Michael Hoppen Exhibition – ? The Image as Question – An Exhibition of Evidential Photography

On Tuesday 22nd November 2016 I decided to visit the Michael Hoppen Gallery to see an exhibition entitled: ? The Image as Question. I found the exhibition to be very beneficial in terms of establishing for myself the question of what is documentary photography. Here are some of my findings after visiting the exhibition.

 

I discovered the layout of the exhibition to be widely spread out over two floors with photographs laid out nicely but varying greatly in size of print. The largest was a print of Max Aguilera Hellweg’s: Pigment Composition Analysis of a Pollock Painting using Multispectral Flourescence and Ultra-Violet Imaging, Museum of Modern Art, New York (March, 2007). I found the quality of the print was excellent as well as the immense size so it was a joy to look at even though I assumed that wasn’t the point of the photograph. I assumed the point was to show off another world that was magical in its own way yet wasn’t fictional but rather still functional. Here, the print was massive yet detailed which helped immerse the viewer in this ‘other world’. The function of the image was to show other methods (special fluorescence equipment) used to prove authenticity in works of art. These processes just happened to be photographed themselves which I found was very interesting as it created in my eyes another world which could also be seen as further art.

 

When moving up to the second floor I found the majority of the photographs to be smaller; one for me which stood out was ‘Prison Staircase, Aushwitz’ – (Simon Norfolk, 1996) which was macabre in subject if the viewer worked out why the staircase had such deep depressions. It showed me evidence of the permanence of the atrocities that went on in Aushwitz and yet at first glance it seemed merely a photograph of a staircase. If the viewer looked at accompanying caption in the books available at the gallery, it was possible to realise the true meaning of the staircase and so the context of the photograph was important. Especially because the photograph was such a relatively small print, it was easy to overlook the giveaway feature of the depressions in the staircase which shown as evidence of something horrible that had taken place (the depressions) within another piece of evidence – that of the photograph.

 

Another example of evidence within a document was that of Valery Khristoforov’s: ‘Cribs, the faculty of journalism of Moscow State University’ (1984). This example was totally different in essence with a somewhat humorous story being played out. Here a woman had passed her exams by cheating (the evidence of which was documented on her legs) but the experience had been in turn documented by a photographer – before the exam! This humorous story/photograph did however raise some interesting points for me for two different reasons. Firstly and perhaps more obviously, the photograph itself brought into question the fragility of every photograph as a document itself if – as in this case – it is the only ‘relic’ of an event which took place. The documentation of her cheating would still have been present (probably for a short amount of time!) but the photograph is the only evidence of it happening at all nowadays and the photograph could easily have never been created or discarded had the girl decided she didn’t want for it to happen or changed her mind later on. Equally, the photograph could have been forgotten or damaged by this moment in time. Secondly, this  particular photograph made me think a lot because it showed something where the outcome was visible before the event had taken place. I thought this was something I might potentially be able to implement in my own photography.

 

Overall I learnt a lot at the exhibition about documentary photography but especially from the three photographs described above.

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