I caught this recently, its been entered in a competition, thought i would show you guys first.
14 March – 28 April 2013
Daily 10.00-18.00 (Last admission 17.30)
East Wing Galleries, East Wing. Terrace Rooms & Courtyard Rooms, South Wing
Until recently I associated Somerset House with winter Ice Skating. That’s probably unfair, but also true. The WPO exhibition last year changed my opinion, and since then the excellent Henri Cartier-Bresson – A question of colour has made me think of Somerset House as one of Londons premier venues for photography based exhibitions.
William Ewing, who curated Henri Cartier-Bresson – A question of colour, has also organised and compiled this current show Landmark: the Fields of Photography. I’ve stuffed this review full of links to the work in the exhibition, do check them out.
Landscape is obviously a huge subject, the exhibition is divided by loose definition into sub themes; Sublime, Pastoral, Witness, Landmark, Scar, Datum, Delusion, Control, Hallucination and Reverie.
The way Ewing has divided the images into subsections is very successful. It could easily be argued that the subheadings aren’t strict, (does the satellite image in ‘Sublime’ really belong in ‘Datum’?), but this argument is for pedants. Field of photography pulls a sense of order form a collection of images which could easily have seemed disperate or fragmented otherwise. It gently expands the viewers expectations of landscape. Just as importantly it informs its audience, putting them in touch with a broad spectrum of motivations photographers have for taking a picture.
I was immediately struck by the enormous ice cliffs shown on opposite walls in the ‘Sublime’ section shot by Olaf Otto Becker, the huge fibrous prints bookend this section, which also contains well thought out interpretations of lanscape; the ‘Sunburned’ series for example, where Chris McCaw tracks the sun accross sky in different parts of the world, which witnesses solar activity in an unusual yet accurate way.
I’m sure everyone will have their favourites, but I happen to believe ‘Scar’ is a one that many will be impressed with. The Burtynsky image shown on the poster is taken from this section which show scars as evidence of mans interference with landscape. The poster image and may others describe a polluted earth and devastated landscape – In addition to Burtynsky see Daniel Beltra / Rainforest Amazon which I find oddly reminiscent of some WWI paintings. The scar section also has softer descriptions of how we relate to lansdscape and how we can be vulnerable to it; Michael Lights bizarre image of a golf course in Nevada and housing precariously positioned on the ledge of a cliff, which leaves us feeling a little uneasy.
Less traditionally Ewing has also included images collected as data in the ‘Datum’ section. I’m not sure how some of them were gathered, satellite perhaps? It seems that one, XYZ Volume Yosemite – D Holdswerth, is closer to data gathered to describe a landscape – removing us from the more comfortable traditions of photography altogether and, as his website states, ‘appropriating technology that provides a stark new picture of the changing planet…’ Something in the sterile digital recording lends itself to portraying landscapes in this uncanny way.
Simon Roberts images are also impressive, these are shown in the ‘Pastoral’ section. As well as a collection of images from his book ‘We English‘, the image (shown below) of the equestrian event at the Olympic Games Greenwich is beautifully executed. London almost looks like a model village, an ideal version of itself.
There’s far too much to examine here, I have only covered a few of the rooms. I would urge anyone with an interest in landscape imagery, or just beautifully executed photographs to visit. You wont regret it. Not like I regret accidentally publishing my posts, instead of ‘saving a draft’, before they’re finished and then frantically trying to get them finished before I look like an illiterate half-wit. Sorry if you read the rough version from late on Wednesday, it’s much better now.
I wrote some time ago about one of my lecturers stating that pictures that had a sense of humour were cheesy. I remember because, well firstly obviously I wrote it, but secondly that I didn’t agree at all. Well, in my endless pursuit of spending money I bought the following book, which is shrewdly observed, manages to be both complex and simple at the same time and has some beautifully captured humorous moments.
