Previous Exhibition Reviews (to June 2017)

September 12, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

For some reason the previously posted Exhibition Reviews have disappeared....(probably user error!!).  All reviews and blogs previously published in the RPS Documentary Group - Decisive Moment - http://www.rps.org/special-interest-groups/documentary

 

Harry Gruyaert - Western and Eastern Light - (The Photographers’ Gallery)

A small commercial exhibition of, Magnum Photographer, Gruyeart’s well-known images.   There are only a dozen or so images on display, but they represent some of his major works.

Harry Gruyaert was born in Belgium in 1941, and studied photography and film-making. He made a few films for Flemish television before turning to colour photographs in his adopted Paris in the early 1960s, where for a while he was assistant to William Klein. In the 70s he travelled widely and was influenced by the Pop Art movement. As a result, he moved away from journalistic approaches and adopted a more ‘artistic’ approach.  He was one of the early European photographers to work in colour, already adopted in the USA by the likes of Joel Meyerovitz, Saul Leiter, William Eggleston and Stephen Shore.

He was quoted in a recent BJP article (27 July 2015), “There is no story. It’s just a question of shapes and light”. Gruyaert is interested in all the elements in a photograph: “the decor and the lighting and all the cars: the details were as important as humans”.   This is evident in the images in this exhibition, where the people are often incidental, their faces often unseen and something else, a balloon or stand or a dog are the focal object. The non-narrative images are complex with dense compositions, saturated colours and bold graphics. They can be seen as ‘documentary’, but not “journalistic” in nature.

Harry Gruyaert - Western and Eastern Light  is at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, 3 Jubilee Place, London, SW3 3TD until 27 June 2017.

 

 

Upstairs at the Michael Hoppen Gallery is an exhibition that presents two photographic series, made over forty years apart, that explore aspects of adolescence.

Sian Davey and Jospeh Szabo – Untethered until 20 May 2017.

Joe Szabo began his Teenage series when he was an art teacher in Long Island in the early 1970s. He started photographing his pupils as a means of engaging with them. Szabo’s students became his on-going subjects for the next 25 years, as he photographed them at school, at home and at play. The resulting images provide a snapshot of the seventies and eighties and teenagers. 

Martha is an on-going collaboration between British photographer Siân Davey and her step-daughter Martha which explores their evolving relationship as well as the lives of Martha and her close friends as they journey through their later teenage years in rural Devon.   Siân Davey’s Looking For Alice is an award-winning project by British photographer Sian Davey, which tells the story of her daughter Alice and their family. Alice was born with Down's Syndrome, and is available from Trolley Books (http://www.trolleybooks.com).

Soon to open is Neil Libbert from 8 June until 21 July 2017.  It is Libbert’s first major solo exhibition at the Michael Hoppen Gallery. He has worked as a street photographer and photojournalist for nearly 60 years and the exhibition will focus on key works made during his earlier career.

At the nearby Saatchi Gallery, currently showing is From Selfie to Self-Expression, a nirvana for narcissists.   The exhibition publicity describes it as: “… the world’s first exhibition exploring the history of the selfie from Velazquez to the present day, while celebrating the truly creative potential of a form of expression often derided for its inanity. Showing alongside examples of many influential artists' work are selfies that have quickly became icons of the digital era – from the beautiful and sublime to the mad, bad and downright dangerous”.   Photographically worthy of note are the works of Cindy Sherman and Juno Calypso.  Also exhibited are ‘Saatchi Selfie’ competition entries and winners. 

From Selfie to Self-Expression is on at the Saatchi Gallery from 3t March until 30 May 2017.

 

Roger Mayne - (The Photographers’ Gallery) April 2017

Roger Mayne (1929-2014) was a significant documentary photographer working mainly in the 1950s and 1960s.  His work, recording urban images and candid shots are regarded as a milestone in British photography. They provide a documentary record of Britain emerging from the years of austerity following the war, to the ‘hopeful’ early 1960s.

The opening sequence is from his highly acclaimed Southam Street series. Shot between 1956 and 1961, Mayne took around 1400 images before the area was demolished to make way for Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower.  Other images include picture of Teds and gangs, the Rayleigh factory in Nottingham, and work from Leeds and Sheffield Park Hill estate.   An audio-visual installation ‘British at Leisure’ is also restage for the first time since 1964. 

His quote’ Streets have their own kind of beauty, a kind of decaying splendour’ is probably just as appropriate today for the modern street photographer.

Influenced by Hugo van Wadenoyan, these exhibited works are pure documentary, offering a ‘candid, detached vision’.  He viewed abstraction as ‘empty’ and photojournalism as simply ‘bearing witness’, and aimed to take images that were about the human condition. 

