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INTERVIEW: Ravi Agarwal, Photography Curator, Serendipity Arts Festival 2019

Sharbendu De, Imagined Homeland. Curated by Ravi Agarwal. On display as part of Imagined Documents, 15 Dec – 22 Dec.

Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF), is a leading multidisciplinary art event and is one of the largest in South Asia. Curating a wide variety of works, with performing arts, film and literature, and photography to name a few, SAF offers a comprehensive insight into contemporary Indian art. In the run-up to SAF’s fourth edition, London Photography Diary spoke with Ravi Agarwal, Photography Curator for 2019.

Ravi Agarwal has an interdisciplinary practice as an artist, photographer, environmental campaigner, writer, and curator. His work explores key contemporary questions around ecology, society, urban space, and capital. He works with photography, moving image, installation, and public art, and has been shown widely in shows, including at the Kochi Biennial (2016), Sharjah Biennial (2013) and Documenta XI (2002). He co-curated the ‘Yamuna-Elbe’, an Indo German twin city public art and ecology project in 2011 and ‘Embrace our Rivers’, a Public Art Ecology project in Chennai (2018).

This year’s SAF photography program takes a step further on from the traditional documentary style that has underpinned much of Indian photography up until now. Documentary photography has existed in its many forms for much of the mediums history. From it’s conception, it has always been questioned which side of the blurry line it should fall – either artistic expression or objective journalism. SAF’s mission for 2019 is to further challenge the dichotomy of visual truth through explorations of conceptual narratives and personal stories. Constructing scenes and moulding characters to fit a narrative redefines what documentary photography is capable of, and it’s Ravi Agarwal at the reins.

Sahil Naik. Curated by Ravi Agarwal. On display as part of Urban Reimagined 2.0, 15 Dec – 22 Dec.

“Serendipity is a unique arts festival. It combines a spectrum of art forms ranging from performance, visual arts, theatre, music, photography etc.. It draws an immense footfall each year, and brings the best of art practices to people who may never go to a gallery, museum, or theatre. It is making its mark here and internationally as well. There is a growing recognition of it across the board, and an awe that it is pulled off year after year – getting better and better!”

What are the challenges of curating contemporary Indian photography?

“Photography is ubiquitous, but serious photography practice needs to be separated from it. As a medium it has re-emerged globally through new languages and forms, and no longer is it unusual to see it along with other mediums. However in India, there are only a couple of good institutes where it is taught as a contemporary practice, and until recently photo-journalistic practices have dominated, and also western practices have been strong influencers. What constitutes photography from ‘here,’ what are its concerns, its engagements and aspirations, its moorings – those are the kind of questions I am interested in – and to seek those serious practitioners who are developing a language of their own.”

How does the process of curating this festival differ from that of a show in Europe?

“Serendipity gives full control of content and choices to its curators. There is total trust in them, once they have been invited. A show this size normally will take over a year to do, but here it is delivered in less than 8 months. Besides there are problems of sites, production etc., which have their challenges, but need to fulfil at the highest quality. With the relative absence of institutional support structures for the arts in India, it needs constant problem solving.”

How do you think the expectation of truthfulness and accountability in your ecological work applies to the curation of photographic exhibitions?

“Ecology can be perceived differently depending on who is describing it. A fisher looks at the sea differently than a tourist. In that sense we create nature as our own relationship with it. That is the challenge of ecological work, that from the ‘ground’ it looks different than it does from a distance. Truth in the photograph is the truth of the photographer – her perception, and gaze. Curating photography for me needs an openness to understand this, and that the photograph reveals a lot about power structures and understandings. Both ecology and the photograph are for me political subjects.”

Serendipity Arts Festival 2019 will take place in Panaji, Goa from 15 – 22 December.


-Joe Burrows

Joe Burrows studies Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC and is an editor of London Photography Diary. While primarily identifying as a documentary photographer, he has begun producing written content for London Photography Diary and other online and print publications. He is currently developing a long term photographic project exploring the social impacts of the UK energy transition.

Book Review: London Underground 1970-1980, Mike Goldwater

TO THE TRAINS: It couldn’t be any clearer. I moved to London not much more than a year ago, but within weeks I had identified the stretch of Northern Line between my home in Stockwell and my workplace near Waterloo as rightfully ‘mine’. Kennington Station remains the bane of my existence. Every commuter knows ‘their spot’ on the platform and prides themselves on finding the most efficient routes through the relentless crowds that endlessly dwell below the thick crust of London streets. To squeeze into a sardine-tin carriage is to commit to fifteen minutes of inhuman discomfort to avoid thirty minutes of inconvenience open to the elements. Yet, the iconography of The Tube has become so prolific it almost surpasses that of the city it serves. The London Underground belongs to pop-culture but is lived by the Londoner.

North London’s own Mike Goldwater delves below the surface and presents his archive of candid portraits set in 70s London in his new book, London Underground 1970-1980, from Hoxton Mini Press. The book, bound in Metropolitan Line purple, is Hoxton Mini Press’ sixth addition to their Vintage Britain series and comes all but six months after Harry F. Conway’s hit debut, Bakerloo, was self-published to great success. 

Goldwater reveals the peculiar in familiar scenes, the intimate moment in shared space, the self absorbed in their droves. He paints The Underground in a loving and personal light as a passive observer. He leaves the voyeurism that often hides in a matte black and white print at the gateline and becomes the passenger, like any other. From Goldwater’s level perspective, we are granted an honest view into familiar spaces locked in a distant yet familiar historical ballad. Goldwater manages to cut through the cigarette smoke and pushes the physical capabilities of analogue film to its limits. Being raised on The Underground, Goldwater had a keen eye for the quirky and the awkward – finding glimpses into the lives of others so often missed by those lost to the thought of which stop just flew past them.

Lucy Davies provides foreword: “Insulated and invisible” places the viewer into a mindset that has become synonymous with that subsurface world – one that has remained unchanged from well before even Goldwater’s explorations. From thereon out, Goldwater chooses to limit captions to a specific line or station, and year. You find yourself hunting for recognisable landmarks that might have stood the test of time only to discover a rich otherworldliness in wooden pipes and advertising that would be damned as problematic by modern sensibilities. Foregoing chronology, Goldwater arranges his archive with little sense of narrative or rhythm, but in doing so creates a timeless playfulness that dances around any sort of political agenda.

London Underground 1970-1980 releases on 7th November, by Hoxton Mini Press.

-Joe Burrows

Joe Burrows studies Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC and is an editor of London Photography Diary. While primarily identifying as a documentary photographer, he has begun producing written content for London Photography Diary and other online and print publications. He is currently developing a long term photographic project exploring the social impacts of the UK energy transition.

Review: Visual Dissent

From @earth
Peter Kennard, 2011

Last week, London artist Peter Kennard took some time out of his day to celebrate and reflect on his artistic career, now spanning fifty years. The Gallery at Foyles is hosting Kennard’s latest exhibition of his most iconic works since 1969 in conjunction with his new book of the same name from Pluto Press. Curated by Futurecity with a hands on approach from the artist, this busy selection outlines a timeline of influential events and critical responses. From the Vietnam War to the second wave of nuclear disarmament campaigns, the common theme is of accountability as much as it is of resistance. Kennard takes us through the histories and techniques behind some of his most recognisable works.

Starting out by stacking half-a-dozen large format negatives and printing them as a single composition, Kennard saw an opportunity to more effectively represent the atrocities of war as well as his own experiences at demonstrations in London. Chaotic imagery could elevate the typical journalistic photograph beyond what was capable alone. Photography is a direct form of communication and symbolism is understood on a subconscious level. Kennard’s approach to reusing ‘straight photographs’ for more impactful means was well understood by artists at the time – spawning from the Dadaists of the First World War. As Kennard explained it: “With photography you have seperate images and with montage you bring those images together and you create another meaning. You try to break open the smoothness that is often represented in society, or the distance saying ‘this thing is out there’ and try and bring it into your own lives.”

