From the Flow of Appearances
‘What makes photography a strange invention – with unforeseeable consequences - is that its primary raw materials are time and light’ - John Berger
Writing in response to Susan Sontag’s On Photography, John Berger, reflecting on the complexity of human visual perception as exceeding any means by which it is recorded, remarked that the camera, by fixing the appearance of an event, removing it from the flow of appearances and preserving it, does what the eye can never do. Berger’s reflections on the unprecedented strangeness of photography, published forty years ago, have striking contemporary resonance. In particular, distinguishing private and public uses of photography - and how such uses contribute to forms of living memory - Berger argued that the private photograph, read and understood in a context continuous with its production, carries associated meaning. The public photograph constitutes information removed from lived experience. Because photographs do not contain meaning in themselves, they can be put to any use. This unstable mutability of the photograph leaves it open to functioning in the service of dominant ideologies. As Sontag remarked, ‘social change is replaced by a change in images’.
Photographs are, as regularly observed, traces of past events. However, they also exist in time and can acquire a living context if the past they trace is understood as integral to active social processes of history making. With this understanding, it is possible to put photography to use as a practice transcending the distinction between public and private. In doing so, photography has the potential to address an alternative future. This future, as Berger remarked, is a hope which we need now.
When everyone photographs and photography appears everywhere, what it means to put photography to use as a committed, critically informed creative practitioner is a question all the artists included in this exhibition explore. Photographs, produced and reproduced in unimaginable volume, shared through global networks are looked at, if at all, instantly. Photographs, increasingly, are rarely actually seen. To decelerate the process of looking in order to see and realise something as a significant aesthetic experience is what all of the work included here does in various ways. Specifically, the essence and idea of photography - drawing with light, is explored, along with its capacity to address questions of time and place, identity, and the politics of looking.
Sarah Le Brocq’s installation of transparency and print explores the manner in which the colour blue reflects light as a consequence of its effect upon the eye. Blue, is of course, a colour with deep connections to the technology of photography, as well as multiple associations with cultures of looking, referencing histories of art, cinema and modernism, and more recently, digital imaging and information networks. The focus upon colour and abstract light complements work by Jola Sopek and Sara Roberts, that in different ways both explore the everyday light revealing the effects of human perceptions and interactions with material objects and places. In this dialogue between projects, different kinds of light are at work; lumen and lux – the essence of light and the experience of sight. Sopek’s project, inspired partly by poetic meditation on ethereal energy emanating from the human body, takes a classic realist approach to photography, bringing everyday incidental observations into dialogue with something beyond the observable, physical world. Sara Roberts’ work shares some similarity in its quiet studies of light falling upon surfaces situated between domestic interior and immediate surrounding nature. However, where the visible effects of light are concentrated in Sopek’s intensely coloured prints, Roberts incorporates time and light into the form and encounter of a work more explicitly through projection installation, duration and sequence.
From concentration upon threshold spaces in which unknowable private lives are lived, the work of Andrew Robinson focusses attention on publicly visible urban topographies. The streets, houses, former industrial buildings and more recently constructed logistical units of a Welsh town have personal significance and wider historical and contemporary resonance. The work brings together hand printed black and white and colour photographs in a grid with found materials related to the location, inviting detailed comparative readings. Sam Knight’s colour photographs, also topographic in character, take a
different approach to picturing a landscape infused with traces of an industrial past. In rural Sussex countryside, layered strata of land and changing light alternately reveal and conceal visible aspects of a long disused quarry, offering reflection on processes of continuity and change.
Gin Rimmington Jones explores remote coastal spaces located in the South West of England. A wild landscape, less a distant sublime vista and more a set of closely encountered relationships formed by convergences of slow geological time and faintly traceable human interventions, is pictured through intimate and detailed knowledge of place. Angel Luis Sanchez approaches a very different kind of place in a way that shares some similarities. In this work, the city is encountered as a series of interconnected enigmatic fragments, made visible as a place situated more firmly within the imagination perhaps, than physical geographic territory. In Chulho Jung’s topographic landscapes, local places are unfamiliar, as if encountered for the first time and further defamiliarized by photography. These pictures concentrate attention on incidental marks of ambiguous origin upon surfaces of land, posing questions about their significance as a set of formal relationships within and outside of the photographic frame.
By contrast, landscape is utilised as narrative setting by Dan Sharp. With significance placed upon the relationship between earth, sky and water, the fall of Icarus is retold as autobiography. Referencing combined conventions of self-portraiture, northern renaissance painting and contemporary performance art, the work has pathos and humour, as well as offering reflection upon photography as allegory. In connection, Lin Yang’s work involves the human figure situated in an urban landscape with reference to portraiture and performance art conventions. While this work also involves a playfulness and deadpan humour, its real focus is politically motivated. This sequence of images explores the possibilities of photography to visualise social attitudes to feminine nudity and complicate cultural approaches to the female nude in a contemporary international context.
Michaela Meadow’s work shares connections, informed by the politics of the gaze and visual traditions of the depiction of the female body. However, this work can be seen in a European cultural context and incorporates multiple associated visual references. The approach is collaborative, involving different figures in a range of settings and poses. By exploring intuitive and unconventional interactions between female bodies and remote landscapes, the work seeks to asks different questions about ideas of nature and to make visible alternative notions of identity and place. The approach taken by Greta Lorimer also involves the female body as figure in a set of interactions with space. But here, the domestic interior forms both a backdrop and a set of readymade props as concealing devices. The body, situated equally in the space but strangely apart from it, withholds the face from the camera’s gaze, resists identification, emerges into, and recedes from view.
Also situated in interior spaces, but suggesting a different kind of domestic intimacy, Lydia Davies’ portraits of male figures explore identity and the politics of a woman looking at men. By utilising subtle daylight and muted colour there is a slow, deliberate process at work and an implicit but powerful sense of collaboration between photographer and sitter in these figurative studies. In a further exploration of the male figure and questions of identity, the significance of love, religion and biography is key to the work of Violetta Liszka. A photograph of the artists’ husband, taken as a boy during first holy communion, is situated alongside other photographs, including one of his Mother with him as a baby, arranged with a selection of objects connected to these relationships. In combination, a set of recently made nude studies of the artists’ husband introduces reflection upon the complex intertwining of personal encounter and historical time.
In space that can be perceived as timeless, underwater, Gina Kawecka presents very different figurative studies, in motion, and of anonymous female sea swimmers. In this projected moving image work, constructed as an installation, the visible movement of the body is conditioned by immersion in sea water and altered duration in the process of moving image production. The projected image is multiplied by layered translucent surfaces. All these elements combine to invite reflection upon relationships between the body, environment, time and space.
From the relatively indeterminate environment of water, other works involve the solid materiality of the built world, incorporating architecture as subject. Leroy Coppleston creates in-camera montages using double exposure technique, combining images of the surfaces of modernist buildings to form unanticipated pictures with unexpected formal qualities. This work is both architectural study and reflection upon the latent image possibilities of analogue photographic processes. Kevin Tuffley’s photographs of a single iconic building in the city of London utilise digital processes to emphasise and enhance architectural form, to reintroduce colour into monochrome images and reflect upon the postmodern thought common to the building and its contemporary photographic depiction. These works also make subtle reference to architecture as the original photographic apparatus, the earliest form of camera, and therefore complement projects reflecting upon the essence of photography.
Together, this collection of work prescribes no formulae for photographic practice, but rather, returning to John Berger’s observations, offers a set of ways to recognise uses of, and possible uses for photography as simultaneously personal, political, economic, dramatic, everyday and historic.
Fergus Heron, Course Leader MA Photography, 2018