When I first started looking for exhibitions opening in February I was seriously worried I’d have maybe two to write about. It goes to show, though, what you can discover when initially there doesn’t seem to be much on offer. Admittedly, Scotland and Ireland are shamefully neglected – I looked and looked and couldn’t find a damn thing I swear! If you know any photography galleries in those countries (or indeed anywhere) that I ought to be aware of, though, please do let me know! It must also be admitted that one of the exhibitions opened at the end of January and not this month, so I’ve already told a lie (not that there’ll be any more), but it wasn’t featured in January’s round-up and I thought you might quite like to know about it.
Anyway – with no more excuses, provisos, or general prevarication, let’s get to it shall we?
The Big Ones
Though February may be looking a little sparse overall on the exhibition front, you’ll be sorted if you live in English capital or can get to it (sorry rest of world). This month, London’s playing host to a couple of big names that even a photographic ignoramus such as myself can’t fail to recognise.
First up is Juergen Teller at the ICA. This legend of fashion photography has worked with the great characters of the industry including Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood, and Marc Jacobs, and shot too many stars to name – notably a 15 year old Kate Moss. His provocative, anti-conventional style has made Teller one of contemporary photography’s most important names, managing in his work to fudge the line between the commercial and the artistic in way few photographers can hope to achieve.
The exhibition brings together both old work and new, from his landmark commercial and fashion photography of the 90s to his two most recent bodies of work that include landscapes and more personal work set in and around his family home in Suffolk. One of the highlights may be getting to see Pictures and Words, which presents a series from the column he wrote throughout 2009 for the magazine of Die Zeit, Gemany’s ‘most respected newspaper’. Teller would supply a picture accompanied by a few words about it, like his photographs of often witty and often controversial, and providing a unique insight into his world and works – and eliciting horrified responses from readers, some of which will also be on show at the exhibition.
Juergen Teller: Woo
ICA, London, 23rd January-17th March 2013
You might want to consider doubling up Juergen Teller’s Woo with Man Ray’s Portraits, opening at the National Portrait Gallery in early February, for an interesting contrast of two of the most exciting and experimental portrait photographers of their times.
Like Teller, Man Ray shot many of the stars of the artworld including Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, and muses Lee Miller and Kiki de Montparnasse. Man Ray was also anti-conventionalist and ineffably modern, leading the pack with his involvement with Dada and Surrealism. If Juergen Teller is known as a mischievous iconoclast, Man Ray is playful too – think of his legendary Violon d’Ingres – but more than this this, Man Ray is surely one of the most creative and influential photographers in the canon. While I’d not normally urge you to cough up £14 for a ticket (with concessions, and discounts for National Art Pass holders), this is surely a must-see exhibition.
Man Ray Portraits
National Portrait Gallery, London, 7th February-27th May
If your knowledge of Lithuanian photography is limited, Cardiff’s Ffotogallery is offering you a chance to rectify that with its new exhibition featuring two of the country’s most famous photographers, Aleksandras Macijauskas and Rimaldas Vikšraitis.
In stark black and white, the photographers’ images tell the story of the struggles of people on the margins of the modern world, with their way of life in decline after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The two photographers have worked closely over the years, with Macijauskas acting as a mentor to Vikšraitis, but they tell their stories in different ways. While Macijauskas utilises design principles, diagonals, geometric shapes, and close-up views in dramatic shots, Vikšraitis’ photographs are described as ‘strange, frightening and darkly humorous,’ capturing situations observed from the inside, Vikšraitis himself acting as an ‘enthusiastic participant’.
It’s not a cheerful, bright exhibition but it’s full of humanity and it’s not without its humour. But most importantly the exhibition is a piece of photojournalism to remind western viewers of the world that exists just out of vision, not much represented in the media:
Although most of the people captured in these photographs have gone, their stories keep repeating themselves – the same tale with different characters and nuances, chronicling the fate of people who fail to adapt to the situation, both in the Soviet era and now.
