Category Archives: Exhibitions

Exhibition: Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014

After the OCA Study Visit to the Prix Pictet exhibition I went along to the Photographers Gallery with another OCA student to take a look at this year’s Deutsche Börse competition.

This is an annual exhibition sponsored by the Deutsche Börse Group and where the aim is to ‘reward a contemporary photographer of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution (exhibition or publication) to the medium of photography in Europe in the previous year’ [1].  There were four nominated photographers in the running for this year’s prize and the first thing that I noticed was that there were no ‘true’ colour images in the exhibition – three of the photographers worked in black and white and the fourth in infrared – and I wondered whether this was coincidence or a deliberate choice by the judging panel.

The first work that you see, and the winner of the 2014 prize, is ‘The Enclave’ by Richard Mosse.  Mosse documented the war in the Congo, shooting with Kodak Aerochrome infrared film that was formerly used to by the US military as a surveillance tool to detect camouflage in the landscape.  However his images are not just about the landscape, they also include the soldiers who are fighting in the conflict.  The resulting work, displayed as very large prints, is sublimely beautiful with the jungle landscape depicted in bright pink and red hues due to the infrared film.  Mosse also included quite lengthy captions alongside the photographs explaining each image and describing what the issues are in the Congo, which I thought was a good way of bringing these to the pubic’s attention.  I found these images breathtaking, although the question of ethics and whether war should be beautified in this way does rear its head.

Alberto Garcia-Alix – Autorretrato / Self Portait

 Unlike the other three entrants who were nominated for their exhibitions, Garcia-Alix was selected for his book ‘Autorretrato / Self Portrait’ published in 2013.  The black and white images exhibited here were nearly life-sized and reflected the artist’s life over nearly forty years.  Very narcissistic and showing excesses of drug use and sexual practices, I got the impression that this work was a mixture of honest self-reflection (self-loathing even) and staged self-portraits, the latter trying to make some sort of point (I’m not quite sure what).  I really did not like this work, finding it distasteful and uncomfortable to look at in places.  I was reminded of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, although Mapplethorpe’s images do include a beauty that I felt was lacking here.

Jochen Lempert – Jochen Lempert

There seems to be an ongoing debate in photographic circles as to whether nature photography can be regarded as art and Lempert’s exhibition I believe shows that this can be possible.  Another body of work solely in black and white (low-contrast in this instance), Lempert composes his images to encourage contemplation rather than instant recognition and the manner of his presentation (unframed images taped to the wall) invites further investigation from the viewer – is this an ecological statement?  I think the key to Lempert’s success is that he has managed to represent nature subjectively, at times in a poetic way, rather than in an objective manner which is so often the case with nature photography.

Lorna Simpson – Summer ’57 / Summer ’09

Simpson’s exhibition comprised of two elements – archival images and self-portraits. Simpson purchased a set of photographs of an unknown African woman in a variety of poses (there is also an anonymous man who occasionally appears) and then set about recreating similar poses herself as a series of self-portraits, finding similar locations to the original images.  This was an intriguing piece of work but I am not sure that I understood the reasons behind it and what Simpson was trying to say. I am assuming that she is touching on gender and race but at this early stage in my studies the more complex reading of this work eludes me.

In conclusion I consider that Mosse was a worthy winner as his work does grab the public’s attention, mainly by being different.  It is something new and stunning to look at and has also succeeded in bringing a forgotten war back into the public eye.

I spent some time thinking about what I had taken away from this exhibition that could influence my own practice. I don’t feel inspired by any of the four photographers’ work; yes I enjoyed Mosse’s images but I don’t have any desire at the moment to dabble in infrared.  In the end I decided that my main take-away was my lack of ability to read more complex work such as that presented by Simpson, and a lack of interest to dig deeper into work that at first glance does not appeal (I’m thinking Garcia-Alix here).  Hopefully I can address both these points as I progress further in my studies.