Ever since challenging the expectation to create solely from the studio at the conservative art schools where he studied painting, Kennard knew the importance of finding inspiration from everyday life. His commitment to producing work from real experience, for real people, gave Kennard a deep understanding of “the media bias towards entertainment, taking people’s mind off it, selling their products,” and nothing has changed in the past fifty years, as Kennard goes on: “the internet is where you find interesting work but that is surrounded by advertising and pushing people to buy all this crap that they don’t need.” Political by design, Visual Dissent cuts through the fog of a society fed dreams of mass-consumption and attempts to lead counter-culture from the front. Kennard “see[s] photojournalism now as very much a counter-activity. It’s countering everything that’s established in our society that is becoming more and more corporate where the corporate world has taken over every aspect of the world we’re in. The voices against that become absolutely vital in terms of artists and photographers and writers creating a counter-narrative to what’s going on.” Counter-narrative, as Kennard continues, is the extent of it. To allow people to understand everyday issues in another context is not a form of propaganda; “it’s not telling people what to do, it’s trying to open up, to show what’s happening.”

Kennard’s practical and sequential process for creating imagery is almost a reflection of the reactionary nature of the end product. There is a continuity between physical elements that presents itself as honest and from our world despite the chaotic result. Grounding images in reality is heavily inspired by the work of John Heartfield’s “images that were very much stuck together but made to look like they had this realistic basis to them.” Kennard spoke about how he created Defended to Death (1983) and Union Mask (2003):

Union Mask

Photomontage, Gelatin silver, cibachrome print, gouache and ink on card
Peter Kennard, 2003

“I looked at that image of the Earth then tried to see what would fit over it – immediately I thought of a gas mask and then I stuck a gas mask on a globe and photographed it. I then looked at it and it had these eye-holes, so then I could put something in the eye-holes, and it had the air bit for the mouth, and the missiles can come out of it. So, it creates a realistic image in that sense, even though it’s completely something that doesn’t exist in the world in that way.”

A similarly hands-on approach was taken in the creation of a trio of images from ‘@Earth’. These grotesque closeups reveal an exaggerated view of the Earth as if it were an alternative universe.  Although a different physical process, and with Kennard penning the work as ‘staged photographs’ rather than photomontages, the similarly methodical approach to their creation went something like this: “I  made these giant round ice cubes – something to drop into a giant glass of whisky, or something like that – so I filled them with water and with blue food dye. When it had frozen I then poured dust and bit of shit on them, and molasses is what that is, and then photographed it on a black background.” Kennard took the opportunity to criticise the softer approach to visual communication Extinction Rebellion have taken in place of such visceral depictions of our climate in crisis. Although “quite beautiful” Kennard can’t help but see that they are “very difficult thing to engage with” as a result of their reliance on language in place of imagery.

From @earth
Peter Kennard, 2011
From @earth
Peter Kennard, 2011

Chaos goes hand-in-hand with crudity, but Kennard explains that his rough, emotional yet methodical, approach is not the only way of going about creating politically critical art. Jeff Wall, a pioneer in manipulated photography, has taken the power out of advertising campaigns and big media projects by using their own perfectionism against them. Based on a conceptual reconstruction of 19th Century art trends, Wall’s work creates an ironic realism where “His work does counter the capitalist world of advertising, but he does it through the quality of his work being the same, or as being as high-tech as the advertising”.

Visual Dissent as close as you can get to the perfect guide to protest and visual-campaign. Whether you work for Nestle or fervently despise them, Kennard has the playbook. To look back at fifty years of unbridled passion on paper is to acknowledge the vast influence Kennard has had; influence to the point where his prevalent style is teasing, or maybe even embracing, it’s own cliche. However, don’t just take it from me: “He is a master of the medium of photomontage” – John Berger.

Visual Dissent is showing for free at The Gallery at Foyles until 31 October.

Review: Tbilisi Photo Festival 2019

©Mery Aghakhanyan

Inaugurating the Georgian cultural event season for 2019 was the Tbilisi Photo Festival; kicking off on 12th September this is the only photo festival in the South Caucasus, hosted across the cobbled capital city of Tbilisi. From the very start this year was set to be one of firsts for the festival and the South Caucasus as a whole; the opening of the country’s first dedicated photographic and multimedia museum was but one highlight of many to come in the festival’s ten day programme. Major themes to look out for this year include the migrant crisis, disinformation campaigns with a focus on Russia, and a celebration of hot photographers from the South Caucasus.

Pulling into its 10th year as Arles blows past its semi-centennial, Tbilisi is well established in the South Caucasus and much of Europe. And so, it comes as a surprise to see this is the first year in which South Caucasian photographers are truly in the limelight; featuring photographers of all backgrounds from Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, to which the most prominent exhibition of the event is dedicated. Lead from the start by festival co-founder and curator, Nestan Nijaradze, this culmination of prideful post-soviet culture was an eye-opening look into a tight-knit community. One that is embracing it’s traditionally socialist documentary roots while making room for a developing contemporary fine-art photography scene.

Opening night and Nan Goldin’s Georgian premiere was a sentimental affair; The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1985) was an apt performance in the context of Georgia’s rapidly modernising culture. This 40 minute slideshow-documentary details Goldin’s unclouded perceptions of the human condition on a most personal of levels. It has revealed contemporary photography’s ability to understand an intimate gaze through untraditional means by valuing the emotional weight of a moment over technical accuracy. Although often openly unspoken and seemling bound in tradition, ideas of sex and body acceptance have already begun to be challenged by Georgian artists, but Nan Goldin’s work has been as relevant here as anywhere else since its conception in the 70s and 80s. Even so, Georgia’s first ever nude/queer photographic exhibtion opened only last year, created by Tbilisi based photographer Lasha Fox Tsertsvadze. Goldin’s ballad brought foundation to an important conversation: Plucked from Arles, courtesy of sponsorship from the United States, yet perfectly at home in a rapidly changing Georgian social landscape. Just as well this screening took place in Tbilisi’s Bassiani techno club: Steeped in controversy and all but tailor made for Goldin.

The following day, spilling out of the base of the Leghvtakhevi waterfall that feeds Tbilisi’s old-town sulphur baths, was a display of NOOR photographers Yuri Kozyrev and Kadir van Lohuizen’s Arctic: New Frontier. The Carmignac Photojournalism Award winning series details their formidable 15,000km trek across the Arctic ice in 2018. Their stunning body of work is possibly the most comprehensive view of our direct impacts on the Arctic ice and what that frobodes for the planets climate as a whole. Critical perspectives of Russia from Kozyrev in particular begin to hint at one of the wider themes of the festival: Disinformation and the information war. A stark relevance to current news trends brought an undercurrent of suspense, but most attendees shared an excitable appreciation of the Dutch-Russian duo’s presentation none-the-less. Feelings of admiration of natural beauty with the knowledge of its inevitable demise were emotionally charged by the chorus of rushing water that echoed between the crowd.

Kadir van Lohuizen / NOOR Arctic, Alaska, Point Hope, whale hunting, May 2018
© Kadir van Lohuizen, NOOR

In 2010, Arles Photo Festival teamed up with their Georgian counterparts to produce a homage to La Nuit de l’Annee in Tbilisi. Since then The Night of Photography has grown to be the largest of all events at Tbilisi Photo Festival, pulling in approximately 10,000 guests throughout the night. This year, as to fit the festival’s theme of migration, this beloved event was produced in partnership with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD). 

