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.

Belonging, Being, Becoming

Belonging, Being, Becoming

Artists: Ana Escobar, Mamie Heldman, Yufan Lu, Bohyeon Kim
Curated by Bertha Wang and Yufan Lu, Head Curator Ivana D’Accico

Carmel by the Green

Exhibition dates: 4th May – 4th July, 2017

 

As anyone who has lived in a metropolis can attest, the speed of daily life can be relentless. We are often swept along with the crowd, mediated blindly down streets, onto station platforms and underground, up escalators to our place of work and home again, with such breathless pace that we often become indifferent to our surroundings. Technology has further exacerbated the issue, offering up constant distraction and connectivity, but distancing us from our immediate environment and those physically closest to us.

In his essay of 1903 entitled “The Metropolis and Mental Life”, German sociologist Georg Simmel theorised this ostensible aloofness as a mental coping mechanism against the overstimulation of city life (with its constant bustle, its crowds and rapid speed of change).  He termed this the “blasé attitude”, the essence of which is “an indifference towards the distinctions between things.” Acting as a corrective to this perceived sensory ennui is Brandon Stanton’s infamous photo blog “Humans of New York”, a point of inspiration for this exhibition, which details with warmth the depth of lived experience of individuals, privileging the richness of such one-to-one encounters. His ongoing project helps to illustrate that, in our modern quest to be constantly arriving “somewhere”, we rarely find the sense of contentment and connection we strive for, and in our hurry miss the beauty and humanity all around us.

“Belonging, Being, Becoming” brings together four artists each approaching this theme in varied ways, with conceptual, biographical and abstract interpretations. Ana Escobar looks to revalidate modernity’s denigrated concepts of irrationality and superstition and explores their uses as coping mechanisms for the insecurities of metropolitan living. Bohyeon Kim reflects on the evanescence of the emotions within the fast-paced milieu of urban life, using visual experiments to capture “abstraction of emotion” in city settings, while both Mamie Heldman and Yufan Lu highlight the fluid and transient nature of “belonging”. While Heldman reflects on the shifting importance away from familial bonds to that of a surrogate family of ones’ peers (especially for young adults’ self-conception), Lu portrays the fraught relationship of the Chinese student community in the UK to a sense of place; their status as temporary migrants tainting their sense of new beginnings and belonging with uncertainty from the start. 

*Text by Daniel Pateman

Ana Escobar – The Supernatural

Dark matter doesn’t bend to light is an on-going body of work. Through it, I challenge myself to explore photographically themes related to superstition, the unconscious, the supernatural. I strive to challenge the limitations of mental life brought upon by the conditions of contemporary life. I aim to create work that validates and re-enforces the value and needs of those very undermined concepts: the irrational, the unreason, the instinctual life. The piece develops from insecurities arisen from photography theory to the integration of that new knowledge, yielding a space where consciousness and intuition can cohabitate and flourish. The piece asks viewers to restore intuition as a valid tool to understand, critique and consume photography.

Bio: Ana Escobar was born in Huelva, Spain in 1975. She has a background in fine art, having earned her bachelor’s and her MA in Photography at London College of Communication, University of the Arts, London in 2016. Escobar works predominantly with the medium of photography, including multi-media installations and live performance. Her main theme is the in-between space the artist inhabits, which is explored through the use of archetypes, alchemy, and mythologies in a psychoanalytical Jungian tradition.

 

 

Bohyeon Kim – Abstraction of Emotion

Inspired by my experiences as a painter and sculptor, my photographic practice embodies a preoccupation with how and where form is imbued with meaning. A site is the source of all the <abstraction of emotion> works and the place where creation and extinction of a city happen. I try to exchange with my subjects at each site through an artistic activity called an intervention. This records atmospheric emotion that was captured in the moment to moment of city life in order to interpret photography in diverse aspects, rather than limit it as a fact or historical reference.

