I’ve been a bit busy.
This evening I shall read Photography: A Very Short Introduction and then put up a reaction to it.
They know a bit more than me…
Here’s what I thought.
I know the British Library is an august institution of which we should all be proud, not least now it’s housed in shiny blandness at St Pancras. I also know that magna carta did not die in vain I also also know that this photo taken in 2007 (see large here) is potentially illegal thanks to yet another civil liberty encroaching law.
But more importantly I know that Taking Liberties is a tedious waste of space. Draining the life out of any discussion of civil liberties by showing a procession of documents but without really explaining any of the controversy or fights surrounding them. There’s too much here as well – covering centuries without useful contexts and wrapping it all in interactive votes designed to make you feel you have an opinion that counts — the answers to the questions, multiple choice, are themselves essay length so only the worthy will respond.
Only at the very, very end with a small exhibit about ‘free speech versus causing offence’ does it begin to feel challenging, thought provoking even. But the display focuses on the Oz trial without a dodgy Danish cartoon in sight – the safe option is taken and steady boredom maintained.
The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize exhibition is now on at Ramillies Street and it’s a pretty strong line-up this year fully doing justice to the more spacious accommodation the Photographers’ Gallery now has to show it off.
Unlike in previous years there’s a certain sameyness in the works of the four shortlisted photographers – no one jars or stands out (or makes you go, “What the bloody hell?”). There’s Paul Graham who is here for A Shimmer of Possibility – an intriguing collection of images that capture moments in half-light or actions that seem to have purpose and meaning in ways that aren’t explained. Seemingly more straightforward is Tod Papageorge whose record shots of Central Park that capture all the wild eccentricity of New York with humour and a sharp eye. Both are examples of the kind of photography that looks easy to construct but given that in Papageorge’s case it’s the accumulation of 22 years wandering with a camera let’s assume it actually isn’t.
The weakest on the list to my eye, and so therefore the one who will obviously win, is Emily Jacir, a Palestinian photographer (according to Wikipedia, the guide has her down as Kuwaiti) who with Material for a Film brings together documents, images and assorted items linked to the assassination of Wael Zwaiter. I’m sure it has significance in terms of Arab-Israeli politics but here it fails to spark and seems too laboured – although a short but revealing telegram sent after Zwaiter’s death does carry an emotional wallop.
My personal favourite is Taryn Simon, returning to the Photographers Gallery with An American Index of the Hidden and Familiar featuring beautifully shot images of inbred white tigers, braille Playboys and the CIA art gallery – whose mystery is explained by the lovingly structured text next to each photo. I’m not sure I buy the argument that it creates an American mythology but these are pictures and stories you want to go back to again and again.
So, well worth heading over to the Photographers’ Gallery for, especially given that it’s free and they do nice coffee.
On at Somerset House until March, Richard Bryant – Greater London is three rooms of panaromic images taken across the London boroughs, ranging from a river view in Hampton to an inner-city street in Camden.
For such a small exhibition there’s a nice diversity of images – I particularly like the blurred dog walker heading past a Banksy and the recreation of a Turner-esque sky that surrounds a lone sailing barge. A few of the garden/park shots might verge on the twee but are redeemed by the quality of Bryant’s eye in drawing out interesting details – a shot of St Paul’s that is actually original stands out as does one of Fitzroy Square that has the relaxing workers framed by towering greenery.
You can view the images and order standard prints here – should you want an original properly printed and mounted though it’ll be a few thousand pounds coming out of your bank account.
There’s more Richard Bryant here.