BRIGHTON PHOTO BIENNIAL / FRINGE 2010 – THE REVIEWS PART 2
BRIGHTON PHOTO BIENNIAL / FRINGE 2010 THE REVIEWS PART 2 – DEGENERATION BY HUMAN ENDEAVOUR (BELLIS GALLERY), STRANGE & FAMILIAR: THREE VIEWS OF BRIGHTON (BRIGHTON MUSEUM & ART GALLERY) & A NIGHT IN ARGENTINA: ALEJANDRO CHASKIELBERG & ESTEBAN PASTORINO DIAZ (UNIVERSITY OF BRIGHTON GALLERY)
As promised in by reviews part 1 post the other week I have now been round more of what the Brighton Photo Biennial 2010 and Photo Fringe have to offer and I am poised to whack out a few more reviews for you. I managed to get round a few key shows at the weekend and found them to be a mixed bag! So I am going to concentrate on the three that I have the most to talk about!
However, before I begin, I must say that the more of the Biennial I get round – the more impressed I am with the drive and vision Martin Parr had with his New Documents theme. The 2010 Biennial is the best yet in my mind – full of really interesting work and a lot of pieces that are getting people debating photography…which can only be a good thing!
DEGENERATION BY HUMAN ENDEAVOUR
What did I tell you in my last set of reviews? I told you that this exhibition was one of my hot tips as worth going to see, before I had even seen it myself. So – now I have been and checked it out, and with this new found hindsight – do I stand by my conviction?
Yes I do! This is a really fantastic exhibition of really interesting images. The Human Endeavour collective is a group of Brighton & London based photographers who all produce work in their own right but have a similarity in aesthetic and subject matter. Whilst the members of the collective seem to change about every so often, four of its permanent and key players were on show at the Bellis Gallery:
Simon Carruthers – who produces stunning large format images generally concerning human intervention in urban and rural landscapes. I am very jealous of Simon’s photographic eye as he seems to make the banal look quite lovely!
Richard Chivers – Richard again works in large format making imagery that is concerned with contemporary landscapes and issues surrounding these spaces. His images of quarries are stunning!
Oliver Perrott – Again his personal works tends to concentrate on the man altered landscapes and the built environment and his amazing landscape images sit very well alongside work by photographers like Jem Southam.
Alex Currie – Alex takes a much more industrial and urban approach to his subject matter and indeed his aesthetic. Truth be told – I hate Alex because he seems incapable of making a bad composition! His images of what should be a very dry subject matter are beautiful and the composition of line is stunning.
So, now you have met the cast, what about their new combined work ‘Degeneration’? Well, this could either of gone horribly wrong or horribly right! Get 4 great photographers, give them all a large format camera and a quite narrow subject matter and let them loose on various towns across Britain to photograph the degeneration of modern housing estates. On the face of things, it could have been the most drab and soulless exhibition in the biennial.
Instead – they have succeeded in making one of the best. This is the sort of show that everyone can see because it covers all three main bases that a great photographic series should contain:
1) Technically great photographs. This is achieved through great exposures, beautiful large format prints and 4 keen pairs of eyes for detail.
2) Beautiful images. Again this box is firmly ticked. What should be grey, uninspiring and rather bleak and depressing is transformed into a set of inspiring photographic images.
3) Meaning and context. Thankfully, they also have something to say! Personally, I love photography with some form of message behind it and this work raises numerous questions about the state of modernity, urban decline and the consumerist nature that fuels our society.
What I found interesting was you could see each photographers unique style in the images – yet they all hung together brilliantly as a joint project. If you are familiar with their own personal work – it doesn’t take long to start spotting whose images belong to whom
and this is what makes this collective approach such a joy to look at. Oliver’s emphasis on the natural landscape can clearly be spotted in his images, whilst Alex & Richard’s eye for architecture and industry produce gorgeous images of high rise flats and buildings in decline. Whilst Simon’s eye for line and pattern show a different side of London estates with brilliant results.
This is a great show and as I say, there is something for everyone – from the technically obsessed photographer to the political activist to the casual passer by! Go and check it out until the 14th November. A highlight of the biennial for sure.
In the meantime – I hope Human Endeavour extend this project and I hope they eventually produce a book of the images, as I will certainly be first int he queue to buy one. Get in quick guys before the Arts Council loose all its funding!
Until then, check out more info and images at: www.humanendeavour.co.uk/
STRANGE & FAMILIAR: THREE VIEWS OF BRIGHTON
Well, here we are at the main event. This show is part of the curated programme and features three prominent photographers who were commissioned to create a body of work in response to Brighton. Three very different series were created and they were not only a mixed bag but also raise many questions. Lets look at each Photographer in turn!
ALEC SOTH – BRIGHTON PICTURE HUNT
This is a strange one, as this was Alec’s first commissioned work in the UK (he is American don’t you know!). Like many people who are a fan of his work, particularly his series Sleeping by the Mississippi and Niagara were probably as excited as me by the prospect of him producing work in and about Brighton.
