The Photographers Gallery – Deutsche Borse, Roger Mayne, Evgenia Arbugaeve

This was my afternoon after visiting the Wolfgang Tillmans show at the Tate Modern.

I normally blog exhibitions separately, but it was interesting how the work here interacted so I’m putting them all in a single post. All images are mobile photos included for reference.

I know that photography is inevitably about the past, but there seemed to be a very heavy emphasis on the past in the current set of exhibitions. There’s more black and white than colour, a distinct emphasis on the actual past. In the basement, Evgenia Arbugaeva’s series “Amani”, set in a disused Malaria Research station. This series is in colour, but slightly desaturated and with a vintage feel. I was first introduced to Evgenia’s work with her series Tiksi, also in the TPG basement gallery but a while back. I love the detail of her narratives, her use of colour, and the gentle way that her images invite you into her stories.

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You can see the whole series on her website here – http://evgeniaarbugaeva.com/stories/—amani/Amani_01/

Level 2 was devoted was Roger Mayne – mainly his 1950s black and white prints of children playing but also the very effective 5 screen slideshow “Britain at Leisure” which was commissioned for the Milan Trienniale in 1964. This one is in colour. I don’t quite understand why it resonated so much with me, given that all these photographs were taken well before I was born. There was a definite feeling of Steichen’s Family of Man about the slideshow. Another aspect of the photographs that delighted me was the strong composition of so much of the work. Very strong use of diagonal lines that rendered the portraits of children more than simple portraits but instead gave them a strong sense of place within a larger whole. On the image below this effect is compounded by the use of a streetlamp to divide the frame.

The top two floors were given to the 2017 Deutsch Borse prize. I don’t know if it’s a reflection of a year’s further study, but I found this year’s work more engaging than last year’s.  Sophie Calle has been nominated for her work “My All” which is a collection of 54 postcards, one from each major work that she’s made. I have been intrigued by her work since my Foundations tutor suggested that I read her book “Double Game”. I couldn’t use some of her methods, but the work remains compelling. Unlike much conceptual work, her work provokes as much of an emotional response in me as an intellectual one. In this exhibition we see a set of the postcards, and some work that combines poetry, multimedia and photography as she considers the deaths of her mother, her cat and her father (“in that order”). She addresses that thing about what do you do with a phone contact for someone who is dead. Delete it? Leave it there and risk calling it by accident, or having your phone mistakenly match the photo with someone else. I bought the set of cards. Funnily, it worked out at less per card than making cards of my own work…

Next up was a set of vast black and white landscapes from Dutch photographer Awoiska van der Molen. These were delicate and had gorgeous use of tone with the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. I liked how one included tiny road signs at the bottom of the huge image, giving an idea of scale.

Dana Lixenberg presented a set of (mainly) portraits, again in black and white. These were of residents in the Imperial Courts housing project in LA, taken over twenty two years. These pictures were exuberant, uncompromising and empathetic. Apologies for the reflection.

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Finally, a joint project by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. This “playfully draws on the visual iconography of a road trip from Switzerland to Mongolia, constructing experiences drawn equally from memory and imagination”. I struggled a bit to find a way in this work. There were five av presentations running simultaneously, presenting still shots and film. Mainly in black and white but with occasional colour (I saw one colour image).  It was a bit like watching five different sets of holiday movies/slideshows at the same time, but without your relatives helping you out with context. I enjoyed the man dancing on a pier, and the colour still of a motel bed.

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