[1] Deutsch Börse Photography Prize (online).  Deutsche Börse AG.  Available from  [accessed 07 August 2014]

Study visit: Prix Pictet 2013

I finally got to attend my first OCA study visit when I joined a group of students on 24 May 2014 in a visit to the 2013 Prix Pictet exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert museum in London.  The study visit was hosted by tutor Clive White who was happy as always to impart his knowledge, observations, wit and humour.

The stated aim of the Prix Pictet is ‘to harness the power of photography – all genres of photography – to draw global attention to the issues of sustainability, especially those that concern the environment’ [1].  The exhibition is now in its fifth year and this year’s theme is Consumption.  Text at the entrance reminded us that we are all consumers and are guilty at times of sustaining our appetites for consumer goods through the exploitation of the world’s poorest people an around us.

Eleven artists had been shortlisted for the Prix Pictet prize and their works were displayed in one of the exhibition halls (which to be honest I felt was a little small and cramped).  Many of them were names that I had come across so it was a treat to be able to see their work first-hand rather than in books or on the internet.

The prize winner was Michael Schmidt with a work entitled Lebensmittel, an interesting display of sixty individual images that represented the food chain from beginning to end.  Of all the artists, Schmidt’s work seemed to most reflect the exhibition theme and his images were cleverly laid out in a random order which made you look at them closely to establish where in fact their place was in the food chain.  Interestingly, Schmidt mixed both black and white and colour images which is something I understood to be frowned upon but in this instance I think the combination worked well.  This was a piece of work where the whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts; I’m not sure that any of the images would particularly work as a singleton but displayed together the result was impressive.

It was therefore quite a shock to read a few days later that Schmidt had passed away on the very day that we were viewing his work. [2].

Adam Bartos – Yard Sale

Bartos showed a series of close-up images of items that were being sold at yard sales in America.  The tightly composed and very clean images were documentary in nature and focussed on the items themselves; there were no people or other signs of yard-sale life to be seen.  I found this idea, the passing on and reusing of unwanted items, an interesting yet relevant take on the exhibition’s theme.

Motoyuki Daifu – Project Family

Daifu’s artist statement read ‘My mother sleeps every day.  My dad does chores.  My brothers fight. There are trash bags all over the place.  Half-eaten dinners, cat poop, mountains of clothes: this is my loveable daily life, and a loveable Japan’. [1].  Daifu photographed the consumables in his home for this series. His images were very cluttered and chaotic and also over-exposed. Was the latter deliberate or did he not care?  I am assuming the former as the over-exposed areas could have been addressed in post-processing.  Not really my sort of images to be honest, but I can see the point that Daifu was making in showing a large number of consumer possessions in a small space.

Rineke Dijkstra – Almerisa

Over a period of fifteen years or so, Djikstra photographed an immigrant girl from Bosnia, starting when Almerisa first arrived in Holland at the age of five as a refugee, along with her family.  Djikstra subsequently took a series of studio portraits of Almerisa, each of them with her sitting in a chair, as she adjusted to her new life in Holland and eventually became a Dutch citizen and also a mother.  A simple series of images I felt that Djikstra’s images were well composed and thoughtful although I couldn’t see a link to the topic of consumption.

Hong Hao – My Things

Hao’s exhibit consisted of three very large acrylic prints of collage – scanned and collated images of items that Hao used or consumed in everyday life; a visual diary that he had been working on for twelve years.  The thing that I immediately noticed was how clear the images were.  The three prints were very different from each other, which added interest to the series but also made me ask the question why (and I’m not sure that I came up with a reasonable answer to this).  ‘Book keeping of 2007’ was a very ordered and well-arranged image whilst ‘My Things No 1’ was in the main chaotic, albeit containing areas of organisation.  I never did work out why there was a hand in this image …  The overall impression of the third print was of a mass of beige shapes, which turned out to be the bottoms of electrical goods and bowls.  An interesting exhibit that I spent quite a long time just looking at and considering.

