2011 in photography

It may only be the end of November but it is time for our review of the year in photography. I didn’t get to email everyone at the OCA and I was clear that it should be work that has influenced or impressed them his year, not necessarily published or exhibited this year. Here are some thoughts:

Michael Freeman For me it has to be Canadian photographer Steve Simon, in particular his recent project ‘America at the Edge’. Montreal-based Simon shoots documentary reportage with skill and wit. This collection, with it’s double-entendre title, documents the frequently disturbed and disturbing aspects of life in small communities along the United States’ longest unprotected frontier – seen from the perspective of a Canadian national.

Simon Barber I first became aware of Lisa Gunn’s work in 2010. What I like is that it gives an insight into the people and how they want to be portrayed. I’m struck particularly by the water images in this series and in her later work – how it frees physically disabled people from a reliance on other people or aids. www.lisagunn.com

Jesse Alexander I’d like to nominate American Power by Mitch Epstein. Actually published in 2009, although I didn’t come across it until earlier this year (or perhaps late last year – all a bit of a blur!), and it is currently on show at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. I love the way the monograph explores the complex relationship in America between security, politics, energy and the environment, within this broad context of “power”. Unlike a lot of documentary work, it’s actually not all that focused, and it mixes (the dreaded) genres of photography very effectively to create an engaging, absorbing essay, and a poignant record of the era. [There are still a couple of places on the OCA study visit to see American Power on 15 December see here for details]

Jose Navarro For me it will have to be Ian Teh’s Traces. I can’t remember exactly where I saw his photographs, whether it was on a visit to an exhibition or in the press. His work on the environmental impact of heavy industrial developments encroaching on the landscape is something that deeply touched me. Teh photographed stark post-industrial landscapes in the Northern Provinces of China with the sensibility of a landscape photographer. And it’s precisely the tension between aesthetics and subject matter, in this case the detritus of a insensitive, technologically-advanced society, that makes his work so compelling. www.ianteh.com

Clive White The exhibition I enjoyed the most was Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography at the V&A; for its directness and engaging authenticity, with only a tinge of what I would characterise as a decadence that I perceived in some other exhibitions, which seemed to me to be rather desperate exercises in trying to flog some more life from dead horses.

The exhibition that made me think most about the nature of photography was Gerhard Richter at Tate Modern; seeing the actual work again, rather than remembering it through small reproductions, poses many more and changing questions about photography as representation, down to the pixel and grain level.

But what continually delights me throughout the year, above everything, is when students make conceptual leaps to progress their works to a higher level of sophistication and awareness.

Maggie Milner I’ve decided to suggest Gregory Crewdson. Stuart, my partner found Beneath the Roses in our local charity shop so it obviously wasn’t someone’s ‘cup of tea’. Previously he had given me Gregory Crewdson 1985 – 2005, which is interesting because it shows his progression from relatively simple set ups, to his later more complex works. These early images show the beginnings of suggested narratives … a ‘before’ or an ‘after … of action waiting to happen … hanging in time. They are ‘frozen moments but more naturalistic than his later works.

Gregory Crewdson 1985 – 2005 also contains Twilight, Dream House and Beneath the Roses, which makes it good value at about £27.00. In these later works his suburban sets became more elaborate, surreal and very expensive to produce. The narratives are more explicit. There are clues but no endings. It’s left open for the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gaps. The images have one foot of reality (almost documentary), but the weird disquieting light and the bizarre happenings gives a clue that they’re ‘make believe’.

On the V&A’s website Crewson is quoted as saying ‘All the images propose twilight as a poetic condition. It is a metaphor for, and backdrop to, uncanny events that momentarily transport actors from the homeliness and security of their suburban context.’

I was reminded of Crewdson’s style of both atmosphere and lighting recently while watching Lars von Trier’s Melancholia . The film carries the same sense of foreboding and doom as can be read from Crewdson’s images. The imagery has an unnatural, too perfect quality from heavy digital post production which, either nod’s a wink to Grewson, or has his sticky mitts all over it! I’ve tried to find out which but I’m not quite sure.