Under a bristling canopy of trees, dimly lit by the flickering assortment of 9 projections, Tbilisi was welcomed into Mushtaidi Park by a celestial set by critically acclaimed local electronic music producer, Kordz. Mushtaidi Park is one of Tbilisi’s oldest and is home to a charming amusement park of sorts. Colourful animals hang from carrousels, their vibrance lost to the night. Stumbling around on the heels of locals that hold on to dear memories of their childhoods under these very trees was a surreal experience. Previous years saw screens placed around Tbilisi old town, but for the festival’s 10th they decided to consolidate their shows into one momentous space. You would expect Mushtaidi Park, a space filled to the brim with emotion and personal history, to compete with and perhaps overwhelm the artwork to be shown inside its reaches. In the words of the curator of the event, Gvansta Jishkariani: “Here and a few spots in the city is where everybody shares the love… We all love that space, they all have sweet memories”.

The projects of around 400 artists from across the globe were beamed onto canvases hung from bandstands, trees, and across ponds. The breadth of work displayed was staggering; featuring international work with awards from the likes of LensCulture, Magnum, and CAP Prize, to screens dedicated to female Geogian photographers and local political unrest of the preceding year.

Highlights to look out for were two finalists of the nights open call who were invited to attend the evening’s festivities. Belgian Alain Schroeder’s heartbreaking documentary series, Saving Orangutans, narrates humankind’s incongruous relationship with the wild in Indonesia. First impressions are of any ad campaign vying for funds in response to a nondescript humanitarian crisis, as-seen-on-TV and superficial. However, Schroeder’s approach feels human and personal despite the flurry of medically face-masked surgical gloves insistent on poking and prodding. A slew of wide angle closeups of subdued orangutans leave the viewer feeling personally responsible for their fate, but you are eventually vindicated by a shot of an orangutan gallantly riding the back of a man as he fordes a mighty river, alluding to restitution of mankind’s relationship with nature.

Tobias Asser of The Netherlands presented a combination of his latest works, SDIT Missions. This part stills, part moving image abstract exploration of otherworldly experiments combined science fiction fantasy with documentary photography to bring a new perspective on issues of climate change and the fate of humanity. Asser’s visceral parody of the golden age of space exploration used eerie high contrast portraits of geared up scientists and simulated microscopic views of moon-based bacterial life growing in a laboratory to disassociate space travel with valiant and admirable acts of courage. In Asser’s words, “we are destroying not just our planet but also the dream of outer space”. SDIT Missions is completely out of the ordinary, as is Asser’s established style.

Only a brief moment went by where I had the chance to take in my surroundings while clutching my map and programme. Accompanied by new found friends and colleagues from London and Hong Kong, it wasn’t long before we were introduced to the curator of night and Tbilisi based artist, Gvansta Jishkariani. From the get-go it was clear that her energy and enthusiasm was what lead the show. Months of preparation for such an event is enough to exhaust anyone, however Gvansta took it all in her stride. We were promptly invited to the reception later that night to meet with other artists and prominent people of the Tbilisi art and culture scene.

Out of the trees we found three wooden carriages sitting ready to be tugged along by a comically child-sized steam locomotive -the first of its kind-, and what turned out to be the host of the night’s reception. Gaggles of creatives ebbed and flowed between the bench seats of the train and the row of drinks and hors d’oeuvres that were soon to be demolished. Artists whose work featured on the big screens joined us on the train for positively cosy introductions and we all shared the same wish: for a steam-powered tour of Mushtaidi Park.

We spoke with local artists whose work featured in the night and others who had come in support. Georgia, being as small a country as it is, has a proportionally small but overwhelmingly passionate and supportive creative community. Who stood out to me that night was the softly spoken founder of an in-schools program for promoting creative learning in Georgian schools. Zura Tsofurashvili started his organisation, Parallelclass, in 2017 to challenge a school system stuck in the soviet-era. It is this type of personally motivated approach towards a greater good that I noticed when speaking with any Georgian creative, whether they were part of the festival or just there to support their contemporaries.

The early hours of the morning were drawing within a hair’s breadth, but as we were making our way back through the maze of Mushtaidi it was reassuring to see spare seats were still a rare commodity. The Night of Photography ran until 03:00 and I can say with certainty that this is considered early by Tbilisi nightlife standards. Tbilisi Photo Festival’s 10th run at hosting their Night of Photography was a resounding success.

The following night, after an embarrassingly late brunch of pkhali and khachapuri among other hearty Georgain delights with Gvansta and Tobias Asser, was the Galleries at Night exhibition tour. Running from 19:00 until 01:00 this city-wide gallivant took us between six galleries of varying size and setting. 

The Bird’s Nesters (c) Gregoire Eloy

Beginning at the Giorgi Leonidze State Museum of Literature, our first two exhibitions were Grégoire Eloy’s The Bird’s Nesters and Weronika Gesicka’s Confusion. Eloy had spent two years as part of the Artist in Residence Program of the Guernsey Photography Festival and Gatehouse Gallery documenting the natural environments that surrounded him on his countless walks along the coastline from 2016 to 2018. Intimate is the only way to describe Eloy’s completely immersed approach to this project, saying “I want to make the island a familiar place, to exhaust the landscape.” His vast installation pieces included collages from his accompanying book, individually measuring meters in length, and a collection of framed black and white prints that resembled a growth of moss crawling up from the floor or a crashing wave.

Confusion comes from a collection of found photographs and feeds your curiosity of the Other. Gesicka takes stock photography of an idyllic vision of the United States from the mid 20th Century and digitally manipulates them such that they become doubtful of themselves. Rather than the American Dream, these photographs belittle your hopes and begin to question identity, relationships, and human needs such that they become timeless. Attentively crafted photomontages and cleverly designed objects from Polish Gesicka bring an abstract conceptuality that is sometimes lacking in typically documentary Georgian photography.

Next and only a few minutes away was Erti Gallery, Tbilisi’s answer to White Cube gallery in London and the first of its kind in the city. Light Machines by Koka Ramishvili was the culmination of three years working with a black and white digital sensor camera to capture “light as a painting”. A series of atypical long exposure still lifes depict specially made sculptures in motion in an attempt to capture the purest example of the combination of light and time to shed the materiality of a still-life subject. Tbilisi born Ramishvili is a leading conceptual multi-media artist and has over the last three decades consistently challenged his Geogian contemporaries.

The halfway point of our journey was Project Artbeat, a two room gallery space containing assorted works from Nata Sopromadze and David Meskhi’s various projects. Meskhi’s photographs of flying athletes is Soviet in character but ideologically opposed. Himself growing up under the Soviet Union, Meskhi’s work takes on the role of being a gateway out to an individuality that the communist regime could not afford. He contrasts his study of feats of the human body with images from his time in military training and studies of celestial bodies. His abstract collection appears autobiographical; a desire for a mystical dream grounded in memories of his Soviet past.

Sopromadze has worked with the theme of death to the extent of becoming synonymous with the topic. However, her numerous projects straddle the line between light-hearted fun and sombre respect, including a great silver cross hung over the room, embossed by dozens of Polaroid photographs depicting flowers lovingly left on graves. Each image reflects the last in colour and composition to the point where the entire cross becomes one giant monument to the memories of the dead. A series of traditional gravestone portraits line the opposite wall as part of a series titled Immortals. This work sees Sopromadze’s friends opposing their fear of death by modelling for their own gravestones. Sopromadze gleefully spoke about how not one of her subjects showed concern for the subject matter and in fact were all excitedly curious to see their own futures, in a sense. 