Mishka Henner – Beef & Oil

Henner’s images are aerial images of America’s beef production and oil fields.  Like the work that I’ve seen of Edward Burtensky, David  Maisel and Daniel Beltra, these were stunning images which start to become disturbing when you realise the photographs in fact show the damage that man is doing to the landscape in his thirst to provide consumables.  My particular favourite is Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas, which to me resembles a dissected heart from a distance and has a stunning abstract beauty.  Unlike  Burtensky, Maisel and Beltra’s images Henner’s exhibit was appropriated;  his prints are made from high-resolution Google Earth satellite images.  Whilst Henner is known for, and is honest about, his appropriation of images, I can’t help but wish that he would exhibit his own compositions for a change.

Juan Fernando Herrán – Escalas

In his artist’s statement posted on the Prix Pictet website, Herrán writes ‘What happens when there are groups of people that hardly participate in the consumer society?  How do you live in the contemporary world when excluded from one of the concepts that underlie it?’ [3].  Herrán chose to show how the city of Medellin in Colombia is expanding into the countryside, and where growing groups of people are falling into the space between urban and rural, through exhibiting a series of images of steps (‘escalas’).  The theme running through the series of images is that the steps (or in one case a wooden plank acting as a bridge) lead nowhere, providing a very thought-provoking narrative. Along with Henner’s exhibit, Escalas was my favourite set of images, both aesthetically (simple and beautifully lit) and for their narrative.

Boris Mikailov – Tea, Coffee & Cappuccino

Mikailov exhibited a series of street-style snapshot-sized images taken over a period of ten years in his home town of Kharkow in order to document the changes in the town since the onset of Western capitalism. [1].  The images were presented in pairs in order to show the changes brought about by rampant consumerism, but to be honest I wasn’t that keen on this work (in my view it seemed amateurish which didn’t appeal but I guess this was a deliberate tactic on the part of the photographer) and I found some of changes difficult to see.

Abraham Oghobase – Untitled 2012

Oghobase had chosen to enter a series of six images of street walls in Lagos, all covered in graffiti, handbills, signboards or posters.  Shot in a rough and gritty style in black and white the images also show Oghobase interacting with the ‘advertising’ on the wall.  Whilst I liked the rough urban style of the images I wasn’t quite sure how Oghobase’s presence added value to them and I was even more unsure of how this work linked to the exhibition theme of consumption.

Allan Sekula – Fish Story

Sekula’s series of images focused on distribution and documented the shipping of container boxes around the world from the last unionised shipyard in Los Angeles.  As I work in shipping this set of images was right up my street and Sekula had captured some stunning photographs of large container ships as well as of the shipyard buildings and the people who worked there, some taken in a deadpan manner and others in a more metaphorical style.

Laurie Simmons – The Love Doll

Simmons’ work comprised a series of images of a life-sized ‘Love Doll’ from Japan, documenting her growing photographic relationship with the latex doll through a series of ‘actions’ [1].  This was not my cup of tea at all to be honest and I found Simmons’ artist statement slightly disturbing: ‘The Love Doll  is originally produced to be a mute surrogate body … I began to tease out a personality from this commodified subject and allowed her persona to emerge’. [1].    Like some other works in this exhibition I didn’t really see how this series of images linked to the topic of consumption.  Maybe as I progress in my studies all will become clear.

I found this an interesting exhibition.  Some of the works I really liked and felt drawn to, some I didn’t like at all and there were a few where I couldn’t see how they fitted into the exhibition theme of consumption.  It was very helpful having an OCA tutor present and I found it useful to have Clive’s insights both during the exhibition viewing and later over coffee with the student group in the V&A restaurant.

The main take-aways from this exhibition for me were the following:

  • Discovering the work of Juan Fernando Herrán.  I liked the simple style of his images  and the way they were full of unanswered questions.
  • Try taking a visually appealing subject and make it into something more compelling through the use of narrative and more context.
  • The importance of narrative unless each individual image can support itself
  • The realisation (which hit me when looking at Allan Sekula’s work) that metaphorical images really are more interesting and have more to say than deadpan ones.

I also enjoyed meeting up with fellow OCA students, some of whom I already knew as well as some new faces.


