Category Archives: Gallery Visits

Gallery Visits 18th March 2015

On a visit to London today I visited three exhibitions. The first was at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and was Viviane Sassen’s Pikin Slee. A year ago I saw her Exhibition Umbra and was interested to see this newer work. In common with Umbra, these pictures were about abstracting from the everyday. The images told you nothing of the settlement of Pikin Slee and could have been made anywhere tropical. The sense you do get is of the utility. The simplest of things are recorded reflecting a simpler place. Water pots, food, simple buildings but he inclusion of a cell phone, plastic bags,  an aluminium pie dish show everything that is poor, alongside worn fabric, broken wood, earth and stones. I think this is what she is aiming for, the depiction of a simpler, slower pace of life before it is lost.



Next, I visited the Photographer’s Gallery to see Human Rights and Human Wrongs. A litany of man’s inhumanity to man, depressing but not entirely without hope. As long as there are people to record and keep bringing these things to our attention then maybe there is redemption in some distant future. The exhibition was large and a lot of the images were familiar.

The final exhibition (and the reason for the visit to London) was They All Say Please by OCA tutor Sharon Boothroyd. I have seen various images from this exhibition over the past two years and it is nice to see it complete. Sharon’s idea is a very simple one, she has interpreted prayers (many from on-line prayer forums) into images. One side of the gallery has one caption per photo, the other has the images arranged in tiers where one image can have several interpretations according the caption you read. The link to Sharon’s web page and a more detailed explanation of her thought processes during interpretation is here:


Gallery Visit–Drawn by Light– Media Space at the Science Museum–10 Feb 2015

I had been unable to attend the OCA study visit to this exhibition. I decided to attend while on a visit to London. I have been a member of the RPS for many years and I had seen some of the prints displayed on members days at Bath, before the collection was transferred to the NMM in Bradford.

The exhibition was presented as a celebration of all that photography means to us today, the way it has developed and been used in the past, pointing to new ways of using it in the future. The nearly 200 years of development has been a story of constant change and innovation which continues at a faster pace than ever before. There is always something new in photography and with that, more often than not,  comes controversy.  The Science Museum’s exhibition web page is here:

The prints were shown in three rooms, each with a theme: Continuity and change; A period of optimism and progress; Personal vision.

Because I am studying the section of the course about A colour vision I made notes about a few of the colour images that were relevant to documentary photography.

Probably the most striking colour image was the iconic “Afghan Girl” by Steve McCurry the follow up story of what happened next is here: It is a demonstration of how just two images and an idea form a powerful narrative.

I was pleased to see one of Tony Ray-Jones colour photographs from his time in the USA. I saw the Only in England exhibition last year and became aware of his subsequent  influence on British photographers. The image was of some street musicians in New Orleans and shows his skill in composition and use of colour back in the early nineteen sixties.

Another early series of photographs of interest was by John Hinde who volunteered as a photographer for the civil defence during WW2. His images are for information and show the work of the civil defence volunteers at the time, providing a valuable historic archive. Hinde was an important pioneer of colour photography in Britain.


Of particular historical interest (the development of colour processes) were Mervyn O’Gorman’s colour photographs of his daughter Christina, made with the Autochrome process: which gave the exhibition its publicity image.


I enjoyed this exhibition. It has helped me to put colour documentary photography into a historical timeframe after spending several weeks reading and researching the subject.

Make Life Worth Living


This is the second look that I have had at this exhibition of Nick Hedges photographs for Shelter from 1968-72. (I first saw them in October 2014) and I was impressed by their value as a document for social change. Not only has Hedges recorded the appalling conditions in which people were expected to live but his silent subjects reach out from the images and put a human element right where it is needed. There is no doubt as to the value of this documentary record in bringing about change.  Hedges also recorded some small details which were signs of those particular times.

