation of freckles as a sign of a happy, quirky appearance took on a slightly sinister feel. I just wished Phillips had shot her models with their eyes open – I think the “human vulnerability” that she was aiming to visualise would have been more obvious in their “window to the soul”. I did enjoy John Coplans exploration and documentary of his own ageing. With close-up images of his own body – from hairy toes to (also hairy) torso – he is challenging the depiction of beauty and youth in modern media. Maybe this is something that speaks to me as I am inhabiting a decaying body myself – people, I feel it every day that I am not a spring-chicken anymore. But despite sagging skin and sallow tones, this was not off-putting at all, but a fascinating, close-up look at the reality of age as represented in skin.

An exhibition about Skin can hardly omit Spencer Tunick – especially in Dublin, where Tunick organised one of his mass-nudity scenarios in 2008. The photograph entitled Ireland 3 was new to me. I found myself looking at this for several minutes. How consistently pink they all looked, those faceless body, lying face-away from the camera on South Wall. Hardly any dark skin in sight, interestingly. The massive scale image made the back-to-back human bodies look like loads of Dublin Bay-prawns, picked straight from the boiling pan and neatly arranged on a massive serving platter. (Slight rap on the knuckles for the RHA: The image was presented as a massive wall-paper directly on the wall which was a great idea. However, it slightly distracted from the overall impression that it hadn’t been smoothed down properly and sported air pockets here and there.)

The reason I wanted to see the exhibition, however, was the presence of two Robert Mapplethorpe prints. Noone to aestheticise the human body as Mapplethorpe. (Let’s draw the veil of silence over some of his more *ahem expressive *ahem works which I saw in London a couple of years ago.) His stylised depictions of the human body transform flesh into stone. Like marble sculptures they seem ageless and perpetually perfectly beautiful. Well, it obviously helped that Mapplethorpe only photographed highly aesthetic bodies, all sinew, muscle and abs. No flabs and rolls there. But however unrealistic that may be – at least this is easy on the eye and perfectly executed photography. In the context of this exhibition Mapplethorpe certainly provided an aesthetic and easy-to-look at highlight. Whether his marble statues really represent “skin” is another matter – they seem stone-cold to me.

Talking of stone-cold – the exhibition everything but left me stone-cold. You may think, based on my disparaging citicism at the beginning of this post, that I did not enjoy this exhibition. I did. Because it certainly matched one of my own personal criteria for exhibitions: It certainly made me react emotionally to what I was being shown. Some of the reactions may not be pleasant – seriously, who likes to shudder, retch and feel nauseous for fun? – but I will certainly say that “Skin” was one of the most evocative exhibitions I have ever seen. And that is a compliment in its own right.

Thinking Caps On

Another exhibition over. It kind of passed me by very quickly, this time. Which is a pity, considering that it was our first exhibition as our new photo collective, Melt. So yesterday the pictures had to come off the wall and make way for the next exhibition which will be on in the lovely space in Farmleigh.
Is there a conclusion to be drawn from the exhibition? Not sure. It all happened too quickly. And despite invigilating on two weekends, I am not sure what the stats are for this show. How many people have seen it? How many people have engaged with any of the pictures? Were there any sales? I wish there was a handy little app – a “transparency report”, analytics of an exhibition. 
Resisting the urge to fall back into the fuzzy cushion of post-college depression, we need to get our skates on. I have made some attempts at project work but for the minute it has to rest because it is a project that I cannot shoot in Ireland. 
Going on holiday did make me take the camera in hand, though. And maybe another idea will be born out of the next little trip. I will be heading off today for a few days in the West of Ireland. The weather – as befits Ireland – is as bad as could be. Not ideal for photography. But good for thinking. I better bring that thinking cap!