The longer the night went on the further into old Tbilisi we crept. Untitled Gallery, similarly hidden atop a magnificent staircase, hosted a collection of private archival photographs from Georgians. This unique opportunity combined installation and found-photographs to create a space reminiscent of a brain full of a random selection of foreign memories. After some time admiring the collage of yellowing slide-photographs depicting family life and prized memories stuck to the inside of a window we were due to move on.

Piling into a couple taxis and zipping along the now quieting streets of town, the dozen or so of us left eventually found our way to Gallery Warehouse. Run by Aleksi Soselia out of his own home as an alternative to commercial galleries, he focuses on bringing attention to up-and-coming Georgian artists who might not otherwise have the opportunity to share their work with an audience. On display tonight was Sopho Kobidze’s solo show looking at scar tissue in candid close-up.

This nocturnal urban adventure was to end at Maudi, an enormous gallery situated in the northern reaches of Tbilisi on a decrepit industrial estate. On display was Job Sánchez’s colossal installation piece Luminescence: a fabric rainbow of printed Instagram selfies sent in as voluntary contributions enclosing the words ‘nothing ever transcends its immediate environment’, stretched over a wall-mounted lightbox, set to otherworldly music by Anzor Ghudushauri. The homemade bar let the drinks flow while Sánchez took questions and although once again early morning was upon us, we weren’t deturred from heading back into the city for a few closing drinks.

The first weekend may have concluded but the jam-packed schedule of events had not. Monday 16th September saw the opening of the Tbilisi Photography and Multimedia Museum (TPMM). It seemed the entirety of Tbilisi had joined us in celebration for the evening. TPMM is by no means a small establishment, being situated on the second floor of the Stamba Hotel – a former soviet-era printhouse. The space comes equipped with a long concrete-clad hall lined with scores of paired columns. At one end is a glass wall, framed much like the floor to ceiling windows that wash the hall with sunlight, that encloses a modern open-style office space. The centrepiece of the office is a grey wall with ample space for a steady rotation of archived exhibitions. Despite the venue’s generous size the prestige of the opening had brought it to capacity within minutes, much to Nestan’s (also director of TPMM) delight.

Tonight the brutalist factory windows were blacked out and TPMM was entirely lit by four huge projection screens and the runway of flickering lanterns that lead you towards them. An entire wall was reserved for three of the screens that would surround the viewer in what can only be described as wholly immersive, completely hijacking your sense of sight and hearing to transporting you to another realm. Space was left for the audience to stretch and sprawl to take in the work as comfortably as possible. TPMM’s opening screening was the immense explosion of instinct and tribality that is Unus Mundus: Rituals and Trances by Vincent Moon & Priscilla Telmon. Latin for ‘One World’, Unus Mundus is the culmination of ten years of dedicated filming from across the world. It combines more than 100 films that intimately follow rituals and sacred practices from incomprehensibly varied cultures. Run in a constant loop and set to guttural chants and sacred music, Unus Mundus allows the viewer to connect with celebrations of faith on an almost primordial level. It set a powerful backdrop for TPMM’s opening as such an ambitious and challenging work only reflects the significance of the event for the South Caucasus.

Speeches from director and host Nestan Nijaradze as well as the Deputy Regional Director for Cooperation from TPMM’s Swiss sponsor Werner Thut took the opportunity to highlight the importance of photographic media in giving a voice to those less able to speak up for themselves. TPMM was declared to be a space for sharing ideas and experiences to better promote social and cultural change for Georgia and the wider region. As Thut put it: “Photography helps us to see things we otherwise struggle to recognise and fail to put into words. It also gives a voice to marginal groups and vulnerable people, to reach out to the powerful, who usually sit in the capital.”

After a bustling opening weekend the week was a more relaxed affair, with each evening hosting either a panel discussion or workshop. Migrant’s Odyssey in Europe on Tuesday was a personal highlight. Photographers from MAPS and Magnum as well as Violetta Wagner, a migration expert with The International Centre for Migration Policy Development, got together to discuss current definitions and trends in migration since the European migrant crisis. Works discussed included Dworzak’s ‘Europa’ guide for refugees coming to Europe. Talks throughout the week addressed such topics as migration and disinformation through the lens of photography but the audiences attracted were a healthy mix photographers and just generally interested people alike.

Lesvos, Greece Oct. 18, 2015. A mother and child wrapped in an emergency blanket after disembarking on the beach of Kayia, on the north of the Greek island of Lesvos.
(c)Alessandro Penso, MAPS

I had spent a good part of my week in anticipation of the coming weekend’s closing piece. Every new face I meet eagerly asked if I will be attending the Museum of Modern Art’s Across the Mountains: The South Caucasus Photography Vol. 1 that Saturday. Earlier in the week I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting the exhibitions curator Anna Shpakova to get a behind the scenes look at what was at that point a work in progress. Beaming but clearly with much on her mind, Anna made introductions and we politely shook her elbow to save her cautiously gloved hands. Certainly a novel way to break the ice. Anna kindly brought us into her cavernous exhibition space. An aura of silent concentration mellowed us but Anna wasn’t dettured. She spoke passionately and proudly and rightly so, as Across the Mountains is a first of its kind. As she noted:  “For the first time, the collected works of the three South Caucasian countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – offer quite an intimate series in one space, [a] series that, through multifaceted and diverse attitudes, invites us to discover the Others as an alternative to ourselves.”

When opening night arrived it was as if all of autumn had arrived at once. Only serving to knock every yellowing leaf into the gutter this bitter chill made the Museum of Modern Art all the more welcoming. I, accompanied by hundreds of artists and curious spectators alike, came to see Across the Mountains in support of a South Caucasus united through the common eye of photographic media. It did not feel like the solemn end to a fantastic week like I might’ve expected, but more of a celebration.

To pick one stand-out project out of the more than twenty on display is a challenge, but I would say Armenian photographer Karen Mirzoyan comes close to summarising the sentiment of the entire show while turning it on its head. His project I’m part of send me send you square selfie generation is an installation of a row of 63 small portraits illustrated with text from six different languages. In essence, it is a critical commentary of contemporary arts’ insistence on being neatly packaged and easily accessible to the English speaking world. Mirzoyan’s ever-changing self reflection makes a point of the differences between us to break these barriers down. His use of language, ordering 39 of his images to match the Armenian alphabet, as a tool for expressing oneself while critiquing its’ exclusivity is what makes I’m part of send me send you square selfie generation one to look out for in particular.

Across the Mountains is but one part of a multi part series of exhibitions planned by the Museum of Modern Art in Tbilisi. If this isn’t reason enough to return in 2020, there’s always Tbilisi’s 11th annual Photo Festival to jot in you diaries. If it is to be even half as welcoming and insightful as their decennial then I’ll be on the first flight. I am yet to be fatigued by all Tbilisi has to offer: the variety of hearty dishes, it’s stunningly diverse architecture, and an art community that relentlessly strives to produce the most politically provoking photographic works. Even after ten days of adventure and discovery I feel as if I’ve only just scratched the surface.

Images by Tbilisi Photo Festival 2019

-Joe Burrows

Joe Burrows studies Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC and is an editor of London Photography Diary. While primarily identifying as a documentary photographer, he has begun producing written content for London Photography Diary and other online and print publications. He is currently developing a long term photographic project exploring the social impacts of the UK energy transition.

Review: Shot in Soho

Clancy Gebler Davies, The Colony Room Club, 1999 – 2000 © Clancy Gebler Davies, Courtesy of the artist

Crawling my way through the thicket of chuntering HGVs and humming black-cabs, my attempts to traverse central London by bus this muggy Thursday morning were futile. With Trafalgar Square yet to be reassembled after recent protests I felt it only appropriate to brave the weather and plod along to The Photographers’ Gallery on foot. Taking on such treaturious tasks as skipping murky puddles and dodging the spray of the very bus I had just disembarked meant I was to be late to my destination. Though I would not fret, for my diversion would see me skirting the very neighbourhood to which this exhibition is dedicated.

