Magnús Sigurðarson has made the analysis of the obvious the subject of his art. On this occasion he focuses on a number of fixed points in reality which are found both in nature and in culture. Various creations and works of art have acquired significance in the human quest for the sublime. They bring together apparently contrasting qualities: on the one hand they are spectacular, overwhelming, and affect us by their sheer scale; on the other hand they are modest and symmetrical and appeal to us by their simplicity. Magnús sets out to break these assumptions down into their component atoms, in a quest to find some kind of nucleus – while at the same time asking himself, and us, questions about the internal and external reality of the individual, and his/her attitude to a Higher Power.
There was Julia Margaret Cameron’s mystical iconoclasm, Maxine Walker’s questions about Black British life and a disturbingly compelling show of forensic evidence – but Alex Soth’s haunted landscapes and eccentric outsiders were what really lingered...
That was something of an aside though, the main reason in attending was to see the show, the premise of which was 5 photography students from just over the river at Berkshire College of Art coming back together 30 years later. Five "products" from the same the institution, the same course, the same tutors. And oh, how they are now different. All showing some work they produced then, with some produced now.
Tanya at the Turbine House
Excepting the postcard work that meets you as you walk into the Turbine House, the first "proper" body of work was that of Peter Cole, what I suppose you might call a social documentary/travel/street photographer. All work in black and white, all of people or their surroundings and all fairly "classic" in style. Moving clockwise around the room it was then Tanya's Syncretize work that I saw some of during the course, old photographs married with Skype captures to represent the changing face of social interactions. Darran Gough's work was something of a surprise, but a pleasant one. I think I'll come back to that later. There was more from Tanya with Gone. Now? Displayed in the expanding folder that housed it for the MA assessment, it was good to see the physical prints - dark images are difficult to get right on paper, but these managed it (for my eyes at least). Dave Willis is a music and fashion photographer and his wall included images of Michael Jackson and the likes. An impressive selection of famous people have been captured here. Richard Pinches' work seemed to have evolved from being a teenage staple of cars and beer into, well, cars and beers! Granted, a more sophisticated take on them, but still the same subject. I guess there's something to be said with that...
Two of the group are no longer professionally involved in the photography scene; Darran is a fireman and Peter is involved with cycling. That said, you can tell there has been some form of training in the way they work, Darran has juxtapositions within his images, things the completely untrained eye would have missed, reflections seen in the visor to give context to what might otherwise be a "flat" composition. What's more, his images were printed on plain copy paper. Nothing pretentious, nothing precious, but for me it was perfect. It said it all. I actually hate it when people get overly precious about the images. Most of the time, they're just little prints, easy to reproduce, easy to replace. Granted, not always, in which case they do become more "special", but on the whole... I also dislike it when things are large for the sake of being large, even when it's not truly appropriate (not the case here, not at all and not with any of the exhibits). Peter's work has that well produced and considered feel to it - if he hadn't moved over to his love of cycling to earn his crust, it would be easy to see him working the travel scene.
Richard and Dave are both professional photographers - their work reflects this. Hard to pick fault, but not really the sort of thing that excites me, even if I have tried my own hand at music photography some years ago (a passing fad - too old to get into the game at the point I tried). No, to be fair, the concert photography side of things does interest me, but the music side of my brain, rather than the photography. Commercial (product) photography is something I admire when done well, but is it art? Clearly not - it's not the intention. That's not to say it's not visually attractive though - that's the very point of it, to instigate some level of desire for the subject within the viewer. There's plenty to be said on this in the world of visual culture, Althusser, Barthes, Peirce, Saussure and Levi-Strauss, etc.
Tanya is the only one to have gone down an "art" route, the only one to have added a context to the photographs, beyond the obvious "we need pictures from then and now" - she has created a set of images that explores "then" and "now", even adding something of a punctum with the missing image. These are the images that make you think, rather than just admire the technique or appreciate the subject matter. Yes, I'm sure some will have missed this fact, dismissing the "poor quality" of the Skype images without even wondering why they are like they are, what they represent. That the technology that brings us all together is simultaneously pushing us all apart. Are these real relationships or a simulacrum of a relationship? Of course, they're based on the real, but now they exist (most of the time at least) within the realm of the Matrix. So what does that mean? It depends on what you want it to mean, but does the "spoon" reflect the relationship; we think it's real, we want (need?) to believe it's real but...
That's one possible interpretation of the images, perhaps not what Tanya intended, but then, that's the nature of the beast. Anyway, on the whole I believe it all worked. I got something from it at least.
Reading: A Start and a Return
It was also good to see Keith there - one of the [( 6 )] who exhibited at Bank Street last year...