New Documentary Forms.

Another of exhibition at the Tate Modern. They have a great collection of photography exhibitions at the moment. I mentioned the Burke and Norfolk show before, but there’s also Arbus, and Taryn Simon. I didn’t see these though, it’s almost too much to take in and I saw the Arbus exhibition at the V&A and felt like looking at new things. So the New Documentary Forms show collected work from a number of photographers.

The Mitch Epstein’s images are large and address the power industry in the USA. Large size prints. This again seems to ignore the spectacle. The “point” is almost second. They are things you notice after or later in your viewing of your picture. There in the hazy distance or hidden behind the flag, tubes and chimneys seeping out cyborg like, or emissions jets of grey into a liquid sky. Sucking in and pumping out?? The cult of domesticity colours hiding the grey’s of industry. Ghosts lingering behind it all. And then the reminder, the surviving tree surrounded by destroyed humanity?

Akram Zaatar’s examination of the archive of Studio Shehrazade, in Lebanon. Examined place and time and attitudes. Portraits from the studio collected together to form a narrative of great strength. Captioned and set together to form a whole. ID photos show politics and conflict, a radio (a radio unplugged in one) aspirations, dreams, and abuse. The pictures of a woman who had escaped to the studio to live out her fantasies, her other lives, were scratched out on the insistence of her husband when he found out. She later burnt herself to death to escape his abuse. The husband returned to the studio to request copies of those pictures. So much revealed in these quiet conventional studio photographs. Technically they are not perfect pictures, things poke out and intrude but as images and a collection they are amazing. Perfection and control are only part of photography. Also life and time. Interesting to see the use of an archive after the section in Photography ACI and to see the power of captions to unite pieces into a whole.

Guy Tillim’s photos here seemed dense and somehow over produced. They were powerful but there was something that I found clichéd about them. Too heart of darkness. Perhaps this was the point this was how it felt, the elections. The brooding threats, the ritual of democracy. The inclusion of the huge and complex ballot paper completed the series set it against the pictures a counter point of bureaucracy. Is the use of ephemera part of photographic practice? Does it turn it into something else? What is the balance? It can certainly reinforce and build layers of meaning and add to a project.

“Red” and “Dusk” by Boris Mikhailov were also shown. These are two series based around colour. The use of colour adds to the theme and draws pictures together, to cast them in certain lights. Red are sunny snapshot photos undercut by details and the colour red. The total state is red here and in every picture. Good times are had but you cannot escape its influence. There is a contrast between this knowledge and many of the images in the series. There are also images that disturb and although glossy and with a certain quality of emulsion they are not pleasant days at the dacha. These colours and images are pinprick reminders.

Dusk is captioned with details about the photographer’s birth during the war even though the pictures were taken at the fall of the Soviet Union. Are they a reference to the war or to the collapse? Which way does the meaning fold? These almost seem to have been taken with a pinhole camera. They are long wide-angled pictures the horizon distorted around the curve of the film? Slivers. From the end of a day, the hinterland, the borders, a new era and the transition from the old.  Small and murky we gaze into them. Into the shocking detail of half a figure. Into the queues and the passing figures. Again these are not “perfect” pictures. What is the role of perfect? Boredom? Imperfection is not the same as a bad image. Imperfection has its own energy, direction and motion.




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Filed under June 2011, Thoughts

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