In all of its history, Soho has stood firmly distinct from its neighbours oh-so bogged down by gentrification and an institutionalised view of ‘the Other’ more compatible with commercialisation on an industrial scale. Remaining synonymous with acceptance and hosting a healthy mix of migrant communities, Soho is what Milton Keynes could never force through committee – it is multicultural Britain concentrate; a bastion for the unpredictable and the disobedient that managed to keep its operatic motif. Although infamously seedy gentlemen’s clubs may have long departed in favour of family-focused restaurants and tourists’ night-tours, Soho’s position as the heart of unbridled creativity remains. However, to think of Soho as unwavering or eternal is to neglect the issues that make Shot in Soho such a timely exhibition. Namely, the development of Crossrail 2 at Tottenham Court Road and the skepticism that surrounds its possible effects on an area historically ignored by non-locals.

Shot in Soho leads the viewer by the hand through what could be described as a Soho ‘greatest hits’. Curators Julian Rodriguez and Karen McQuaid present a comprehensive chronology of the last fifty years through extensive study of commissioned reportage like Kelvin Brodie’s Soho Observed for The Times and Anders Petersen’s revisited Soho. These glossy monochrome collections are objective snapshots of real Soho lives but they can find it difficult to distinguish between the photographers’ presumptions and the actual lived experience of those photographed. Brodie pokes his lens into the private sphere of a police bus to peer at a distressed woman physically restrained – his body of work valuable in its own right for embracing the perspective of authoritative observer. Petersen made his way back to Soho in 2011 to produce a body of work cut from the same cloth. The historical weight of ‘golden-age’ style photojournalism precedes the content of the work itself and exemplifies the problematic nature of the camera’s gaze.

Much the same but from a different approach is French-American William Klein’s candid colour view of eighties Soho for the Sunday Times. Klein forgets any sense of self-importance when he takes to the streets and in doing so finds humour in the everyday. Klein’s work reads like the Martin Parr of the inner-city.

I’m thankful for Rodriguez and McQuaid’s inclusion of the intimately autobiographical Corinne Day with a collection of her works shot in her Brewer Street home/studio. Day’s visual rebuke of contemporary editorial fashion photography led her to create some of the most emotionally provocative imagery of this collection and shows an individual response to Soho as a space for creatives. Alongside Clancy Gebler Davies’ The Colony Room Club these photographs provide the intimate familiarity and emotional trust needed to round off Shot in Soho.

Soho’s historical and cultural depth is immeasurable and celebrating this unique pocket of society at a time of such uncertainty is exactly why spaces like The Photographers’ Gallery impart so much value. You can be critical of the historical implications of privileged gaze and try to relive the fleeting joy captured in much of Day’s portraits, but you should also take the time to sit and appreciate that whatever your idea of Soho is there will be something there to surprise you.

Shot in Soho is open from 18 October 2019 to 9 February 2020 at The Photographers’ Gallery.

-Joe Burrows

Joe Burrows studies Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC and is an editor of London Photography Diary. While primarily identifying as a documentary photographer, he has begun producing written content for London Photography Diary and other online and print publications. He is currently developing a long term photographic project exploring the social impacts of the UK energy transition.

REVIEW: THE POWER OF SYMPATHY – THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF DAGMAR HOCHOVA

“Childhood is my main theme. During the totalitarian regime it was one area that could be freely explored.” On display for the very first time in the UK at 12 Star Gallery is the work of Czech photographer Dagmar Hochová, overflowing with images of children adorning ruined buildings or gurning at the camera –uninhibited, exuberant and playful. Photographing them became Hochová’s calling card, but she also took exception to her reductive moniker as “the photographer of children”. The label elides her work’s implicit socio-political content and documentation of pivotal moments in the Czech Republic’s history.

Curated by Jiří Pátek and organised by the Czech Centre London, The Power of Sympathy presents a select number of Hochová’s vibrant photographs, depicting a time of great national upheaval and change. Under the constraints of a Communist government since 1948, the desire for the country’s liberalisation – as embodied in Alexander Dubček’s reforms – is shown through the events of the Prague Spring of 1968. The subsequent invasion of the “Warsaw Pact” armies the same year quashed any such hopes, leading to the intensification of pro-Soviet government and increasing censorship of the press. Twenty years later, the Velvet Revolution finally ushered in a process of democratisation and self-rule as the Communist government was ousted – changes echoed by other Eastern Bloc countries at the time.

Two girls on the bridge, 1959 by Dagmar Hochová, courtesy of the Moravian Gallery, Brno

One of the defining images of the show is Two on the Bridge (1959). An endearing distillation of childish vigor, it captures two young girls cockily facing the camera sporting gap-toothed grins, their liveliness conveyed by the photo’s tight cropping and angular lines. A timeless rendering of early youth, it is also tempting to see this as an instance of photographic sleight-of-hand – a veiled challenge to a regime silencing artistic freedom of expression. Antonin Dufek notes of the Communist coup in 1948 that the regime ‘required that “photographic workers” devote themselves exclusively to the promotion of communism and the new way of life.’ The seemingly apolitical content of these photographs, inevitable given the repressive edicts imposed by the state, is arguably a sublimated indictment of the regime; their flagrant expressiveness channeled through their inoffensive content. Two on the Bridge, in its boisterous, semi-confrontational way, might just be a two-finger salute to the people in power.

The exhibition is divided into two sections, with the first chronologically illustrating Czechoslovakia’s transition from Communist oppression to democratic government. Curator Pátek has managed an impressive feat here: selecting 17 from over 4000 potential images (held at the Moravian Gallery in Brno) to represent the overarching narrative of twenty years of Czechoslovakian history. You can almost see the movement of the times, the twists and turns of the country’s fortunes. Hochová’s work doesn’t privilege politics over people however: they are just different sides of the same coin. Václav Havel – Future Czech president, playwright and dissident – is photographed glancing deferentially at his wife Olga in one of many images Hochová took of ostracised artists, while the invasion of “Warsaw Pact” armies into Czechoslovakia is humanized in a shot of a man despondently watching a tank pass by from a tram window. As he looks out on the scene, the tank commander glances back a little uncertainly himself, and both from their different vantage points seem to acknowledge the absurdity of the situation.

The mobilization of resistance to the regime is shown in images of the Silent March through Prague in 1969, culminating in the return of the country to Czech control after 1989’s Velvet Revolution and the disbanding of the Communist Party. In the intervening decades a messy reality is elucidated – a tension between the “normalisation” of the regime and an allegiance to past ideals. Annual holidays and events such as Labour Day Parades and Spartakiad marches (a supplement to the Olympics) are depicted in which citizens were made to take part. These images, which imply acceptance of the Communist order, are balanced by the inclusion of Hochová’s photos of The Legionnaires. Unique among her contemporaries, she documented the WWI veterans’ trips to Lány cemetery, where they paid their respects to the president of the First Czechoslovak Republic. This was a bold move considering an act of allegiance to a previously democratic state would have been unfavourably viewed by the regime.

On the adjacent wall a political overview acquiesces to a more humanist approach, presenting a selection of photographs conveying the scope of Hochová’s thematic concerns. As well as charting everyday life under Communism, she documents those who, as Pátek phrases it, “did not fall easily into the spotless image of the developed socialist society.” This included an older population, those with learning disabilities, intellectuals and dissidents. A number of portraits convey the naturalism of Hochová’s approach, her gift in capturing unguarded moments: a soldier walking at ease down the street, or Czechoslovakian gymnast Věra Čáslavská (incidentally anti-regime) gracefully receiving flowers. A dauntlessly determined spirit is everywhere tangible, particularly in an image of an old woman traversing a barbed wire fence: the framing of a metal cross between two trees reinforcing the transgressive symbolism of this act in a wonderful evocation of defiance.

