This trend was reflected in the final selection for the exhibition; four out of eleven of the exhibitors are experimenting with the photograph in some way. Jeremy Akerman takes pictures of landscapes or urban scenes, cuts them, and then pastes the pieces back together in a different order. The resulting images are still recognisable as landscapes, but something has happened to them; the act of destroying the surface of the print and then re-creating them adds another dimension to the image. Chloe Sells creates large colour prints in the darkroom, in which she plays with the light with prisms to create blocks of coloured light leaks. She also manipulates the surface of the image by folding the paper while printing, so concealing parts of the photograph.
|©Eva Stenram, ©Judith Lyons|
Judith Lyons and Eva Stenram use digital techniques in order to create their work, although they have both used analogue processes in previous projects. Lyons uses images of ova, sperm and foetuses to create digitally constructed montages, one for each month of the gestation period. Stenram's image, Drape, is a digitally manipulated vintage pin-up photograph, in which she uses digital technology to lengthen a curtain in the image, so that it drapes over the model and conceals her assets. Last night she also introduced us to new work, in which she finds hard core pornographic images on the internet, and removes the bodies to create the scene as if they were never there.
All photographers seemed to agree that their processes were about questioning the inherent meaning of truth which is linked to photography, and yet their reasoning for this was varied. Judith Lyons challenges the relationship between the image and the subject matter characteristic of photography; the fact that you can't photograph something which is not there. Eva Stenram is interested in the fact that photos can be changed again and again, and that, even if they don't pretend to be real, viewers tend to look twice.
For Jeremy Akerman, his cutting and pasting of photographs is a quest to get back to the physicality of the picture. Quoting Susan Sontag, who back in 1977 mentioned there were too many images in the world, and that was before the advent of digital photography, Akerman pointed out that the photographic surface was dead; most images we see nowadays are on a screen. For him, and for Chloe Sells, it is the surface of the photograph which is interesting.
This theme of experimenting with photography was also being explored at London Art Fair's Photo50 exhibition, curated by Sue Steward. I was excited about seeing this exhibition, entitled The New Alchemists - a reference to the old fashioned, analogue methods of photography - and I was expecting great things. But I was disappointed.
|©Noemie Goudal, ©Jeremy Akerman|
Many of the photographers I was familiar with; Julie Cockburn, Noemie Goudal, Joy Gregory and Esther Teichmann amoungst others. And maybe it's for this reason that nothing surprised me, nothing wowed me. Even Cockburn's work, which I love but had never seen in "real life" disappointed me. The highlight was Noemie Goudal's image, which certainly does trick the eye and successfully comments on the belief that a photograph is authoritative proof.
This idea of playing with the surface of the image and of creating camera-less images is nothing new; the Surrealists were all over it in the 1920's and artists have working in this way ever since. But there does seem to be more experimentation these days, and if I had the task of curating an exhibition of artists working in this way, there are ones that I would have chosen that are exploring the surface of the image in new ways. Carolle Benitah, for example, with her embroidery over old family pictures. I also think that the digital "alchemists" need to get a look in, too; it's not just about collage, or mixed media, but it's about experimenting with new processes in the way Eva Stenram and Judith Lyons do.
At the end of the talk the other evening, I asked the panel whether they considered themselves to be artists or photographers. They all said they were artists, which I found interesting. But of course they are; there's no decisive moment in their work, they use photography to create something else. And it got me thinking; could this distinction be as simple as Artists Make, Photographers Take? Or is it a way for photographers to get into the art market, as we all know that photography struggles to sell...
Whichever it is, I'm pleased some people are doing it. The work is challenging, inspiring and refreshing in this world of digital imagery. Get crafting, I say.