Study Visit to Deutsche Börse Photography Competition and Roger Mayne Exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery (18/3/2017)

On 18/3/2017 I went on a fun and rewarding study visit with some of my fellow students from the OCA to the Photographer’s Gallery in London.

First off we went for a group critique where we shared some of our own work with the group and then everybody offered their opinions on the projects shown. I found a lot of the work shown by others to be inspiring and an indication of how creative everybody was in the group. What I also found interesting was to hear how people came about their ideas for their projects and in particular the experimentation process. I got to show some of my work and the photographs I quickly printed off were my work so far for Assignment 2 Documentary. The photographs were well received by the others which I was happy about and one comment that cropped up quite a bit was each photograph captured a decisive moment. One area for improvement I picked up on was quite a key one and that was the abstract concept behind the photographs – that of loneliness didn’t quite fit. I was disappointed by this of course but I made a note to see which abstract concept did fit for the photographs. Also I decided to think critically concerning how I could get the photographs for my project to resemble an intended abstract concept and adapt the photographing process in the future to fit this theme. Overall though the group critique was positive and I learnt a lot from sharing my work.

Afterwards we moved down to the Deutsche Börse Photography Competition 2017 and the first artist I looked at was Sophie Calle. She presented her work with accompanying text. I felt the text was sardonic and self-criticising regarding the death of her mother, cat and father in that order. This I felt was unusual for exhibition text but in a strange way it made the photographs even more poignant. I did feel the text was necessary to a degree in order to explain some of the photographs, although others were quite self-explanatory. The range of size for the photographs printed varied greatly, from simple postcard sized prints to a print of a giraffe so large it wasn’t hung in the exhibition space. I thought this variety in print size Calle used made the viewer have to stop and think about what they were seeing and in this regard it worked – I for one wasn’t sure how to react to the different prints in one space. However, they were evidently in chronological order – the same order her mother, cat and father died, from left to right round the room as you entered it.

These photographs and text were followed by the large-scale prints of Awoiska van der Molen. It was obvious a great deal of care and attention had been taken with the vastly impressive prints and they all had the same framing and were of similar size for continuity, I presumed. The same care and attention could be said of the photographic process van der Molen had undertaken when photographing and it was this that interested me most. She had built up a relationship with the environment around her for weeks on end before taking the photographs. This kind of dedication to creating a bond between her and her (non-human) subjects was inspiring and it probably made the photographic process more humbling and rewarding. I felt this really came across in the prints (although the massive scale of them did help too)! Some landscape photographers rush around trying to capture as much of the scenery as they can in as little time so it was refreshing to see this approach. The prints were also mostly very dark in tone, lending an atmosphere and character to the photographs she must have felt herself while taking them.

The third (and my favourite) artist shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Competition 2017 was Dana Lixenberg. Her work in 1993-2015 was all black and white prints with similar framing and depicting mostly people of the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts, Los Angeles. I had already seen one of the photographs for the exhibition in my documentary course but to see the same one again but on such a large scale was inspiring for me. Also the fact that it was part of a much larger body of work added to me seeing the photograph in a new light. The thing that impressed me most about all the images on display was the obvious relationship and trust she had managed to build up with her subjects even though she was from a different place. In a way this was similar to van der Molen’s work although with people instead of place.

The fourth and final artist(s) shortlisted were Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. The obvious thing to take in when entering there exhibition space was the totally different way the space was used. It was dark to accommodate the various slideshows which flickered through either still photographs or video clips. I found this approach to be different but at the same time there was almost too much going on and I was less intrigued by the video clips. The stills showed change the on duo’s road trip across Europe, both from place to place and with changes happening in those places.

Lastly we moved further down to the Roger Mayne exhibition. I was particularly looking forwards to seeing his work because I was aware he was a documentary photographer who shot predominantly in black and white. This then I thought would be of interest to me for Part 2 of my course which I was currently on. Although there were many photographs to look at, I discovered each was a delightful slice of life from the past. The black and white medium in my opinion helped with this immensely. This was because I immediately accepted the photographs (which were consistently displayed in black and white in the main rooms) as fact. I didn’t notice the framing particularly, which was a good thing, it meant I was absorbed by the photos themselves. They depicted life in the 1950s and 60s in a very candid and honest way. There was often a lot going on in the frame but I found the way he arranged the people in the frame (not by placing them but by changing his composition) made the photos tell a story more often than not. It was refreshing to see the children playing in the run-down streets of London, Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield as well as adults working because the photographs served to show a record of how life was at that time. In the room at the end of the exhibition there was a slideshow playing colour photographs but I didn’t find these as immersive as the black and white photos although the way they were displayed on the slideshow was interesting.

References:

Deutshce Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2017. [Exhibition] 3rd Mar – 11th Jun 2017. The Photographer’s Gallery, London.

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