So before I launch into one – here is a bit of background! On arriving in the UK with his family in tow – he was accosted by customs and questioned about his purpose for being in the country and the work he was undertaking. Due to an apparent mix up with the visa application – he was told he could not produce any work in the UK under any circumstances, but he would be allowed to stay in the country. He was warned that if he was caught taking any images, he would risk fine and imprisonment.
What do you do in that situation? After a few days aimless wandering, Alec passed the camera to his daughter Carmen Soth and began inviting her to take photographs. Essentially, the images on show are that of a 7 year old girl and not Alec Soth.
So, what do we think? Well – I am undecided! The argument from Alec Soth and camp is that he had an integral role in editing Carmen’s work, questioning her motives for taking shots and motivating her to produce the work as they walked around Brighton. So this does raise some interesting points about the art of photography and how important the image making is in comparison to the editing of a series of images into a body of work that contains meaning. I guess each view could be argued equally well. But, Fabrica’s show is entirely comprised of collections of images taken by a variety of photographers and the meaning of the show comes through the editing of these collections. So, in a sense, this is similar – Alec editing and collating Carmen’s images into a body of work that had some coherence and meaning.
And so there is a thread of a story that runs through the images. Parallels can easily be drawn and the pictures are interspersed with newspaper headlines from the Argus (Alec’s original idea was to follow one of the Argus’ Photographers for a couple of weeks – until customs refused to allow it!). I think the interview between Martin Parr and Alec Soth that is on display in the gallery is well worth 5 minutes of any visitors time, because it really highlights the points that are most interesting in this exhibition. Namely that a child photographs in a very different way to an adult. Firstly, they are not full of the pre-conceived ideas of what a photograph should be and what a photographer should photograph. Secondly, their perspective is lower down than an adult and they view the world looking up or, perhaps, spot things lower down that an adult might miss. Finally, the fact a child with a camera is less threatening and more anonymous than an adult.
These are all interesting points and ones that are reflected in the images on show. I do think it raises some interesting questions about photography and the process of editing. BUT – would I have preferred to see a series of images taken by Alec Soth himself? Yes, I most certainly would have. And are Carmen Soth’s images any good? Well again yes, some of them are quite accomplished – BUT, if one were to give a camera to any 7 year old, give them some direction, make a good edit of the images and hang them in Brighton Museum, would this not always be the case?
And that my friends is the most interesting thing about the show for me, all these questions that it raises. Given the constraints placed upon Alec Soth when he entered the country, I am pleased to see that he stuck with the commission and put something on show that might make photographers question the fundamentals of photography.
As for Carmen Soth, I think she has taken some amazing images that many long standing Photographers would have been equally happy to display in a gallery. I think Carmen’s achievement should not be overlooked and I look forward to seeing how her interest in photography progresses, because no doubt she has a very good eye!
Check out Alec Soth’s previous work as it is amazing – www.alecsoth.com
STEPHEN GILL – OUTSIDE IN
Wow, wow, wow. Wow. Once again, Wow. This is a truly amazing response to the brief and an utterly stunning body of work – I was in awe for the whole thing and my respect for Stephen Gill went from high to even higher!
I am not sure I have much to say about this really as it speaks for itself – to give a brief background, Stephen adapted medium format cameras to allow him to drop objects inside – therefore taking a photograph through the objects in the camera body. So the images presented are scenes of Brighton intersected with a variety of objects – in an unlikely scale, which were sitting behind the lens. The objects in question were found in the general vicinity where he took the photographs and as I understand it, for some of the portraits, he let the sitter choose the object to go into the camera.
The result is a set of images that are poetic, beautiful and highly original. They speak of Brighton in numerous ways and are infinitely viewable. They are the sort of photographs I will keep returning to and always get something new from as well as a pleasure in viewing.
What I love is Gill’s exploratory approach to Photography. This has been shown in much of his previous work and the great thing about Outside In is that it is allmade in camera. No Photoshop, no superimposing, no double exposures – but real craft and experimentation that results in amazing work. This hands on approach, I think, takes these photographs to another level and elevates them from the great to the sublime.
That is about all I want to say, because you should see it rather than read about someone banging on about how good it is. Also, I urge you to check out Gill’s other work, much of it is on his website and I have been following him for years as it always pleases and delights.
This, for me, is without doubt the highlight of the Biennial. Thank you Mr Gill.
More on Stephen Gill at www.stephengill.co.uk
RINKO KAWAUCHI – MURMURATION
I’m afraid to say that this to me was the weakest of the three Photographers on show and a rather disappointing exhibition. Like with Soth, I had high hopes for Rinko Kawauchi’s work having been a fan of some of her previous images. However, the result is rather unsatisfying and not very original.
First of all, the concept of producing work in response to the Starlings Murmurations seems rather cliched – therefore, to pull it off, I would expect a rather outstanding and originally conceived series of images. But, what is on offer does not fit any of these criteria. The photographs of the birds are rather drab and essentially look like badly taken tourist shots.