[1] Prix Pictet Secretariat. (2013) Consumption. London: Victoria and Albert Museum

[2]  Hagen, S. (2014) Michael Schmidt obituary (online). The Guardian.  Available from  [accessed 29 May 2014]

[3]  Herrán, J.F. Artists’s Statement [online].  Prix Pictet.  Available from  [accessed 23 May 2014]

Exhibition: Steve McCurry – ‘Afghanistan’

Back in May I went over to the Beetles + Huxley gallery in London to see the Steve McCurry exhibition ‘Afghanistan’.  Showing his work from 1979 to 2006 this beautifully-curated retrospective presented forty of McCurry’s images of the Afghan landscape, culture and people.   An informative and well laid-out catalogue accompanied the exhibition.

I have been aware of McCurry as a photographer for many years due to ‘Afghan Girl’, his iconic cover image for National Geographic magazine back in 1985 and heavily used since, and I am familiar with some of his work both in books and online, but until this exhibition I had not seen any of his work first-hand.

The exhibition comprised forty images covering many aspects of the life and culture of Afghanistan including city and rural life and of course the war.  The first surprise for me was seeing five images in black and white.  I have always associated McCurry with vivid colour so I was a little taken-aback at first.  There was no explanation as to why McCurry had chosen to shoot these images in mono however they reflect McCurry’s trademark ability to tell a story within a single photograph.  Of these five I particularly liked ‘Mujahideen Fighters Watch Convoy’ as an example of this; I felt that the story being told here is all the more powerful as the viewer cannot see who the fighters are looking at (we are told it is a Russian convoy).

Moving on to the colour images, it was noticeable how McCurry often applies the textbook rules of composition to his images and that he is a master of using light and space as narrative tools.  I felt that this use of light and space is particularly well applied in his image ‘Salat at Blue Mosque in Mazar-E-Sharif ‘  where the lighting creates a certain smoothness as well as directing the viewer’s eye to where McCurry wants them to look.

My favourite image in the exhibition and one of the strongest compositions in my view was ‘Man in Bamiyan Mosque‘.   A simple subject yet beautifully executed I find this image very inspirational with regard to what I would like to achieve from my own work.  The repetition of colour and strong architectural lines creates a receding depth to the image and also injects energy whilst the lone man sitting and reading provides the opposite emotion of tranquillity.  By looking through an open window the viewer becomes a voyeur, yet such is the calmness radiated by the man reading that the voyeurism does not feel intrusive; the viewer is not interrupting the man who is completely engaged in his reading.  This image is yet another take on ‘looking at looking’, a theme that I am finding myself repeatedly attracted to.

McCurry is not adverse to including wry humour in some of his images and one that illustrates this well is ‘Afghan Women at Shoe Store‘.  Here women in traditional Afghan dress (abeit in different colours, away from the traditional blue often demanded by the Taliban) [1] are shopping for Western sports shoes which makes for an incongruous image.

I felt privileged to view McCurry’s iconic portrait of the young green-eyed Afghan girl.  Having seen this image many times in books, I found the image even more mesmerizing to look at in real life, from the tiny specks of dirt on the girl’s skin to the reflections of distant fields in the catch-lights in her eyes. Not forgetting the range of emotions emanating from those large green eyes.   Although it could be considered a trifle hackneyed now with all its publicity, this is one image that I will never tire of.

McCurry’s portraits have a distinctive style being for the most part in bold colours, well lit and very sharp, with strong eye contact from the subject looking directly at the camera.   ‘Farmer in Jalalabad‘ steps away from this style slightly as McCurry has chosen to create a very atmospheric portrait with darker colours and tones.  A shaft of sunlight lights the lower part of the man’s face and his beard to give a real feeling of texture to the image.