His first solo exhibition was in 1956, at the ICA.  That year he was also exhibited in the US, with working being acquired by MoMA and had a front cover for The Observer. According the New York Gitterman Gallery, Mayne ‘consciously printed with high contrast to emphasize the formal qualities of his work and increased scale to have a further dialogue with the painting of the time’.  His vivid photographs appeared as covers for several Penguin and Pelican book, including Colin McInnes’ Absolute Beginners in 1959. Some examples of this work are also exhibited.

As well as his images, there are extracts of correspondence he had with various arts bodies to get ‘modern photography’ exhibited in major galleries. Something he battled with during the mid 1950s as an organiser with CS (Combined Societies), an alliance of regional camera clubs).  Using forceful language to explain that the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Paul Strand, Edward Weston and minor White had all had major exhibitions before anything similar was stage in Britain.

For those interested in documentary photography this is a worthwhile visit.  Much of the history documentary photography is characterised by the works of Cartier-Bresson, Capa et al above.  This work precedes those of Tony Ray-Jones and Don McCullin, and provides an understanding of a little of its British roots.  Curated by Anna Douglas, who also curated the recent, acclaimed Shirley Baker: Women and Children, the exhibition has powerful images, plus insightful examples of other work and correspondence that help piece together an influential British documentarian.

Roger Mayne is at the Floor 2, Wolfson Gallery, Photographers’ Gallery, London W1, Friday until 11 June; thephotographersgallery.org.uk

 

 

Dana Lixenberg Imperial Courts - Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation 2017 (The Photographers Gallery) until June 11.

Four projects are shortlisted for this year’s Deutsche Börse.   I am only going to review one, which I previously saw in Amsterdam last year at Huis Marseilles. Dana Lixenberg’s Imperial Courts is a complex community project, spanning over twenty-two years (1993-2015). It documents the Imperial Courts Housing Project in Watts, Los Angeles.  Of the four shortlisted, this is the one that is most clearly ‘documentary’ in nature.

The genesis of the project was in 1992, on assignment from Vrij Nederland, a Dutch weekly magazine, to south Central Los Angeles, for a story of destruction and rebuilding after the Rodney King riots.  Following an introduction to TB, the unofficial ‘godfather’ of the community, and ‘Crips’ gang leader she got agreement to take pictures.   Renting a 4x5 large format camera she set about making portraits.  Working only with available light, and photographing outside, the project and exhibition is predominantly portrait based, but also includes urban landscapes.   As the project progressed, in later years, Lixenberg used a compact digital camera to capture moments, as film scenes, and a soundtrack.

The project captures the inhabitants through three generations.  There was initial reluctance to being photographed, but working with a large cumbersome camera and shooting Polaroids maybe helped, in Lixenberg’s view, to win some people over.   By bringing the results of the previous days shoot and spending a lot of time ‘hanging out’ with people, she eventually gained their trust.

This is social documentary and portraiture on a grand scale.   In terms of timescale, the commitment, the number of images and the scale of the images (4”x5’ blows up big!). This is probably one exhibition where the book cannot do it justice.

 

 

The Radical Eye – The Switch House, Tate Modern (10 Nov 2016 – 7 May 2017): The Tate only began collecting photography recently and, as such, has missed out on artworks now owned privately and selling for unattainable prices.  In fact some previous Tate photography exhibitions have been extremely disappointing so, I was not sure what to expect. Fear not.

The Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection has rightly, already received many great reviews.  This major exhibition covers many classic images from the early 1900s through to the 1950s. If you have any interest in photography in general, then I’d recommend at visit.  These are classic images from a formative era in photography.   If you cannot find inspiration here, then …

The five galleries are arranged to cover portraits, experiments, objects, abstracts and documents.   There are images by renowned artists including Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Robert Frank, Edward Weston, André Kertész, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Berenice Abbot, Rodchenko, Paul Strand, and Norman Parkinson, the list goes on and on.  This alone is reason to go, a diverse collection of some of the greatest photographers of the mid 20th century.  As well as seeing well known and great works close-up, it is always interesting to find new discoveries; those artists unfamiliar to you.

The exhibition is dominated by portraits, sometimes of the famous, like Dali, Duke Ellington, Noel Coward and Gloria Swanson, but others just stunning portraits in their own right.

Not only are the images stunning, but they also seem to be of exceptional quality.  There are a few images here that I have seen recently in other galleries, and somehow he has managed to acquire the better print.

The exhibition focuses on ‘modernist’ imagery, but there is also a small section on ‘Documents’.  Here images by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, from the Farm Securities Administration project, along with images by Robert Frank and André Kertész provide the focus.   A new personal find was Helen Levitt, with four images of New York from 1938 to 1940. Further research indicates that she was particularly noted for "street photography" around New York City, and has been called "the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time" (David Levi Strauss, 1997), sadly twenty years on I find myself thinking similar thoughts and making a note to seek out more of her work.