‘As with much of my work’, suggests Crewdson, ‘I looked at the blurred lines between reality and fiction, nature and artifice, and beauty and decay.’

I should also say that Crewdson showed Santuary at the White Cube in 2010 which shows a complete change of direction. This work is much nearer our understanding of photographic ‘reality’ . But, in fact there’s a twist. Crewdson has photographer the old film sets for ancient Rome by ‘searching for his particular form of ‘verite’ within the leftovers from cinematic reality.

Peter Haveland This year has been something of a retrospective year for me, which says more about me than the state of photography! I am still caught up with Gregory Crewdson’s Sanctuary twelve months or so after seeing the exhibition in the White Cube and return to the magnificent book of the work regularly. I also became aware of Richard Billingham’s Landscapes 2001-2003 belatedly this year. (published in 2009 I think). His painterly eye is brought to bear on that most contentious of genre for artists in the post-postmodern world and succeeds in saying something different, generally not merely recording the landscape or even commenting on it but using it to explore how we look and see, how colour works and what composition really means, all in beguilingly simple images. My latest acquisition (also in print for a year or so) is Writing the Picture a collection of 50 or so poems written by John Fuller in response to photographs by David Hurn feeds my interest in collaborative and cross practice work. Most of my gallery viewing has been non-photographic and local to me, Gareth Griffiths Lloches / Pabell,( Shelter/Tent), Emrys Williams (various shows but particularly at the Royal Cambrian Academy) and David Nash Red, Black Other at the Mostyn Galler, Llandudno stand out and I think I should mention our on Maggy Milner’s A Delicate Balance and Jane Parry’s various books.

Finally, a personal choice which will not come as a surprise to readers of WeAreOCA; Copia. I wasn’t aware that this is the Latin word for abundance until I looked it up recently but I found Brian Ulrich’s forensic survey of the car crash that is US retail powerful because of the way it exposes links and relationships – the symbiotic relationship between the big box stores and thrift stores, the way in which spending is portrayed as patriotic and purchases an extension of faith. Closer to home I have also enjoyed James Dodds’ Sunday Morning Sales which explores similar themes.

In terms of books to read, I have enjoyed immensely Val Williams carefully researched and beautifully written Daniel Meadows: Edited Photographs from the 70s and 80s. The book situates Daniel Meadows’ work at a particular point in both the development of photography in the UK and what we can now see as a turning point in the UK economy, when 30 years of growing prosperity and optimism started to falter. The exhibition of Daniel Meadows early work is still on show at the National Media Museum in Bradford until 19 February, but his website is worth a visit for those who can’t make it.

So, there’s some views from us. We haven’t mentioned any students, but we have seen a lot of outstanding work over the year. What would you chose?

16 Comments

  1. Keith Greenough 28 November 2011 at 2:49 pm

    What a fantastic array of photography. What struck me most is huge diversity. I like a lot of different genre and styles – I’m a kind of photography tart(?). Not sure if this a good thing or a bad thing? What came through to me loud and clear is that all of the photographers had something to say. The aesthetics of their work is important but I get the feeling this is secondary to their message, concept or idea. The most surprising for me was Lisa Gunn’s photographs. Aesthetically beautiful but with so much to say about disability….

    Reply
  2. JDNS 28 November 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks for these references, they will keep me busy through to 2012.

    I think that the exhibition by Struth was the most enjoyable and thought-provoking of the year for me.

    Reply
  3. vicki loader 28 November 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Echoing what JDNS said—I think I feel a lot more ‘looking’ coming on…thanks for taking the time out to share with us

    Reply
  4. Eileen 28 November 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Excellent post: as others have said, there is a great deal here to follow up.

    Work that has particularly struck or stayed with me this year? I second Copia, which really is a fascinating study. I bought Ulrich’s book of the project: ‘Is this place great or what?’ Many of the pictures are individually compelling and seeing them all together adds a sense of scale and context. The more melancholy images in ‘Thrift’ and ‘Dark Stores’ speak to me particularly.

    I also very much enjoyed Figures & Fictions. I particularly liked the explorations of identity, from the red-haired Afrikaners to the Xhosa initiates in their Burberry checks. There was a real sense of a nation and a people making sense of who they are in the new(ish) world they find themselves in.

