It’s a depressing feeling to contrast the Avant Garde Feminists of the 1970s exhibition with the story of Joanne Salley filmed by Simon Fujiwara and photographed by Andreas Larsson on the top floor. Joanne resigned her job as an art teacher at Harrow School in 2011 when pupils found a memory stick in the school photography studio containing private images of her topless, taken by a photography teacher at the school. The images were distributed around the school pupils and also to those of another school where Joanna taught, and those unauthorised images are the ones that have defined her public identity up to now – beyond winning Miss Northern Ireland, being a teacher, a model, an artist, a cyclist, a silversmith, a Cambridge graduate and a champion boxer. The female consciousness may have evolved since the 1970s, but I’m not sure if the male gaze has, at least not in the context of public boys schools. Simon is a former pupil of Joanne’s, leaving Harrow some years before the scandal. The film is a collaboration between them as she works to change her public profile.
The work takes the form of Fujiwaro’s film and several portraits by Larsson shown as huge lightboxes. I have mixed feelings about work presented as film in galleries- you can’t rewind, pause, or fast forward and you have to understand at the same speed as the film presents. Pause to take notes and you’re lost. I have enjoyed some film exhibits, but the way I got the most of this one was listening whilst I absorbed the enormity of the portraits. These are very obviously taken by a fashion photographer – they are glossy and detailed, you could imagine any of them in a magazine. Joanne is shown as fit, strong and beautiful, and very, very big. Far eclipsing any minor scandal. The thing that really stuck me was their presentation, I don’t think I’ve ever seen bigger images outside of a cinema screen. I am fascinated by scale and presentation – my next trip after TPG was to the V&A to see the Miniatures Room. It was intriguing to see the light radiating from the images, and the way that viewers were dwarfed by their scale and cast into shadow against them. I always thought that A2 was a bit big, this exhibition has definitely reset my expectations.