Right here, right now…first impressions
After a week that included several days at Focus on Imagining, a photography assessment exercise, a day of videoing and an evening with a rather pleasant bottle of Rioja, Jose and I made a rather tired spectacle as we picked our way through the barricades awaiting the Lib Dem spring conference to make our way to Sheffield station to travel to the Format study day. We wondered if we would be able to enthuse and be sociable. However the quality of the work on display and the obvious enthusiasm of the students we met was easily sufficient stimulation.
At the Quad I was particularly taken by the work of Zhang Xiao – his image of the man in his pants doing tai chi at the side of a rather untempting waterside was already familiar from the Format poster, but I was struck by the use of images in combination and the contrasts they provoked, the most obvious pairing was the well groomed dogs on the obviously cared for ancient bicycle and the guard dog kenneled in a scrapped car, but there were also subtler pairings – use of the beach the use of the water’s edge as playground and dumping ground. There was a pervasive sense of melancholy in the work, reinforced by the unsaturated colours and the frequency of lone figures, even in crowded scenes. The work comes from a coastal road trip and can be seen here in an interesting video by Festival Director/Curator Louise Clements. There is a resonance of an earlier road trip by Joel Sternfeld in the work (in particular the ‘Wet and Wild’ image from American Prospects) and I was struck by Penny’s observation that she thought the best work was now coming from outside Europe and the US as photographers. There is certainly a sense that the American road trip may now be a mined out seam.
Not that there was any sense that Joel Meyerowitz has run out of material, his six image career survey (40 years in six images!) ended with what can best described as ‘Pastoral with Toilet Roll’ which provoked some interesting debate – despite extensive Googling with a variety of search terms, I am afraid I have been unable to find a copy.
And then there was Peter Dench. Keith pointed out that my take on his work was pretty evident from the body language when talking about it and I have to say the slideshow didn’t change my view. In fact the use of a slideshow was perhaps the thing that struck me most forcefully, as Eileen pointed out it not only determined the sequence in which the images were viewed but also the durations, and typically this was too long for my taste. There is a distance and a coldness in the observation which I can’t get past; it speaks of the subjects as other, not fellow human beings who happen to be drunk, but drunks who might also be human.
One of the things I love about street photography is the potential for humour and over at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery Andy Morley-Hall’s Spitfire photo had me laughing out loud, I just love the three poses and the way they capture differing responses to the disaster which has clearly just taken place.
Elsewhere Clive was getting serious with Jose, Rob and Jeff as they discussed work by Melanie Einzig . I heard the phase ‘life is banal but also strange at the same time’ and left them to it.
Jose will be posting his thoughts tomorrow and I am looking forward to seeing student reactions.