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?