Like the Guardian reviewer, I don’t find the picture frames complementary; they are somewhat intrusive and over-elaborate, with lots of gilding.   In my opinion it’s not required, but to be fair to Sir Elton, it’s a minor criticism, his dedication to putting together such an important collection and allowing it to be shown is to be congratulated.   Furthermore, this show marks the beginning of a long-term collaboration between the Tate and Elton John and David Furnish, who have agreed to give works to the nation. Thank you!!

It is worth taking time to see the video as he explains how he got “hooked” on collecting and to see the works as housed in his Atlanta apartment – almost every wall is covered.  It is also clear that Elton is more than just a mad rich collector hoping to make some money out of it – from the video it is clear he has really taken the time to explore and understand the images, and their authors.

While you are there – don’t miss:

 

Living cities – Tate Modern

If you decide to go to the Tate, I’d also recommend you squeeze two other free exhibitions into your itinerary:  Boris Mikhalov in Living Cities, a collection of eighty-four images depicting Soviet life in Khariv, in the north-east of present day Ukraine.  Every one of the images contains the colour ‘red’ the inclusion of which is inextricably associated with, and symbolic of, Soviet visual culture.   The second, in the entrance lobby to Living Cities, is by, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen and records inner-city Byker, in Newcastle, taken over twelve years and before much of the demolition and redevelopment. The images are classic documentary, depicting the humour, hardship, hospitality, and resilience of the locals. Drawn to the lives of the local community, she took up residence there and is still active in groups that she helped found there.

 

Saul Leiter - Retrospective (The Photographers’ Gallery) February 2016

Representing a major retrospective of his work in early monochrome and colour photography, together with sketches, notebooks and a small selection of painted artwork; this exhibition is not to be missed.  

Saul Leiter (1923-2013) was given a camera at the age of 12 by his mother and at the age of 23 moved to New York to pursue a career as a painter.  He continued his photography and worked almost exclusively in his East Village neighbourhood, studio and New York’s streets. 

His early work in black and white, could be considered ‘quiet’, with candidly observed images.  But he adopted colour early on, in 1948, and began to experiment and use it with inventiveness, with photographs taken, for example, through frosted or rain splattered windows, creating an impressionist like image. In the 1950’s the art director Henry Wolf published Leiter’s colour fashion work in Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar, and examples of his fashion work are included in the exhibition.  His approach, unusually for the time, is abstract and painterly with innovative compositions and use of bold colour.

His imagery does not represent ‘decisive moments’ or the reality of social events, but is impressionistic, using composition, shape, colour, blur, depth of field to convey a sense of tension and mystery. Although his work is associated with street photography, it does not possess the hard edged or graphic imagery often associated with this genre in late 20th century New York, instead the images seek beauty or an almost poetic nature.  They depict a vision of New York that is unusual, unique, yet still unmistakable.

Despite late recognition, particularly for his pioneering work in colour, Leiter’s work has more recently been influential in a number of areas, notably influencing the colour design in Carol (Todd Haynes’ acclaimed 2015 film).   His published books, Early Black and White (volumes 1 and 2), Early Color and Retrospective (reissued for this exhibition) provide a reference source for photographers seeking ideas on composition, colour and aesthetics – challenging and inspiring.

A ‘must see’ for 2016.

Saul Leiter: Retrospective is at the Photographers’ Gallery, London W1, Friday until 3 April; thephotographersgallery.org.uk

 

Alec Soth - Gathered Leaves (Science Museum)

This exhibition covers a decade of work by the acclaimed American photographer and Magnum member, Alec Soth (born 1969).  It brings together four major works – Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and his most recent work Songbook (2014).    The title Gathered Leaves is taken from a line in the American epic poem Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself (1855), cataloguing the diversity of the nation and also a reference to photography as sheets (leaves) brought together.

Much of Soth’s work is in collaboration with others; journalist or authors, providing a narrative to complement the images.  His style, described as lyrical documentary, is in the tradition of photographers such as Robert Frank and Stephen Shore.

Displayed as projects in separate rooms, the large gallery images are juxtaposed with his note books, collected artefacts, drafts and mock-up books.  The images are diverse, ranging from: large landscapes of the vastness of the wilderness or majesty of Niagara Falls, urban images of small towns and suburbs, to portraits of the characters inhabiting these spaces.

Sleeping by the Mississippi, his earliest work, shows in colour, the communities living along the aortic, central river.  Niagara, in a similar tradition, explores communities around the Niagara Falls region. Monumental images of the falls, are juxtaposed with images of the ordinary, urban.  Broken Manual, takes a different approach, a journey into the wilderness and unknown to explore the worlds of America’s ‘hermits’ those who have discarded society and chose for various reasons to live in isolation in the wilderness. His latest project, Songbook, offers a further change, with a move to exclusively monochrome images.

For the aspiring documentary photographer, the exhibition provides an insight into his working methods- with evidence from his note books, collected artefacts and ephemera, early layouts and mock-ups of books and texts.  It shows an approach to long term and immersive projects that go beyond mere photo essays into “photo novels” that provide a rich and diverse narrative.

 

 


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