Untitled, Children series, 1981 by Dagmar Hochová, courtesy of the Moravian Gallery, Brno

Key to the appeal of Hochová’s works is their unaffected warmth and compassion. Nuns provide guidance and affection to disabled children while nurses share smiles with the aging members of retirement homes. Even in the most difficult of circumstances Hochová refuses to indulge in defeatism, looking always for the light. Though only her joyful images of children were free to be published before the regime imploded in 1989, she was steadfast in her resolution to attend to the realities of life disavowed by the Communist Party. Intentional or otherwise, her ostensibly innocent images of children, revelling in all their youth and unharnessed energy, feel like the perfect riposte to the totalitarian government’s restrictions on its citizens’ freedom of expression.

 

By Daniel Pateman

‘The Power of Sympathy: The Photography of Dagmar Hochová’ is showing at:
12 Star Gallery,
Europe House,
32 Smith Square,
London,
SW1P 3EU

From 20th June to 29th June 2018
Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm

http://london.czechcentres.cz/programme/travel-events/vystava-fotografii-dagmar-hochove/

Thanks to both Renata Clark and Jiří Pátek for their assistance.

Budapest Photo Festival 2018

Hungary has a reputation for its high-calibre photography, with a historic cache of celebrated photographers that includes Robert Capa, André Kertész and László Moholy-Nagy, to name only a few. I’m therefore not surprised to see the passion and breadth of Budapest Photo Festival’s 2018 programme, which is packed with contemporary Hungarian photography alongside a wide range of work from international artists, such as Paulo Nozolino, Alain Laboile and David Pujadó.

Taking place from February 28th until April 20th, it encompasses an impressive thirty-eight exhibitions whose creative and thematic depth touch on desire, identity, urban decay, space, temporality and family. The greatest anticipation however is reserved for Sandro Miller’s Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters, arriving in Budapest as part of a world-tour that has encompassed Australia, China, the US and Europe. Sandro’s inclusion in the festival, along with guest attendees like art-house filmmaker Béla Tarr, adds a touch of prestige to an already exciting roster of events.

With only a limited time in Hungary’s capital, I head straight to the Malkovich show at the Műcsarnok Kunsthalle. The importance of this artistic collaboration is shown in the way images from the exhibition permeate the city’s social space: the BPF logo adorning bus stops alongside twin John Malkovichs, and, as I make my way down Andrássy út, he watches over me in the guise of a made-up Meryl Streep.

Herb Ritts: Jack Nicholson I-IV, London (1988) 2014 © Sandro Miller

Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters is a visually impressive show, tangibly evinced by the recreation of so many iconic images in one space. A collection of technically-precise facsimiles rather than perfect imitations, these are faithful recreations resulting from the detailed research of a pool of talented artists. What might otherwise be a disparate agglomeration is unified by the show’s shared protagonist: John Malkovich, weaving himself like a mischievous time-traveller into one-hundred-and-thirty years of visual history.

Malkovich achieves various levels of self-effacement here. He makes an incredibly convincing Andy Warhol, Albert Einstein and Igor Stravinsky for example. He is also believably transformed into a young boy through costume, facial expression and a clever rendering of perspective, in Diane Arbus’s Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. Understandably he is less successful at embodying the physicality of famous blonde-bombshell Marilyn Monroe or African-American Muhammad Ali, though he still manages to emote something of their persona in these shots. His features wax and wane from photo-to-photo in a postmodern game of “peek-a-boo” – sometimes genuinely merging with and sometimes visible within the image.

Sandro has sincerely stated there is no intention of poking fun in his works, only of “an honest attempt to make these things as perfect as possible”. However, there is an inescapable amusement to be had in seeing the well-known actor perform the “roles” of a variety of well-known personages. Malkovich channels something of the naughty schoolboy in his appropriation of these often revered cultural icons, while the show’s modus operandi sometimes undermines the authority of the original image, and intentionally or not, draws attention to its constructed nature. Perhaps this is why the Herb Ritts re-creation of Jack-Nicholson’s Joker is to my mind one of the more perfect pieces: not only a visually arresting replica, but lacking the occasional disparity between the original’s content and its appropriation, with both Nicholson’s 1988 shots and Malkovich’s chameleonic work with Sandro channelling the same sense of performativity and irreverence.

A by-product of the project’s play with image is how it flattens the contextual depth of the more social realist works; unmooring them from their specific historical moment and neutralising their mobilising potency. This is particularly pronounced with the implicit indictment of racism in Gordon Park’s American Gothic, Washington, D.C, where “re-casting” with a white man has been acknowledged as contentious by Sandro, and arguably with Dorethea Lange’s image Migrant Mother. In foregrounding performance over politics, Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich sometimes unwittingly obscures lived socio-historic realities.

Műcsarnok Kunsthalle Installation Shot © Daniel Pateman

However, acknowledging that this postmodern approach can be problematic doesn’t detract from Sandro’s honourable intention to pay homage to such a rich visual heritage. An entertaining blockbuster of a show, its visibility allows it to connect historic works with a new audience and to sustain the legacies of myriad influential artists. In the end, Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich is an imaginative, amusing, technically assured exhibition that, beneath the fun and games, also provides testament to the empathic ability of great actors and photographers, both able to elucidate a common humanity.

Dotted across the sprawling, architecturally imposing city are a dozen other shows I’m keen to see; Objects of Desire, a group show by Hungarian photographers (3rd March – 6th April); a key, contemporary show Still Life at Kiscelli Museum (7th April – 24th June); Deim Balázs’s Space at B32 Trezor Galéria (8th – 30th March), and Invisible Cities, curated by Festival Director Szilvia Mucsy (3rd – 31st March).

Given this is my first time in Budapest I can’t forfeit the opportunity to do some sight-seeing, but I am resolved to see at least one more exhibition. I decide on the enigmatic black and white works of Invisible Cities, located downtown at the festival’s epicentre. Before heading there I attempt some Hungarian while grabbing a face-full of delicious, chocolate-filled pastries, and coffee in hand wander through the drizzly streets. I get some amazing birds-eye views of the capital from atop St Stephen’s Basilica, all the tourist-baiting attractions laid out ahead of me – the Royal Palace, the Liberty Monument on Gellért Hill – and spy the Danube majestically winding through the city.

Amsterdam – Rotterdam, 1981 © Paulo Nozolino

I arrive soon after at Budapest Project Gallery. Invisible Cities, representing the tradition of contemporary Portuguese photography, centres on the work of Paulo Nozolino and José Manuel Rodrigues; their monochrome images striking against the plain white walls, encompassing both sombre symbolism and poetic beauty. It is a productive partnership, with the artists expressing similar concerns (man’s relationship with his environment) but utilising different moods to explore themes of change and transience.

Paulo Nozolino’s imaging of urban existence draws you in with its minimalism; a grainy aesthetic of monochrome, high-contrast, A5-size shots. Obscuring specifics, people become featureless shadows. Buildings merge into darkness and skies glower forebodingly. There is an emphasis on the ebb and flow of life’s essential elements, with the introductory shot evoking the cosmic as lights curve around black space.

Aesthetically a battle is being waged between light and dark. Bright lines rupture the image in Bruxelles (1981), while in another the lit windows of a looming high-rise puncture the gloom. Narbonne (1986) seemingly shows a father and son in silhouette, watching a plane from across the sky. The details are few but their assemblage is compelling – the distillation of a drama, the diminutively sized image evoking childhood nostalgia and a yearning for the past, even though the image carries the threat of war.