Ffotogallery, Cardiff, 16th February-23rd March 2013
Aspects of Architecture
At university I had a few friends studying architecture, and their lectures seemed concerned with everything from philosophy to poetry to interpretive dance… Either architecture is more pretentious than taking brie to a barbecue, or the buildings that form our human environment inspire some very deep thought.
February is certainly the month to find out, because it sees not one but three exhibitions of architectural photography in and around London, from three very different approaches…
The American photo critic, Vicki Goldberg, compared hanging a Michael Eastman photograph to ‘punching a hole in the wall and opening onto a vista of a much grander room than the one you are in’. When that hole happens to open onto a technicolour vision of Cuba, what you’ve got is the perfect escape to Britain’s relentlessly monochrome February gloom.
Havana’s a trip, but these photographs are not your average holiday snaps. With his eye for detail, for the rich colours, the play of natural light and texture on the exterior and interior architecture of the city, Eastman’s photographs are luscious, and dramatic in large-scale – with prints hanging over 2m. But they also have a haunting quality. There are few people in sight in these photographs; Eastman lets the architecture speak for itself. His photographs invite a wider narrative, suggesting what the city must have been in its pre-revolutionary days; the flamboyant architecture beginning to crumble; with baroque, deco, and art nouveau rooms now conspicuously bare but leaving behind traces of their former grandeur, evoking at once a sense of nostalgia for what was, and a sad fascination for the beauty of decay.
Michael Eastman: Havana
Michael Hoppen Contemporary, London, 12th February-29th March 2013
There’s an interesting, somewhat surprising congruity between the warm, seductively shabby architecture of Eastman’s Havana and the sparse, unnervingly silent spaces of Jason Oddy’s A is for… exhibition. Oddy’s images of conspicuously unpopulated spaces share Eastman’s interest in the derelict, and invite the viewer’s thoughts to travel beyond what’s immediate in his photographs. Unlike Eastman’s Havana, however, which invoke a sense of a history, of people and change, there’s an unsettling stillness to Oddy’s photographs that seems to encourage an almost existential introspection. Jason Oddy has a fascination for our relationship with spaces; he writes
Born surrounded by architecture we are under its spell from the start. So much that we take it for nature. And beholding it forget not just that it beheld us first but that its gaze must also be far more constant, far more determining than our always changing point of view.
His work is to unsettle the relationship between subject and object, active and passive, and the places Oddy photographs certainly do seem to have an insidious effect. Many of his images play with perspective – long tables, mirrors, and brightly lit corridors invite the viewer to look into their depths; others play with symmetry and the subtly askew. Oddy’s photographs do suggest a gaze returned, its very indifference inspiring a sense of frailty, and impermanence.
Jason Oddy: A is for…
James Hockey & Foyer Galleries, UCA Farnham, 2nd February-13th March 2013
Finally, in the photographs of Candida Höfer, we have something else again. In these thirteen previously unseen photos, the German photographer has captured some of the most magnificent architectural treasures of Italy. There’s no sense of decline and decay in Hofer’s photographs of the interiors of palaces, museums, theatres, libraries – indeed they’re so perfect they look almost unreal. Brightly lit, immense – and, significantly, empty – the spaces caught here are paragons of human achievement, of culture and design, and yet not a human in sight.
The absence of human presence is what lends Höfer’s pictures a certain uncanny quality; it’s the thing that might come back and trouble the viewer if they think too hard on it. Without a human in sight, the massive spaces yawn with their emptiness. Compared with the subjects of Eastman and Oddy’s photographs, the buildings Höfer shoots are older, but perfectly preserved and it’s this perfection that adds to the sense of unreality. Removed from humanity, seemingly removed from history, the architecture of Höfer’s shoots is both grave and transcendent, created by humanity but also beyond it; it seems something not meant to be touched but admired, and wondered at but not lived in.
Candida Höfer: A Return to Italy
Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, 12th February-12th April 2013