Lacock Study Visit
Revisiting the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock in Wiltshire last week, I was reminded of how much for granted we take the crisp, clear, defined photographic print. The earlier experiments by Fox Talbot and his contemporaries rendered pictures that were much less clear, and perhaps even difficult to identify today as ‘photographic images’. Never-the-less, when Fox Talbot’s ‘photogenic drawings’ and later photographs were announced, they were received as exacting, true analogies of the objects he studied.
Fox Talbot was – amongst his many other pursuits – a keen naturalist, and the museum’s temporary exhibition gallery seemed like an apposite venue for Jo Whaley’s show, The Theatre of Insects. Whaley works around the genre of still life; here she uses insects and an array of backdrops to create a set or diorama within which she intends for narratives to play out. The work is seductive, and had a visual appeal that seemed to be fairly unanimous throughout the group, although the concepts perhaps got a little lost: a ‘tighter’, thematic hang might have helped things maybe? I thought Whaley’s work looked excellent propped up on angles in the glass cabinets. For once, these display cases really suited the work inside them, referencing the museum institution, the exoticism of the ‘exhibits’ (the insects), and amplifying a sense of peering into a strange, other world.
Presented, for the most part, as larger than the actual size of the individual insects, Whaley’s prints demonstrate one of the simplest, often overlooked surreal properties of photography; that, through enlargement, and object can become, literally, larger-than-life. The work also seemed to emphasise the flatness of the photographic surface: The highly produced three-dimensional sets, so carefully constructed by Whaley, somehow aren’t really done justice by the photographic process.
A particularly welcome ‘first’ for me as a tutor was to meet other students from non-photographic, three-dimensional disciplines. I’m very pleased that Whaley’s exhibition attracted students enrolled on courses other than photography, and their contributions during the seminar after lunch where we looked at students’ work in progress, were particularly welcomed.
Thank you to all who came and contributed to what was I hope, a worthwhile and stimulating day, and thank you very much to all the students for whom this was their first OCA study visit, and for sharing your work. I hope you’ll be back!
Jo Whale’s monograph, The Theatre of Insects can be purchased here.