Tuesday, 21 December 2010

My pick of exhibitions 2010

2010 has been a great year for photography shows. Some of them I have reviewed on here, but many of the great ones I have seen I haven't mentioned, most probably cos something else got in the way.

A highlight for me was the Camille Silvy exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. A studio portrait photographer in London in the mid nineteenth century, Silvy was renowned for taking exquisite portraits of the aristocracy for cartes de visites etc. The beautiful thing about the exhibition, though, was his early work of French landscapes, with detail as to how he printed them. Often using 3 negatives combined (each exposed for different areas of the scene) his printing techniques were key; a reminder of the craft of photography, which has disappeared in this digital age. The exhibition was full of information and rich in social history; Silvy was a prolific photographer and businessman, and I can't believe I had never heard of him. Sadly, he suffered from a bipolar disorder (which he believed was brought on by the darkroom chemicals) and the last thirty years of his life he spent in hospitals and convalesent homes.

Another inspiring show, also at the National Portrait Gallery, was Iriving Penn Portraits. A well known portraitist, what I found fascinating was his incredibly simple approach to studio work. In contrast to the fashion of studio photography at that time, which was all dramatic sets and backdrops, Penn would photograph his sitters in his empty studio, just how it was; complete with cigarette butts and litter on the floor. In one series, he places his sitter as if wedged in an acute corner, providing opportunities of performance and self-expression from the sitter. Due to the receding line of the walls, the eye is drawn to the subject; any gesture is exaggerated, and small gesture emphasised. A simple trick, to such great effect.

Duchess of Windsor, © Irving Penn

There have been other great shows... Sophie Calle at the Whitechapel Gallery, Neeta Madahar at Purdy Hicks, Stephen Gill at Brighton Biennale. One of my new year's resolutions is to write up all the shows I see, be it good or bad... if only for my sake of recording what I have seen!

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