    Some of Paul Graham’s work from the Whitechapel gallery exhibition made a strong impact on me – particularly ‘American Dream’ and ‘A Shimmer of Possibility’. He combined experimentation in form and content with a deep empathy – an unusual combination in my experience.

    Finally the recent exhibition of Ernst Haas’s ‘Color Correction’ works was very inspiring. What really came across to me in that exhibition was the depth of his looking at things – so many observations – details and scenes that most of us would pass by, or if we saw them would struggle to resolve into a satisfactory image. Like Peter’s comments on Richard Billingham’s work, there is a real sense of someone exploring the most basic features of vision and picture-making and pushing it just a step further.

    Reply
    1. Gareth 29 November 2011 at 11:19 am

      Oh great choice Eileen – here is a link to an article on the BBC site about Ernst Haas and another link to the Colour Correction book, which would make a good addition to any present suggestions list!

      Reply
    2. Keith Greenough 5 December 2011 at 6:56 am

      I too enjoyed the ‘Color Correction’ exhibition. Eileen, you might also enjoy the work of Saul Leiter who was a contemporary of Haas’s working in New York. He was an early user of colour and often used devices such as out-dated film stock to exploit the colour distortions which can occur for creative purposes. One of his photographs “Snow 1960′ is an great favourite of mine. It is a mysterious image of a delivery man shot through a steamed up window, mostly monochrome but with a splash of yellow in the background. I recently got a copy of his book ‘Early Color’ – the third edition of this has just been released.

      Reply
  5. anned 29 November 2011 at 11:46 am

    Mine was Ed Ruscha’s artist room on tour at Wolverhampton art gallery, which was one reason I decided I’d have a go at studying photography rather than painting. It was his sunset strip series particularly – the ones with the interfered with negatives, that and his artists books (pre-blurb days!)
    The other photography I’ve seen that inspired me to try studying it was Boris Mikhailov’s at dusk and Walid Raad’s work in general.
    (I don’t suppose I have made popular choices though!)

    Reply
    1. Gareth 29 November 2011 at 12:35 pm

      Again, some great choices anned – here is a link to At Dusk and to Walid Raad‘s work

      Reply
  6. Stan Dickinson 29 November 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Some excellent work recommended above. I’d second Gareth’s choice of Daniel Meadows. Don’t have the book yet but I might decide I NEED it!

    I’m also going to add a reminder of someone who featured in WeAreOCA earlier in the year – J H Engstrom – and the joint exhibition with Anders Petersen, which many of us attended back in March. I bring up Engstrom because the memory of him and his work has lingered with me throughout the rest of the year – even though his is not a style I would naturally be drawn to. I wish I could bring a fraction of his level of emotional involvement to my own photography.

    Reply
    1. Gareth 29 November 2011 at 3:53 pm

      A useful reminder Stan – link to From Back Home here (click photo to scroll through), the book is still available but a rather pricey £38

      Reply
    2. RobTM 29 November 2011 at 9:53 pm

      I agree about JHE – I was unsure at first, but he grew on me, partially with the slide show at the talk. Since bought a couple of his books.

      I really like the iPad app for Homma’s Tokyo Suburbia. Not a new book, but excellent nonetheless.

      Reply
  7. Peter Haveland 29 November 2011 at 8:53 pm

    It’s strange how things come back to you. Today, in response to a student at college, I had occasion to re-visit Martha Rosler’s “3 Works”, work that I had become aware of in the late 70s. Her “The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems” still holds up for me and got me thinking again.

    Reply
    1. Paul 29 November 2011 at 9:00 pm

      Looks like it could be in your 2012 recommendations Peter

      Reply
  8. Paul 14 December 2011 at 1:29 pm

    The Guardian’s Sean O’Hagan’s list has only one book in common with the OCA selection

    Reply
    1. Gareth 14 December 2011 at 1:31 pm

      Pleased to see the Daniel Meadows book get a recommendation, and The Brothers is totally new to me but looks like it could go on my wish list

      Reply

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