  • A list of debtors displayed in a shop window
  • A sign on a pub door “No Gypsies No Travellers”

and some surreal signs;

  • “Radio Active Area – Keep Out” (a house in Toxteth)
  • “Gentlemen only Please” A funeral notice for a lady in a window in Cymmer Afan

Also included in the exhibition were images taken at a tea dance in the  Burnley Methodist Hall. Apparently Nick Hedges saw some elderly ladies dancing together through the window and went in to take photographs. He was warmly welcomed, given tea and cake and recorded a small event in social history at the same time.

Landings – Russell Squires at the Royal Armouries Museum, Fort Nelson

I went to the Gallery at Fort Nelson on Saturday and I enjoyed looking at this exhibition. It is a shame that there were not more students who could get there for a full study visit. Below is the text of my post on WeAreOCA.


I was fascinated by this subject for a number of reasons. I was born and raised on the South Coast in Bognor Regis and spent a large part of my childhood on the beach, gazing south and imagining the coast of France just short of 100 miles distant. In 1957 my parents took the unusual step (for that period) of taking a family cycling/camping holiday on the coast of Normandy during which we cycled from Dieppe westwards to reach Le Havre, just short of the D Day landing beaches. My father served in the army up until the outbreak of WW2 and while in Normandy was taken ill and medically discharged so did not see active service. I’m not sure if this trip was motivated by nostalgia on his part. Sadly he is no longer around to ask. As I grew up and learned more about the history WW2, the significance of the Normandy Beaches became apparent and my experience of visiting that part of France only 13 years after D Day, has stayed with me.

In this way I was able to fully understand your idea of leaving the viewer to interact with the environment in their own way, having presented the modern landscape with no visual historical references to the past. I remember very little of the 1950’s landscape only that it was facing the “wrong” way, in that my limited experience told me that the coast should face south! I also found it useful that you only captioned the beaches with their WW2 code names so there was no reference to place names or geographical locations. Your pictures contained evidence of people but I don’t recall any figures. All of this gave my mind space to think about what had happened here and there was a quiet reverence in which to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

A few years ago I was privileged to be able to visit the D Day Operations Room at Southwick Park and examine the wall map of the beaches. A humbling sight when you realise the momentous events that took place in that room and across the Channel in the weeks leading up to and following that day.

I’m currently studying Documentary and will take Landscape as my next course. I might even find myself linking the coastal landscapes of southern England and northern France.

To illustrate my historical relationship with both sides of the Channel in the past, I have used modern technology to show the views north and south along longitude 2.2999262°W from  latitudes 48.857798° N and 47.857798° N. (Courtesy of Street view)

England looking south


France looking north


Nicholas Sinclair–Artist’s Portraits–Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, 4 June 2014

I wanted to see this exhibition because I had studied Nicholas Sinclair as part of my C&G Portrait module in 1994. In particular, his portraits of politicians shown at the National Portrait Gallery and subsequent book, “The Acceptable Face”. It is interesting to note the difference in the styles of this earlier work and his “Artist’s Portraits”; the politicians being photographed in the Place of Westminster or his flat, whereas the artist’s were shot at or near their own studios. The contrast is shown below, comparing the portraits of artist Sir Peter Blake and the Marquis of Bath.

The introduction to the Pallant House Exhibition says; “…Sinclair’s work is characterised by intimate understanding of his subjects and careful choice of setting and pose.”  He describes the moment of connection  “……either consciously or unconsciously , the sitter reveals something about themselves that the viewer recognises and can relate to.”

Sinclair has received the Hasselblad Master award for his contribution to the Art of Photography.

sinclair_peterblake_2000_0 DOCscans010

Sir Peter Blake with the waxwork of Sonny Liston (Artist’s Portraits) and the Marquis of Bath (Acceptable Face)

Overall Impression

I like the square format of these portraits. It must make shooting so much easier when you are freed from the choice of how to frame your sitter. I counted about 19 or 20 portraits in the collection. Painters, sculptors and photographers all were included but I’m afraid to say the only person I recognised was Gillian Wearing. With the exception of the portrait of sculptor Sir Edward Paolozzi (who only allowed him 3 minutes to make the portrait) it was obvious that Sinclair had taken the time to relax and get to know his sitters. I like the way he has included their work as a compositional element in the portraits. The selection was well balanced i.e. not formulaic  – each portrait showed something about the artist, there was no doubt that these were creative individuals.