Big Names at Last

On my quest to find some big names in photography, I finally struck lucky – against all expectations. I had bought a ticket for the Bremen Kunsthalle in order to see Lynn Hershman Leeson. Well, *yawn*. And then I stumbled over Ruff, Hockney, Parr and Tillmanns. Who would have thought, provincial Germany has multi-million Euro photography in its portfolio?
The Düsseldorf school of photography was well-represented in this exhibition – both in the shape of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s documentary photography of industrial architecture, as well as in their students. Thomas Ruff’s image “Substrat 18 1“, for instance, absolutely blew me away. I am attracted by the softly rounded, organic shapes on the image. I love the strong colours. Abstracts like this invite the viewer to think – but they do not force him to do so. You can happily lean back and simply enjoy the colours and the shapes without wasting a thought on the “why”. BUT a couple of ugly questions raise their heads: Is this photography? Ruff never took a single picture himself for the series “Substratum”. He downloaded existing images of Japanese anime characters from the internet and then manipulated them. They are prints of digital files. But are they his if they are originating from someone else’s work? – Easy answer: With a big name as his, he probably does not have to fear accusations of plagiarism. And the image is still interesting to look at, so who gives a cr*p???
David Hockney’s well-known “Brooklyn Bridge” was goosepimple inducing. Well to me it was, because I like Hockney’s attempts at what I perceive as a photographic cubism. Multi-perspective reality in a photograph. Impossible by definition – but artistically and even philosophically, intriguing…
Martin Parr’s kitsched-up and colourful representation of (some) British life is – as usual – funny and at the same time exposes the (lower middle?) class sense of self with peach-pastelly artificial roses on summer hats and greasy donuts in chubby toddler hands.
A classy exhibition. Well done, Kunsthalle!

Lynn Hershman Leeson

No matter where I go, I always check if there is a photo exhibition on. I am currently in my old hometown, back in the Fazerland. Bremen is not really the centre of cultural buzzworks, but it always surprises me that there is something photographic on when I am home. Last year I was very lucky and got to see a gem of an exhibition – Elliott Erwitt’s images of dogs and their owners. A great exhibition, full of humour and esprit. (I cannot believe that I actually never wrote a review of it for 2picsaweek *tuttuttut*). This time ’round I am not quite so lucky. No big names are exhibiting in Bremen at the mo. Or so I thought…
Bremen – despite admittedly being slightly “provincial” – has a fantastic “Kunsthalle” (art gallery) which is well worth a visit, due to its extensive collection of impressionist paintings. (Against contemporary convention, the then director of the Kunsthalle, Gustav Pauli, showed foresight and knowledge when he assembled a large collection by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, van Gogh, Renoir, Degas and German impressionists, particularly those of the Worpswede school of impressionism.)
Initially I had planned to look at the current exhibition by Lynn Hershman Leeson, “Seducing Time”.
Well, to be blunt: I was not seduced by time. In fact, I thought that time was passing extraordinarily slowly – a sure sign that I was not enamoured or even interested by what I saw. But let’s be fair and describe what Leeson is showing in Bremen.
Leeson, b. 1941, is not exactly or specifically a photographer. The artist is more well-known for her pioneering intereactive and computer-based art. Nonetheless, a number of photography-based artworks are on show in Bremen. Her photographs kick off the exhibition – and personally they were my highlight of the Leeson expo. Her mid-1980s series “Phantom Limb” depicts women in various poses whose heads have been replaced by monitors, TV sets, cameras. A very obvious collage-trick and expression of media-critique. More evocative, however, was the series “Hero Sandwich” (also from the same creative period in the late 1980s) in which Leeson merges/overlays portraits of well-known artists, creating what we nowadays  know as “morphs”. Particularly the Bowie/Hepburn hero sandwich works so well, you have to look very hard to determine which half of the image is Hepburn and who is Bowie. Questions of gender identity, celebrity culture and media phenomenons are inherently addressed with these images – still topical after 25 years…
Apart from these images, however, I was not blown away by Leeson. This is probably due to the fact that performance art has never really convinced me. “Roberta Breitmore” is a social experiment in which she recreates an artifical person. I was simply creeped out by this persona, her (performed???) psycho therapy and her performances.
If this had been all I saw in the Kunsthalle, I would have been disappointed. Much to my surprise, the elusive “big names” suddenly cropped up in another part of the gallery. But that is a story for another day review.

Lynn Hershman Leeson
“Seducing Time”
June 2nd – August 16th 2012
“Carrier of Light” – relief by Bernhard Hötger