Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The future is out of focus

I started this blog post a week or so ago, after I first saw the Saatchi show. Since then, I've read reviews by Ossian Ward from Time Out and Sean O Hagan from The Guardian that put my thoughts into words so much more eloquantly than I would, that I sort of gave up on it.

Basically, the show is, as it is titled, Out of Focus. If this symbolises the future of photography, then frankly, it's depressing. It is rambling, with too many photographers; it is dated, with some new names doing the same old thing (think John Baldessari style of thing); it is a hotch potch of different genres, without giving a smooth overview of the genres of photography (Michael Subotzky, for example, is the only nod to reportage); it is inconsistent, giving some photographers a whole room while others just have a single print.

If nothing else, it is worth the trek to the West End to see a whole room filled with portraits by Katy Grannan. She steals the show; her larger than life portraits of people she has come across on the boulevards of LA and San Francisco are hyper real and evocative of a more glamourous era. Each portrait seems to be a more crumbly version of a celebrity - there is Marilyn Monroe, here is Jimi Hendrix. A modern day Diane Arbus, she seems to have a knack for photographing true characters, and the harsh sunlight and pale backgrounds really put these people under the spotlight.
Katy Grannan
It was also nice to see a room full of John Stezaker work. Even though I had seen his show at Whitechapel Gallery, there was something comforting about seeing that familiar format again; it is so well conceived and yet so simple. Nice to see Elina Brotherus, too (but only one print!) and the discovery of the day for me was the work of David Benjamin Sherry. I was most excited to be seeing the Hannah Starkey work, but this was stuck up on the last floor, and squashed amid some complete tripe that made it feel really insignificant.

In short, the message of this show to me was that the future of photography was going backwards, with photographers once again exploring analogue means of creating an image, and manipulating their work in the darkroom. This harks back to the talk I chaired at Photofusion, which I wrote about here; but to me, those artists I talked about experiment with photography in a much more 21st century way, and if there is a future of photography I consider it to be more like that. But what about reportage photographers? What is the future there? Again we arrive at the same old question of photography vs art. The Saatchi show is full of artists, not photographers. When will this distinction ever end?

Monday, 14 May 2012

My first bit of journalism

Recently, I was asked by the Redeye Network to cover their National Photography Symposium, held at Somerset House in conjunction with the World Photography Organisation events. They asked me to write a blog post on one of the talks, and I chose to summarise the talk on The Print Market, which you can see here. It turns out that I got a few of my facts wrong, as Bill Hunt pointed out in his comments (but I'm pleased he took the time to read my post!) but the article seems to have sparked quite a few interesting questions and points by readers, which they have voiced on Twitter. Many point out the success of The Photographers' Gallery and their print sales, and it's true that this was never brought up at the talk. And there IS a flaw in the theory that photography only sells in art galleries; the success of the Michael Hoppen Gallery proves that. So I have been thinking about this, and I think it's more how a photographer markets themselves; if they see themselves as an artist, then they are more likely to sell. A colleague once recounted a story that he'd heard regarding an American gallerist who was showing photography. When a client asked him if the maker of the works was a photographer or an artist, the gallerist asked why he wanted to know. The client said, "If he considers himself a photographer, I won't buy one. But if he considers himself an artist, I will."
True story... Obviously the gallerist told him he was an artist and it sold.

On another note, it's worth checking out the book WM Hunt has just published, called The Unseen Eye. It's a beautiful, thought provoking collection of photographs in which the subject is not looking at the camera. A truly fabulous collection.
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