Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Sees, shoots, and leaves

I've had a bit of a busy seven days, and this is the first day I've really had to get on with catching up on things.

I went to Windsor last weekend to visit my boyfriend. However, while he was working, I decided to have a trip to London for a day. It's been five years since I last wandered round London on my own and in the interim time I've simply followed friends from place to place, letting them be my tour guide. So it was good to have a day getting to know the city by myself.

In the morning, I met with a photographer and chatted to him over coffee and lunch. Sometimes it's good to just meet with people and talk to them - certainly faster to get ideas and responses and exchange thoughts than via email, and you can't always get the same dialogues when you're assisting or on work experience partly because you're concentrating on the job in hand, and also because most clients aren't going to be interested in listening to photographers talking shop when they're paying you.

Afterward, I headed to the Photographer's Gallery to take in the Deutsche Börse prize nominees. I was torn between Anna Fox, and Donovan Wylie.

I loved the way Fox presented her work, but more importantly the text to accompany the images worked because she told stories rather than being a bit oblique and the photographs reflected that. I loved her work for its complete lack of pretention. Her work was very saturated views of British life, although compared to Martin Parr. However, I think her work is more intimate than that of Martin Parr, her photographs were of things around her home or her parents home, of life in her local area and her world. Martin Parr's work tends to be on a larger scale, about life in particular countries. Her images were also presented in different ways - a blue notebook; a set of fold-out postcards; as well as the prints on the wall.

Donovan Wylie had photographed the decontruction of Maze prison in Northern Ireland.  I loved Wylie's work because it lacked any sentimentality, leaving the viewer to consider their own feelings about the photographs. It felt to me that the photographs weren't about "the troubles", but about the next steps in Northern Ireland and the good things that lay ahead, about a new future in the same way that the deconstruction of the Berlin Wall had on the lives of millions of people in East and West Germany. What perhaps makes the decontruction of Maze Prison more interesting to me is how it featured so little coverage in the press, these photographs therefore don't come across as being a symbol or statement in the same way that the Berlin Wall, but an observation.  I think it also comes across as being an observation of life in Northern Ireland, of getting on with things and not making a big fuss, maybe recognising that peace is, and always should be, normal life; its a right rather than a privilege.

The exhibition runs until the 17th April and is free. Also, it's just off Regent Street and Oxford Road, so perfect for anyone looking for something easy to access, and the Photographer's Gallery has a fantastic little shop and a nice cafe, both worth visiting. 

My second visit, was to the National Portrait Gallery, where I saw the Irving Penn exhibition. Penn died recently, and was one of the most prolific fashion and portrait photographers of the twentieth century. I based some of my photographs last summer on 1940s - 1960s Vogue fashion shoots, which was the work of Penn and his contemporaries. The exhibition catalogues Penn's work across the decades. What it reminds me of, is the Vanity Fair exhibition that toured to Edinburgh in 2007, mainly for the fact that perhaps what we see is a different value of celebrity in different decades. In the most recent decade, celebrity has been about actors and actresses; singers; reality television stars; and TV show hosts. What these photos remind us, is that it used to encompass so much more: authors, poets, dancers, politicians who didn't lead countries who had nuclear ability, musicians, civil rights activists, scientists. Now we have a small group of representatives of people from those catagories in celebrity, but not in the same numbers as they had in the twenties or thirties. What is noticeable about Penn's work, is his ability to create a strong silhouette against the background. One of the things I also notice is how sometimes there is this centre divide, where one part of the background is dark and the other part is light and how Penn seems to light his subject in a way that you still get this clear silhouette.

The Irving Penn exhibition is on until 6th June, and costs £10.

The rest of my weekend involved meeting friends, which was great to catch up. I arrived back in Scotland on Monday and Tuesday I spent photographing a friend for one of my college projects. I've yet to look at the photographs on my computer screen as I didn't get home until late last night, but at the time I had an idea of something I wanted to try and do again. While trying to light the background, I had a small spill of light which highlighted one side of her face very faintly. While I managed to flag the background light I decided that actually I might try and create these highlights again but on both sides of her face instead.

 My diary is fast filling up with dates of shoots and plans at the moment, and getting a lot more use than it has for quite a while. It's extremely satisfying but also slightly frightening at how quickly a week can pass, how fast a month can go, and how long I have left to complete all my projects.

In the Autumn, our tutor suggested we should get more photographers to give talks. I suggested Martin Parr, and my tutor responded with "why don't you ask him?". So I did. I didn't actually expect that it would come to fruition, but Martin Parr is coming to our college to give a talk in a few weeks time. I was sorry to have missed Vision 2009 in November when he gave a talk then, while I was on a college trip in Kinlochleven instead, so this more than makes up for that. 

This weekend, I'm heading back down south for my rescheduled photoshoot which was cancelled last month due to the weather. Hopefully I should have a bit more success and an update for you by early next week on how the shoot went.

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