The basement gallery at The Photographers’ Gallery is one of my favourite places. Time after time, when I am exhausted by the other floors, it manages to serve up something that is accessible as a sorbet but far more thought-provoking. It introduced me to Evgenia Arbugaeva, Stephen Gill, Clarisse d’Arcimoles and now Julie Cockburn. Little bite-size exhibitions they are incredibly accessible and fit well with the rest of my knowledge.
Julie works with vintage found images. She works out the best way to work with them, considering the detail of how the image is constructed. The photographs are altered – by stitching or with textiles or other objects, and then framed. It is the attention to detail that pulls me in – it all works so well and the care taken with colours is amazing. The colours work like a vintage fair isle jumper, right the way from the faces of the subject out through the alteration and finally to the mounting board and frame. They are outrageously well done. It is interesting to consider which bits of the image remain, unaltered, and which are obliterated through altering or left to peer through a filter of stitches or plastic. I can’t help but wonder if the original found images would be anywhere near as interesting in their unaltered states. The alteration is typically so much of its time and fitting with the rest of the image that it’s almost as if the original photograph couldn’t last for long before succumbing.
That’s not where it finishes, however. Julie started putting her altered images through Google Image Search, which did its best to identify the image with objects from its own experience. Julie then sourced these objects and put them next to the photograph in the exhibition. This intrigues me – the idea that I can see an image not just how I see it, but also through the eyes of a million algorithms. This really makes me wonder what will happen to our images in the future. It also gives me hope that in a world where most people with an online presence can be identified from a simple photo, perhaps something as simple as a bit of embroidery could subvert some of the ubiquitous monitoring. Google doesn’t seem to recognise people without a face.