Bio: Bohyeon Kim currently lives and works in London. She is studying at University College London, MFA Fine Arts and studied oriental painting at Chung-Ang University in South Korea. Bohyeon’s photographs aspects which act as puristic elements of emotional backdrops to her pictorial world.  Her resulting photographs creates visual works that blur the boundaries of photography and painting.

 

 

 

Mamie Heldman – Together, Us

“…That the two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other…” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Most people think of the word family in relation to blood; however, membership can be gained through shared experiences, momentary interconnectivity, history, and commonality. As young adults emerge into the world and move away from the various forms of community that have defined their sense of belonging, there is an intuitive search to form surrogate familial bonds that go beyond companionship, but lend directly to the integral pathway of self-identity. 

Bio: Mamie Heldman is a documentary photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, she graduated with a degree in Communications from the University of Tennessee, where she focused her research and writing on interpersonal relationships in connection with levels of self-disclosure. In 2014, she studied photography under Hally Pancer in Paris, France, where she explored ideas of self and observation. In 2016 she completed the one-year certificate program in Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism at the International Center of Photography. Her work includes themes of identity, intimacy, and sense of place.

 

Yufan Lu – Chinese London

According to a report by Center for China & Globalization, there were nearly 92,900 Chinese students studying in the UK in 2015, making China the top non-EU sending country of overseas students. London, as the center of the UK’s higher education, remains its top attractiveness among Chinese who seek their further education here. However, in contrast to the huge number is the limited time most Chinese students are allowed to stay in the UK – around one year and a half before their Tier 4 visa expires. For them, the beginning of their life in the UK already has the end projected onto it. Doreen Massey talked about the unfair distribution of mobility in the age of globalization, which caused strata in people’s new “senses of places”. By asking my subjects to take me to their favorite places in London for a portrait, I intended to let them speak for themselves of their senses of London, and how they cope with their life as a temporary migrant.

Bio: Yufan Lu is a photographer based in London and Beijing. Her work is mainly focused on urbanism, especially people’ identities and their connection with each other as well as the cities. She is also interested in black-and-white darkroom practices. She believes that the old-school yet romantic practice leads her closer to the essence of photography, as the word’s Greek origin discloses – “light drawing”. She is currently undertaking the master degree in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London.

 
 

 

 

The Art of Deception: Pictorial Acts of Post-Truth

photos by Matteo Favero

The Art of Deception: Pictorial Acts of Post-Truth

Artists: Paige Megan Hawley, Michal Raz, Sebastian Wanke, Lili Holzer-Glier, Michael Davies

Curated by Ivana D’Accico

Carmel by the Green
287a Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 0EL

Opening reception: 23 Feb, 6pm – 9pm
drinks provided 

Exhibition dates: 23 Feb– 23 Apr, 2017

Opening times: Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm
Thursday 8am to 6pm
Saturday 10:30am to 3:30pm

Although the first known usage of Post-Truth dates back to 1992, the term’s popularity didn’t erupt until 2016; the result of a contentious electoral campaign in the United States, and the United Kingdom’s eventual cessation of membership from the EU. Oxford Dictionaries went on to crown it “Word of the Year”, defining the term as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In both cases, highly-charged rhetoric that pandered to existing prejudices filtered down from numerous TV personalities and media streams. Exacerbated by a relentless 24 hour news cycle and the virulent spread of untruths on social media, corrective statistics and factual rebuttals failed to cool the hotbeds of political discontent. Donald Trump’s election as 45th president of the United States proved the apotheosis of these divided times.

In response to this on-going socio-political drama, The Art of Deception: Pictorial Acts of Post-Truth looks to explore, through the work of five international artists, how Post-Truth engenders a climate in which rhetorics of resentment –hate speech, misogyny, xenophobia –actively flourish. It investigates the power the media has, and visual media more generally, to (mis)represent reality; turning daily life into the power-hungry fever-dream of elites. Exhibiting a mix of documentary, digital and experimental work, the displayed photography walks the line between appearance and reality, language and image, fact and fiction, to analyse the divides and duplicities that this Post-Truth age creates.