Nozolino’s work also potently effuses alienation and decay, with human figures shown in isolation and often obscured against their landscapes, as indistinct as the crumbling buildings that linger in semi-darkness. Las Vegas (1978) subverts the city’s conventional depiction as one of flashing neon and high-stakes drama, showing it instead as a drab, post-apocalyptic wasteland whose lights are barely discernable on the horizon.

Prefiguring today’s abundance of solipsistic devices, El Paso (1978) presents a deceptively simple image of a TV in a mostly featureless room. The image on the screen however shows a man behind bars, echoing the sparse room and dark window in which the picture was taken. Nozolino, commenting on our modern obsession with technology in 2015, noted how “many people are lost in their gadgets, success and money, but they are distractions in regard to what really matters… We are only passing through, we should never forget that.” Not only do his words further highlight society’s increasing atomisation, but he elucidates the importance of recognising our ephemeral existence.

No title © José Manuel Rodrigues

José Manuel Rodrigues’s photography addresses similar motifs but presents a more positive interpretation of change, lacking the pessimistic taint of Nozolino’s work. His use of expressive symbolism posits a continuity between humans and their environment, as we see in various images of women reclining in or near water. The subjects’ heads peek out from the corner of the photo, juxtaposed against large bodies of water in a sort of physical and mental merging. Not only does this suggest the elemental in us, a symbiotic connection between internal and external worlds, but it proposes a more reciprocal and less anthropocentric relationship with our environment.

Decay and transience are also depicted, but sidestep any sense of fatality. The monochrome images, bright and crisp, show these processes as integral to life, expressing an almost anthropological understanding of them. One untitled work conveys a kind of symmetry by mirroring a gridded window on the right, its inverse image on the left showing the shadow of the photographer taking the picture – evoking both creation and impermanence. This sense of ‘yin and yang’ harmony is depicted throughout Rodrigues’s photography, expressing the interdependence of light and dark, life and death.

On the second floor of the gallery is a selection of his larger, landscape-focused works. Swampy rock pools and bodies of water – the only colour images of the show – suggest an almost timeless, primordial quality. One photo in particular can be interpreted as a hierarchy of creation: the bottom stratum of the frame formless shadow, the next mineral matter, then rising up into a man-made conical form. Quietly enigmatic, these images focus on the general and elemental in a bid to elucidate the nature of being, existence, and our part in an interconnected universe.

Before departing for the airport and leaving this fascinating, multi-faceted city behind, I have a brief moment to visit the opening of David Pujadó’s Biedma – Poems: from ink to light at the Instituto Cervantes de Budapest (showing until May 16th). His works are quiet, contemplative expressions of the poems of Jaime Gil de Biedma, with Pujadó’s minimalist aesthetic the result of him wanting to “say many things in very few words”. It is an affecting union of words and images. But unfortunately I soon have to say “viszontlátásra” to Budapest, to its delicious food and thriving photographic scene, leaving BPF 2018 to its on-going successes, at least for another year.

Budapest Photo Festival runs from February 28th – April 20th 2018.  http://www.budapestphotofestival.hu/en/

– Daniel Pateman

Daniel studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University, with an emphasis on visual culture and spectatorship, and is currently completing his MA in Contemporary Literature and Culture. A keen writer from an early age, he currently produces articles for London Photography Diary, Photomonitor, and a number of other online publications, as well as maintaining a blog of personal creative work entitled The End of Fiction; a mixture of poetry, prose and film.

I am she, I am he

Andrew Burford, Taylor and Pump

I am She: I am He

6 Jul – 6 Aug, 2017
Carmel by the Green
287A Cambridge Heath Rd, London E2 0EL

 

“We act as if that being of a man or that being of a woman is actually an internal reality or something that is simply true about us, a fact about us, but actually it’s a phenomenon that is being produced all the time.” Judith Butler

“I don’t know where the artificial stops and the real starts.” Andy Warhol

Musing on the theme of gender performance, the exhibiting artists have sought to undress, metaphorically and literally, the subjects of their lens. Each seeks to extricate them from the paraphernalia of prescriptive gender identities; to open up a space for individual self-expression and to elucidate the performative nature of masculinity and femininity. As Judith Butler has famously stated, “to say gender is performative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start.” Butler’s words illustrate modernity’s ongoing project of unravelling “essentialised” sexual stereotypes and gender norms, emphasising their socio-cultural perpetuation rather than any basis in biology.

The exhibition displays a range of varied but complementary perspectives on gender. Andrew J Burford’s approach diverges from conventional presentations of the non-binary ‘other’ by photographing his subject in banal, domestic environments, whilst simultaneously challenging masculine and feminine categories through ironic juxtaposition. Lucy Le Brocq’s black and white shots of drag king Calvin Decline, similarly illustrating gender as performative, also suggest the discovery of a more ‘authentic’ self through gender play and an identity outside the confines of a male/female polarity. Finally, Jess Goodridge’s assemblage of experimental shots and portraiture explore the slippage between biology and culture, highlighting genders’ socially constructed basis; showing how the symbolism of femininity and by extension masculinity are arbitrarily projected onto the blank canvases of human bodies.

I am She: I am He is London Photography Diary’s 6th and final show, curated by Brigid Cara Reid and Ellie Hemsley.  In concluding the year-long programme, we would like to thank our exhibition partner Carmel by the Green for their encouragement and collaboration throughout this exciting undertaking. Also invaluable to its success has been Exhibition Manager Ivanna D’Accio’s unwavering curatorial support and enthusiasm. Finally, a thank you to The Photography Diaries’ publisher, Ashley Lumb, without whose guidance and perseverance this programme of shows would not have been possible.

* Text by Daniel Pateman

Andrew J Burford

Andrew Burford, Taylor and Pump

Andrew J Burford (based in Australia) is a queer artist raised in South Africa. He completed his degree in Creative Advertising at the University of West London in 2008, before moving to Australia to develop his artistic career. Burford received the Kodak Professional Excellence in Photomedia Award in 2011, and was also recipient of the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award the following year. Burford has spoken and exhibited work internationally; in the USA, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom. He also has work held in private collections across Australia.

Burford uses his practice to seek an understanding of the fractured situations and modes of being within culture relating to masculinity, investigating the gap between a conventional masculine male and ‘the other’ and the supporting traits associated with both. It is an exploration of these divergent masculinities, through performance, installation, photography and video, which he pursues by examining socially supported stereotypes and expectations.

His series, Untitled (Taylor), is a photographic look into gender performance and a celebration of the banal. By steering away from the overly camp aesthetic usually employed to portray drag queens, he presents a world where the importance of gender becomes as stale as the tasks undertook by his subjects.

Lucy Le Brocq

Lucy Le Brocq, Calvin

Lucy Le Brocq (based in Brighton, UK) was born in 1986 and left university with an honours degree in Fine Art. Her work explores the complex interaction between the individual, gender and society, with her central photographic mode being documentary. She has been a photographer for over ten years, and uses the medium to explore the ambiguities of lived experience; interrogating where artifice ends and authenticity begins.

Le Brocq’s intimate black and white photographs document her time spent with female drag performers, or ‘drag kings’, depicting their tentative transformations into their on-stage personas. The exhibited photos depict Ari Rice bringing her alter-ego Calvin Decline into being, a representation of toxic white masculinity. These photographs convey Le Brocq’s understanding of gender fluidity; as Ari becomes Calvin, ‘male’ and ‘female’ masks slip and are shown to co-exist. Her work asks the viewer to reconsider the polarised nature of gender; depicting the beauty in the non-binary, and providing us with a glimpse of the person behind the performance.

