Vera Lutter’s exhibition at the Gagosian on Davies Street is a series of images of ancient Egyptian monuments that have been taken with a camera obscura using photo-sensitive paper which are then shown as a negative image. Such are the basic details of the process. But this simple idea is so well executed and the images so beautifully put together that they feel both as enduring and as complex as the towering relics they show.
The desert rocks captured in negative look to me almost like replicas of the NASA recreations of the moon and Mars that populated so many of my schoolboy space books … and with the addition of the rugged pyramids they call to mind those theories that there pyramids and other structures to be found on the red planet. If you squint. The otherworldliness of it all would be present even if you were never a space-obsessed schoolboy or have avoided every cross-eyed conspiracy theory about ancient civilisations.
The length of the exposures means that tourists are captured like spectres at the foot of some monuments. For example in the picture of the Temple of Kom Ombo where little blurs are seen standing and marvelling and also walking away. It’s quite affecting – especially given the way in which ‘proper’ shots of the monuments go out of their way to pretend that nobody is there, or how the tourists themselves pose to create the belief that they and they alone had access. It’s not quite Martin Parr snaring gangs of sunburnt travellers but it’s a gentle reminder that there is an ongoing human presence.
A final touch to remark on that adds to the quality of the image is the ‘light leak’ caused by the nature of the equipment. It acts as a further layer of complexity whilst also drawing attention as a vignette. A good example of it working to strengthen an image is that of the Chepren and Cheops Pyramids.
This exhibition represents a departure away from the vast cityscapes that Lutter is more associated with but the smaller scale of these works and the depth of meanings they produce is both rewarding and pleasing.