The Art of Deception: Pictorial Acts of Post-Truth is curated by Ivana D’Accico and is the fourth in a year-long programme of exhibitions produced under The Photography Diaries platform. It follows Stereoscope magazine’s (University of St Andrews) No Strings Attached, New York Photography Diary’s Elsewhere is a Negative Mirror and London Photography Diary’s The Physical Fabric of the Cities. (see bottom of page for these exhibitions)

*Text by Daniel Pateman

Paige Megan Hawley

Paige Megan Hawley (based in London, UK) is a photographer specialising in the fine art industry.  Her practice’s central focus is photography as it relates to issues around historic and contemporary feminism, using a range of photographic styles, from 35mm to digital and medium format. Hawley’s work has been exhibited at Truman’s Brewery, Four Corners Gallery, Chatham Gallery and the University of Greenwich.

Hawley’s series “Take a Picture, It Lasts Longer” centres on female objectification and the theory of the male gaze, and is inspired by artists such as Sarah Lucas and Francesca Woodman. “I had the idea of the window in my head from the very beginning. I wanted the viewer to be shocked, to feel as if they were the male gazing in through the window; not only at the woman but at something more shocking than expected.” As well as being theoretically informed, her work also draws on her own experience of sexual violence: “My images aim to confront my enemy and any male that sees a woman as an object or a piece of meat […] I want to inspire women to go forward from rape and violence. Their voices are important and need to be heard.”

Michal Raz

Michal Raz (based in London, UK) is an Israeli artist, whose works combine painting, screen printing, digital images and collage, and who through the exploration of these different media seeks to unify the conflicting polarities of modern life. She is currently completing her MFA at UCL Slade School of Fine Arts.

With these collages Raz explores the dynamic interplay of language on the visual image, providing an imaginative re-interpretation of a selection of Donald Trump’s tweets. From each Twitter post she chose a few random words, entering these into Google’s search engine, and selected a few of the returned results, the result being colourful mixed-media collages. “They were inspired by the Rider Waite Tarot Cards, which are used primarily for divinatory purposes and foreseeing the future. These Trump-inspired versions present his often highly controversial statements in a humorous way, as well as offering a futuristic vision of a post-Trump society.”

 

Sebastian Wanke

Sebastian Wanke (based in Weimar, Germany) is a photographer and communication designer who holds a diploma in Visual Communication from Bauhaus-University. His works have been exhibited all over Germany (at Forum für Künste in Hannover and Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin, for example) as well as across Europe. They have also been featured in magazines such as Design Made and THINK TNK MAG.

Wanke’s series of photographs from the computer game Battlefield, developed in collaboration with Christopher Falbe, illustrate how much war and violence have become distanced from our conception of daily life. Representations of war are increasingly technologically mediated, with computer games presenting more and more realistic, domesticated simulations of war: “The environment of the game Battlefield consists of always active maps – the virtual world thus acting independently of the presence of players in the game. Within these realistic environments, the player is offered various possibilities to actively engage in a fictitious combat or tactical manoeuvres.” Despite the realism of such games, the consequences of the player’s actions in it are of course highly abstracted; indicating our modern disconnect with the often very real and lived trauma of warfare.

 

Lili Holzer-Glier

Lili Holzer-Glier (based in Brooklyn, New York) is a photographer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vogue and The New York Times. Her first book, Rockabye, documents the Rockaways post–Hurricane Sandy, and was published in 2015 by Daylight Books.