Jess Goodridge 

 

Jess Goodridge (based in the UK) is a photographer whose work is fiction based and plays with the timeless and semiotic qualities of analogue photography. Through her quiet, melancholic images, her models retain, despite photography’s endlessly reproducible and polysemous nature, a sense of singularity. Goodridge graduates in July 2017 with a first class honours degree in Photography from Nottingham Trent University.

Goodridge’s series of images combine the styles of experimental and portrait photography. Similar to the adjoining works in this exhibition, her images are self-reflexive. Photography, often seen as providing a true reflection of reality, is depicted as performance; staged and acted out by both the photographer and the subject, seen in the use of props as well as composition and lighting.

Her images elicit a journey of self-discovery; a space where it is possible to discover one’s own unique identity in a world comprised of binaries. The visual language of these photos reference life and death, as well as stereotypical markers of femininity, such as fruit and flowers. In conflating the two, she draws parallels between the transitory nature of life with the similarly shifting paradigm of gender identity.

Full Disclosure: The World of Ray Cook

 

Lessons in Male Bonding, 1999

 

Full Disclosure: The World of Ray Cook

Reception: 17th January, 6-9pm. Drinks will be served.                                                            Carmel by the Green: 287a Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 0EL                                                  17 – 30 January: 7:30am -4:30pm Monday- Friday, 9:30-4:30pm Saturday

 

Carmel by the Green is very excited to present Full Disclosure, the first ever presentation of work in the UK by Australian photographer Dr. Ray Cook. A deeply incisive, honest and idiosyncratic artist, the exhibition consists of a wide-range of his output from his ever-expanding oeuvre. Starting with some of his earliest photography from the late 1980s – the anarchic When my ship comes in, I’ll be waiting at the airport – it also includes his visual rumination on the aftermath of AIDS with “at first I was Afraid, I was Petrified” in 2002, as well as reflection on his changing relationship with the ‘gay-scene’ (and its appropriation by the mainstream) in Not with a bang but a whimper.

‘Subversive’ can be a lazy label for artists who tackle taboo subject-matter – especially when those matters relate to their own lives. While it is certainly a by-product of Cook’s methodology, its intention is more nuanced than initial impressions suggest. His tableaus of death and sexuality are delicately balanced with notes of irony, humour and camaraderie. While artifice and theatre are omnipresent – from phallic props to pink-tinted costumery – high camp is subdued by the palpable humanity of his models, almost all of whom are friends or acquaintances. There is sufficient disconnect between the garish (often hand-made) scenery and the vulnerable demeanour of his subjects for the real and the fantastical to blend; the outcome a potent distillation of the artists own lived experience.

Cook has subsequently noted how photography allows him “to talk about the shifting realities of queer life beyond the expected rhetoric of the press and populist activism”. As these images attest in their assemblage of modes (modern and ancient, silly and serious), he has been able to achieve this in numerous ways. He dissociates the symbolic from the material to reinvest ‘deviant’ sexuality with its inherent humanity, and gently ribs liberalist accounts of the homosexual as victim in his eloquently pragmatic works on the physical and psychic effects of AIDS. He has also taken great pleasure in re-inscribing bawdy homosexuality into antiquity; most evident in his series The History of Love, where he challenges the hold of white, heterosexual, middle-class men over the historical record.

 

Bio:  b. 1962, Dr. Ray Cook is a Melbourne based artist with a PhD (2014) and a Research Masters degree (2004) from Griffith University where he taught photography at the Queensland College of Art since 2004. He is currently a lecturer in the photography department at RMIT and program manager for their honours program. Recent solo exhibitions include: Month of Photography, Minsk (2016); Powerhouse Centre for Live Arts, Brisbane (2016); Queensland Centre for Photography, Brisbane (2014); Krasnodar Centre for Contemporary Art (PhotoVisa Festival), Krasnodar, Russia (2013); Australian Centre for Photography (2011). Recent group shows include: University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane (2015); Crane Arts, Philadelphia, PA (2015); Monash Gallery of Art (2013); Galeria Stanko, Wroclaw, Poland (2011); Centro di la Imagen, Mexico City, Mexico (2011)

Further information on Dr. Ray Cook’s work: https://www.raycook.org/

Organised by Ashley Lumb

Highlights from the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

Highlights from the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

by Coleen MacPherson

As I took in the images throughout this year’s Sony World Photography Awards at Somerset House, I was struck by the variety of photographic lenses presented to the viewer.   From Photographer of the Year: Frederik Buyckx, to images by youth and students.   There was a particular focus on England’s, Martin Parr, known for his satirical and anthropological lens, who was awarded Outstanding Contribution to Photography this year.   What struck me were the images by Parr, which are rarely showcased, and images by photographer Tasneen Alsultan of Saudi Arabia.

Martin Parr has been recognised for his particular ability to capture ordinary, everyday life in Britain, and to satirise images of cultures, people and particularly the tourism industry.  At the Sony World Photography Awards there was a special presentation of his work, including black and white photographs focused on abandoned Morris Minors set in the countryside along the West Coast of Ireland.  Unlike his other work, these photographs display a gentle and ethereal world, with a keen eye for humour. Mist, awestruck hills, ducks, chickens stare fondly out of the front windows; there is clearly a serene effect these pictures emit —contrary to Parr’s usual work.   

Another photographer of interest was Tasneen Alsultan of Saudi Arabia.  Her work: “Saudi Tales of Love” which won first place in the Contemporary Issues category, cracks open stereotypes in Saudi Arabia. In a country often deemed the international symbol of Islam, there exists a vast gap between the Qur’an and local traditions—which Alsultan eagerly revealed through her pictures. One can see this gap through her sensitivity to detail.

Alsultan was born in the United States and educated in England before moving to Saudi Arabia. for her undergraduate studies and began to study ethnography of Saudi women abroad.   She married at seventeen and lived as a single parent for six years of her ten-year marriage. was later looked down upon for her divorce. After her divorce, Alsultan realised there were many other Saudi women experiencing the same issues she was, and she became fascinated in uncovering these realities through the images. Alsultan followed widows and women happily married to women who were divorced; to weddings and intimate moments with strangers.  Gathering these stories was about exploring the concept of love and utilising her lens to capture expectations of marriage, through ritual and marriage ceremonies.

As I lingered in front of her images it seemed to me that Alsultan is asking us: is marriage the only path towards love?  Could there be other forms of love?  Does not being married mean that you will forever be lonely?  Her work at the exhibit clearly captures the dilemma between women and marriage and puts the viewer inside the question about our ready-made thoughts about Saudi Arabia and Islam.  In particular, there is a picture of a woman in her wedding dress, looking out the window, perhaps dreaming beyond the confines of marriage itself as her husband sits in the shadows in the background.  Another image that is striking is of a woman alone in bed with words scrawled above on the headboard:  “than be miserable with someone else.”   As the viewer, we complete the sentence and know that the complexities of our lives are sometimes too great than the confines of custom.  There is another way.   Alsultan states she wanted to answer questions that were shared by many such as: ‘do we need marriage to signify that we have love?’ and ‘do you need a husband to have a meaningful life?’

Both Parr and Alsultan’s work arrested me, and it is something special when a photographer can capture hidden stories of humanity from all corners of the world.

-Coleen MacPherson

Coleen is a Canadian writer and theatre director with a thirst to explore the world. She trained at École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, where she mentored with French playwright, Michel Azama. She has recently founded Open Heart Surgery Theatre:  a group of international theatre-makers, creating work in London at Camden People’s Theatre, Mimetic Festival, Old Vic New Voices; in Paris at Plateau 31 and recently presented ‘This is Why We Live’ in Toronto at The Theatre Centre and First Draft at Falaki Theater in Cairo.  She is constantly inspired by photography and the power of the image.