sinclair_siranthonycaro_0 sinclair_paularego_1998_0

Sir Anthony Caro                                                   

Paula Rego

Forever Young–Martijn van de Griendt–Kunsthal Rotterdam, 29 April 2014

I was in Rotterdam for a few days recently and on a visit to the Kunsthal I took a look at this photographer’s work.

The exhibition was called Forever Young and as far as I could tell, contains images from many of his projects which can be seen here: go to ‘who what where’ and then ‘what I see’ to look at his work.

image  Book cover

The introduction tells how van de Griendt immerses himself amongst groups of teenagers (worldwide) so that they accept him  and only then will he record the activities of the groups, remaining invisible to them, accepted by his total honesty in his dealings with them. (he is 43 years old). Although the generation is different, many of the situations are universally recognisable to teenagers of any era. It is all there, the fear, embarrassment, uncertainty, loneliness, loyalty, love, sex, rejection. He has summed up those years when we are still children but expected to behave as adults. The title of the exhibition is is taken from the song of the same name by Bob Dylan.

I was pleased to find this at the beginning of the Documentary course. It has given me a good example of Documentary Photography as Art to consider as I look at the history and contemporary practice of the genre.

The Photographs of Carleton E Watkins (1821–1916)–Nederland’s Fotomuseum

This exhibit tied in nicely with my research on the history of documentary photography and the work of Timothy H Sullivan and W H Jackson. Watkins achievement of producing mammoth prints ((52x40cm in some cases) from glass negatives using the wet colloidon process  is remarkable. His work is said to have inspired that of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and been instrumental in influencing the US Congress in the creation of the Yosemite Valley National Park. The Nederland’s Fotomuseum owns the largest collection (24) of Watkins prints, in Europe. They are very detailed and well resolved. Two examples are shown below.




Half Dome, Yosemite




Yosemite Valley

Viviane Sassen – Umbra –1st May 2014

During my recent stay in Rotterdam I visited this exhibition at the Nederland’s Fotomuseum


Here are some links for information about the installation and the photographer:

Summary gives the full catalogue of the exhibition prints

Reference to the links above will give some idea of the scale and scope of the work.

This exhibition/installation was diverse in content and quite extensive. The work was assembled specifically for the Nederland’s Fotomuseum and  Umbra is introduced as a ‘new work that focuses on the play of light and shadow as a metaphor of the human psyche.”

Viviane Sassen (b1972) is a leading international photographer based in Amsterdam. This work features light, colour and shadow, a characteristic of her work. (Umbra = shadow in Latin) and installations which include video and words by poet Maria Barnas. The introduction to the exhibition refers to “heavier themes” and the work of Jung who connected the shadow to the “alter ego, personal fears, desire and shame”

I made a few notes as I walked around but I’m not sure I am able to do it justice. The first gallery was an interesting installation of two rolling desert landscapes projected at 90°with two light sources and a mirror which enabled you to cast your own shadow on the image. Another interesting installation called Hurtling which involved a video of the shadow (reversed out in negative) of hands signing a passage from Jeanette Winterson’s novel, GUT Symmetries. The link above to the catalogue gives an idea of the diversity of the work. I particularly liked the section called Axiom which used a mirror and shadows to form striking coloured abstracts. The series called Larvae brought to mind the work of Arno Rafael Minkkinen with the body inserted into the landscape.

The final installation called “Aura” was great fun and demonstrated the principal of RGB additive colour process. The three coloured lights were projected across a room onto a white wall and depending which colours you blocked with you body, you could cast different coloured shadows and introduce coloured auras when the lamps were partially obscured in combination.

Given my interest in close-up abstracts, I got a lot from this exhibition and it has broadened my understanding of art photography.