Holzer-Glier’s documentary photographs show the effects of a mental-health funding crisis in parts of the United States, in this instance the state of Illinois, as well as the effect of stigmatising rhetoric. “The Cook County Department of Corrections in Chicago is one of the largest single-site pre-detention facilities in the world, with an average daily population hovering around 9,000 inmates. It is estimated that 35% of this population is mentally ill.” It isn’t necessarily that incarceration has resulted in their crises, but that a closure of dedicated centres for those suffering from mental illness, due to lack of funding, has led to their admission. Her work serves to illustrate not just the lack of resources, but a propensity in the media to conflate mental illness with criminality, which in turn results in stigmatising rhetoric and behaviour. Commenting on this, Holzer-Glier notes that “more patients than ever are being treated in jail rather than at a mental health facility, with Cook County Jail becoming one of the largest mental health care providers in the United States.”

 

Michael Davies

Michael Davies (based in London, UK) is an artist and filmmaker whose practice is based in and amongst the creative milieu of Tottenham Hale International Studios. His work is predominantly based on analogue photography, painting, video installation and narrative film. With his photography, he documents those occurrences he encounters in everyday life, and which are often far stranger than any he could conceive through staging or in isolation.

A distillation of the nature of racial tension, which has seen a resurgence post-Brexit, Michael Davies presents a 35mm shot taken during the ‘Brixton Splash’ street festival in 2015. Here is “a lomo moment capturing the complicated relationship between the largely black community, centering around the ‘Barrier Block’ flats, and the local police.” The skillful composition of elements in the shot suggests an uneven power-play at work, and is indicative of the divisive effect xenophobic rhetoric helps engender.

 

REVIEW: Renata Buziak’s ‘Medicinal Plant Cycles’ @ Gaffa Gallery

Nature Continually Ablaze: Renata Buziak’s ‘Medicinal Plant Cycles’ @ Gaffa Gallery

You could be forgiven for thinking that the images on display in Renata Buziak’s exhibition Medicinal Plant Cycles, an exploration of decay and regeneration, were actually facsimiles of paintings.  One of the most striking things about them is their vivid colours, iridescent blues and purples vying with incandescent shades of orange.  Their incredible amorphousness makes them appear fairly abstract, but, with nature and natural processes as their subject matter they are simultaneously pictorial, especially where traces of decayed plant matter are evident to ground the work.  They could be the output of an earthy Jackson Pollock. Although, with their sublime level of detail, their textural range and freedom of form, one can’t imagine their conception by any human hand.  As it is, in these works nature is the one holding the paintbrush…albeit with a little direction.

Buziak has been creating what she terms “biochromes” for over a decade now, in an exploration of the overlap between art and science.  The production of these images involve the placing of organic material on photographic emulsions which, when exposed to the elements and left over a length of time (about five to eight weeks), create a dazzling landscape of shapes and colours, a result of the reaction between the photographic chemicals and the process of decomposition (the bacterial micro-organic activity) in the plant matter.  Exploring the outcomes of this rather unpredictable process, Buziak experiments with some of the conditions under which they’re produced, altering plant type, temperature, level of humidity and light, to achieve different results in her work.

The spirit of nature is omnipresent as you enter the first room of works in Gallery 4.  The caws and various calls of birds, the hush of the sea; all the sounds of Minjerribah/North Stradbroke Island on which Buziak carried out her research undulate throughout the space, helping to contextualise her images in their abstracted visual state. Starting with only a blank photographic backdrop and a sample of the island’s plant material, these biochromes have gone on to produce intricate and complex visions, beguiling to the eye and imagination. The first work (of Carpobrotus glaucescens, a plant with antiseptic properties) displays thick sandstone ridges, traces of the decaying plant, while surrounding this fossil-like outline, seas of cobalt blue swirl around orange abysses that encircle starry black islands. Other works similarly present a conflagration of colour. The leaves and stems of Abrus Precatorius are flanked with fiery gradients of red and orange, giving the impression of the expiring plant ablaze. There is something cosmic in the burgeoning of multi-faceted life across the dark photographic paper; the works suggestive microcosms of creation.