For the second part of the work, Rinko tried to draw parallels with the movement of people around Brighton during the busy tourist filled month of May.
However, these photographs again look poorly taken and rather rushed. The style of presentation was too messy for me and none of the photographs really sung out or spoke of the movement of people in Brighton in any way.
That said, there are some nice images and the longer I spent looking the more I got from them – but this did take some serious determination on my part. In all, I have to say the work felt soulless and rather rushed and altogether badly executed.
All three photographers work has been published in a set of books by Photoworks and, Rinko Kawauchi’s Murmuration does work much much better in book format. If I had only seen the book, I might have been a bit more encouraged – but for me, the work left me cold.
I stress again, most of her work is fantastic. There is a moderate selection at : www.designboom.com/contemporary/kawauchi.html
So, this exhibition really is a mixed bag, but does have much to offer. Stephen Gill’s work stands out a mile above the others and is a great piece of work – interestingly Gill moved to Brighton for 6 weeks to produce his work and I think it is this dedication and attention which really shows. Alec Soth’s work raises many interesting questions and is a great debating point for Photographers and viewers alike – and whilst I did enjoy the show, I was still left with a slight sense of disappointment. But, given the situation he was placed in – he has produced an interesting result from a poor circumstance. Rinko Kawauchi’s work is just disappointing and was not for me worthy of being shown in such a prominent venue. But, I will look at the book a few more times and perhaps new meanings will come through and there were some beautiful shots hidden amongst it!
A NIGHT IN ARGENTINA: ALEJANDRO CHASKIELBERG & ESTEBAN PASTORINO DIAZ
For my final review in this part, I am going to look at A Night in Argentina at the University gallery.
ESTEBAN PASTERINO DIAZ – SALAMONE
I really enjoyed this exhibition, Esteban’s work concentrates on the architecture of Francisco Salamone who practiced in Argentina in the 1930’s & 40’s building some truly amazing municipal buildings. The images are beautifully printed and really show off the quality of his large format long exposures taken at night. His style of image making gives the buildings an eerie yet majestical sense of grandeur. The buildings glow out of their murky backdrops and you almost get the sense of walking through some futuristic and deserted landscape to be confronted by these temples of architectural beauty.
What I cannot fathom, is whether the incredible architecture is the main interest in these photographs rather than the photographs themselves. I mean the design of the structures really is awe inspiring, they are utterly stunning and shine with a modernist come art deco look. They are lovely.
But then so are the photographs, they are immaculately taken and brilliantly composed and perhaps the sign of his skill is that the buildings come alive and almost stand separate from the images themselves. His skill has made these buildings take on a personality and for me, left me quite moved.
Curiously, I notice on his website that the original images were shown as gum prints and as such, are much more grainy and low quality. I think the printing method chosen for this show was a good move and the crisp sharp printing only adds to the glory of the constructions they depict.
Looking at his website, it seems his work is all quite experimental, with previous bodies of work including images taken from kites and stereo-panoramic. To see more of his work check out www.estebanpastorinodiaz.com.
ALEJANDRO CHASKIELBERG – HIGH TIDE
Next to Gill’s work – this for me is the other highlight of the Biennial. Chaskielberg’s High Tide documents those who live and work along the Paraná RiverDelta near Buenos Aires. Partly documentary and partly constructed, he observes and then directs those who appear in his images based on the events he has seen. Shot on a 5×4 camera using the light of the moon and some carefully placed fill in flash – the photographs are amazing.
The colours in the images are remarkable and are an affect that could never be achieved by daylight and give the photographs a cinematic and mystical property. Most distinctly, he uses Focus Shift (also known as Tilt Shift) to play with the depth of field and sharpness of his subjects. The images drop into and out of focus in a very unusual manner which really makes you look deep into the surface of the photo and look all around the print, absorbing every detail.
N.B – I do not know much about the technicalities of Focus Shift – but intend to find out. Wikipedia has some info on Tilt Shift photography http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilt-shift_photography
The work is varied, imaginative and fantastically realised. His use of both long night time exposures and focus shift completely adds to the work rather than being a novelty gimmick. It is rewarding and refreshing to see a different approach to the traditional aesthetic of photographers being explored and presented with such success.
The subject matter itself is also rich and interesting and whilst the shots are themselves somewhat constructed, they do give a good sense of the life and culture of this area of Argentina. The epic approach he takes makes you feel like you are stepping into another world and getting a glimpse under its skin.
This is a must see and a show that can appeal to all whether dedicated photography fan or just a curious art follower!
Again, his website has his previous work on it, much of which is equally striking: www.chaskielberg.com
So a good weekend of photography was had! Some extraordinarily good work was on offer and I was only too pleased to soak it up. It was disappointing that only Stephen Gill’s work truly impressed at the Museum, but this was made up for by the stunning exhibition at the University and the pure quality of Human Endeavour who had to motivate, fund and promote their show off their own backs.
As before – get out and about in Brighton and check out some of the work on offer as it’s too good an opportunity to miss!
Coming soon – part 3!