Well, it’s this book on the work of HELEN LEVITT:
HELEN LEVITT / Powerhouse Books Brooklyn NY / 2008(?) / Amazon UK Link
The book may seems expensive, especially if you view it online, but it’s huge probably 35cm x 35cm. It’s also stuffed with work, in it Helen Levitt Captures New York streetlife for, well as the amazon description states “combining seven decades of New York City street life with Levitt’s seminal work in Mexico City”. So that’s what we have, but its not a case of quantity over quality, you can see why each photo has been included.
Street photography is something that I find really interesting for three reasons, firstly that its anthropological; it studies the way we live – that this is driven by the photographers curiosity (Levitt was a school teacher who began photography to study chalk drawings and the children associated with them), secondly Its interesting how it dates; how its culturally different and how it seems so obvious its not our time. Finally, to return to that lecturers statement, that street photography is permitted to have a sense of humour (not that it always does – its just permitted to).
Please don’t misunderstand me, I heard recently from photojournalist Seb Meyer in a talk ‘its important to convey a range of emotions’. I think there is a tendency to focus on the misery in images. The thought being is that this gives them weight. But relentlessly pushing a set of difficult images with no relief just becomes dull after a while. So, just like using contrasting colours in a painting, showing a full spectrum of emotions in a collection makes the experience more humanising and accessible, it makes an rounded story.
Levitt has her own range. In addition to humour she shows a tenderness, playfulness, fun, beauty, contrast but most of all I think she is a great humaniser, she captures character; Children, the elderly, women with their curlers in, men in vests, the down and out, dispossessed and the badly dressed. She shows character of people but also the personality of the streets and neighbourhoods she works in.
Its also Interesting to she her shifting between black and white and colour, and back again. Levitt was in the exhibition Henri cartier Bresson – A Question Of Colour at Somerfield house which I reviewed earlier this year. Starting so early its no surprise she began with black and white. Her composition is excellent but when it comes to colour film she picks up on how colour works instinctively, often making it the theme of a picture, where some would have struggled with using it at all.
Looking at her book as a social document I wonder how the character of people has changed. Perhaps it’s due to living in London but it’s hard to imagine having the opportunity to photograph people being themselves with their guard down. People with their curlers in – well, that might have still happened in the late 1980’s, do children even play in the street anymore? God, I must get out of London and find out. Or have we changed our relationship with the world because of cameras, because of media. Is this because of the scrutiny the lens puts us under, the one that leads to us self-scrutinising – in a way no one feels entirely comfortable with?
It’s also interesting because Levitt’s eye is kind, playful. She’s not making the type of statement that someone like Diane Arbus makes with her portraits. She’s observing life in her time, but in a timeless way, and I find that fascinating.
The week Sunlight reappeared in Britain, its so beautiful at this time of year. But don’t worry, its gone again. I swear if the weather continues to be so grey for 28 days each month by summer we Brits will all have skin the colour of porridge.
London / Thameside / London Bridge
Patches of light near an office building
When you live in London if you’re on the horizon level there is no horizon. You can see one when you’re on a hill – perhaps – but it’s hard to be on the line of horizon. Visiting friends in Kent we walked to Faversham from Whitstable along the coast. The sense of openness is the opposite of London, I’d imagine readers who live on plains might not find this so exciting, but for me there’s a purity and sense of space that appeals to my sensibilities. (I confess to getting a little worse for wear and running along a vast tide-out shore-line the night before elated to have so much space with no one around me – I may also have been shouting “Whooo-hooo”).
So I took an opportunity to challenge a ‘regular’ portrait – just a little, knowing these guys well their size has reduced them to elements I can recognise. Funny how people who have personality character can be represented even when they are very, very small – like this*. It is very them, both in terms of their appearance and their change of environment from London to the coast, which they love, is shown in its vastness behind them.
*Okay, I may have cheated with the car – but you catch my drift.
****** OKAY, OKAY, i’ll put the cat back on…. ******