Gallery 3 presents a curtained off area containing Buziak’s forays into time-lapse photography, along with a greater selection of her biochrome work. Among a selection of six singular pieces, a large moody panorama arrests the attention, showing the decomposing matter of Malaleuca quinquenervia and Corymbia intermidia swept up in a black and white storm of transformation, while to its right are a trio of smaller, iridescent and microscopically detailed images that invite you to look closer. While these biochromes are only suggestive of transformation – freezing on a fixed moment – her time-lapse work documents the process of decay usually unperceived by the human eye. Further blurring the artistic and the scientific, they illustrate just how intertwined organic degeneration and creation are; not antithetical at all but co-dependent processes. As the artist states, “we are part of the cycle of life. Through this decay, the regeneration at the same time of microbes, of different life, is visible.”  It is a magnificent metamorphosis to behold.  One of several videos shows the slow inferno of Centella Asiatica as shadow spreads through its leaves, gradually losing their solidity; the growing flicker of orange in outline around the plant as it turns charcoal black, the frame, however, still full of activity. The images glow hot and cold as energies transfer and states continually change; the aurora of colour evidence to us that, through dissolution, micro-organic life flourishes, eventually creating its own self-sustaining eco-system.

As we watch these displays play out in front of our eyes, snippets of conversation between Buziak and members of the Quandamooka community break through from the overhead audio, describing the healing properties of the titular medicinal plants native to North Stradbroke Island. These dialogues underline the anthropological as well as the aesthetic nature of Buziak’s project. Her own upbringing in Janów Lubelski, Poland, inspired her interest in the medicinal properties of native flora, and led her to investigate the plant life of the aforementioned island. It is the inhabitants we hear detailing the varied uses of local plant life. Most memorable are the practice of mixing herbs with boiled “flying foxes” (bats) to ease asthma, and the addition of crystallised sap from the blood wood tree in tea to purify one’s blood. The importance of passing on this ancient knowledge to new generations, of keeping the culture alive, is clearly and earnestly stated.

Cycles are obviously central to Buziak’s work, and her fascinating biochrome and time lapse experiments exemplify this through their depiction of nature’s recycling of organic matter. There is a slight disconnect in Buziak’s joint aim to “promote the recognition, appreciation, and value of local medicinal plants in the context of Aboriginal knowledge” at the same time as revealing “a beauty in decomposition, and rais[ing] notions of transformative cycles”. Though not incompatible, the two facets don’t quite unite, and perhaps a sole focus on either aesthetic displays of decay, or a documentation of the island’s culture, would further enhance the exhibition’s impact. However, if this dual approach jars slightly, it is not an unproductive union. The specific use of medicinal plants from the island as subjects of decay and regrowth only further highlights the enterprising and regenerative powers of nature; something Buziak elucidates with great insight and profundity in her work.

By Daniel Pateman

Exhibition runs from March 16th until March 27th 2017 at:

Gaffa Gallery
281 Clarence Street
Sydney
NSW 2000

And @ WM Gallery in Amsterdam from September 2nd until October 6th 2017:

WM Gallery
Elandsgracht 35
1016TN
Amsterdam
Netherlands

http://renata-buziak.com/

Image Captions:

Installation View, Gaffa Gallery, Sydney March 16 – March 27 2017 © Renata Buziak
Acacia Concurrens…anaesthetic, 2015 © Renata Buziak
Installation View, Gaffa Gallery, Sydney March 16 – March 27 2017 © Renata Buziak
Abrus precatorius, 2013 © Renata Buziak

Daniel Pateman studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University, with an emphasis on visual culture and spectatorship.  He has embarked now on the next step of his academic journey and is currently undertaking an MA in Contemporary Literature and Culture.  A keen writer from an early age, he produces articles for the London Photography Diary and a number of other online publications.  He also maintains a blog of personal creative work entitled The End of Fiction; a mixture of poetry, prose and film.