Whilst there was no artist statement accompanying the exhibition, McCurry has visited Afghanistan on many occasions over the past thirty years and his work presented here was an interesting mix of travel and socially aware photography.  Whilst Afgahanistan is a country torn apart by war, McCurry does not appear to make any form of political statement, allowing the viewer to make their own judgement from his work.  Whilst the topic of war and its effects is apparent in some of the images, the bulk of this series focusses on the culture of Afghanistan. There’s a certain stillness, a quietness in many of his photographs that separates the viewer’s mind from the war troubles.

Having looked at McCurry’s work when researching for the colour section of the Art of Photography course, I was quite surprised to find a number of the images were in more muted colours than I expected.  Once I had got my head around this, I found that these images were in fact more poignant, more thoughtful as I looked more deeply at the detail rather than just the colour;  I feel that his colours can sometimes be so visually strong that they actually pull away from the composition rather than adding to it.

I really enjoyed this exhibition and I found it both stunning and thought-provoking.  The two main take-aways for me that I hope to bring into my own work are McCurry’s effective use of composition which is so visually striking (the more you look at how he he has structured the image the more you see how he has used the composition rules to make the image stand out) as well as his ability to tell a story in a single image.


[1] McCurry, S. (2014) Afghanistan.  London: Beetles + Huxley


Exhibition: Harry Callahan

I’m lucky enough to work about ten minutes walk away from the Tate Modern in London so was pleased to be able to visit the Harry Callahan exhibition there in May this year.  I must admit that whilst I had heard of Callaghan before my visit and am aware that he is considered to be a photographer of some renown, a ‘name’ in photographic circles.  I hadn’t come across his work before.  Doing a little research before my visit I found out that he was a self-taught American photographer, joining his company’s camera club.  A photographer with a very precise and technical skill-set, he would walk every morning around the city where he lived taking photographs and would then spend the afternoon producing print proofs from his morning’s work.  He was conservative with his final selections, commenting that he would produce only around half a dozen prints each year [1].

The exhibition at the Tate Modern comprised of over seventy images (both colour and black and white) and was laid out through four rooms, each designate with a specific title; ‘ Introduction’, ‘Urban Visions’,  ‘Eleanor’ (his wife) and ‘Nature and Form’.  The Introduction display held the most interesting images for me; the two stand-outs were ‘Vogue Collage’, a photograph of a collage painstakingly created from hundreds of female portraits and bringing to mind the age-old questions surrounding the male gaze, and ‘Providence, ca 1966 (Shepards)’ which at first glance seems to be of reflections in a street scene yet on closer examination proves to be a double exposure.  Callahan liked using different techniques and throughout the exhibition one finds double and multiple exposures and strong use of light as well as the compositional aids of lines, rule of thirds, points (often as spots of colour), different angles of view etc.

‘Urban Visions’ was my overall favourite section, which is not surprising really given my love of cities and architecture.  An information board in the room told us of Callahan’s interest in the relationship between architecture, design and photography and how he sought to transform the urban landscape into formal compositions.  However there were abstracts here too; reflections in windows and geometric patterns of tower block.  Callahan’s use of colour also stands out, sometimes bright, sometimes desaturated.

A third room was devoted to his wife Eleanor, filled with images of her as portraits and studies and both nude and clothed.  Having recently seen ‘Bailey’s Stardust’ where in my view Bailey’s pictures of his wife Catherine were sometimes blunt in the extreme, almost representing her as an object in some cases (although Catherine stated that she was always in control), I found Callahan’s images much softer with a gentle, tender feel to them.  I got the impression of a definite partnership between husband and wife, a ‘meeting of minds’ as it were.

The final room contained nature images.  These were not all what I would call traditional nature images; Callahan captured detail as well as the broader view. There were quite a lot of abstracts here which appealed to me, particularly for their use of pattern, texture and movement, but I was drawn to Callahan’s more simple minimalist images of grasses and other plants in snow which looked almost like pen and ink line drawings.

Whilst this exhibition does not stand out in my mind as one of the best that I have seen over the past few months, there was a lot to like about it.  Firstly it introduced me first-hand to the work of Callahan and it is always helpful in the learning process to be able to study the work of artists that are new to me.  Whilst I wouldn’t say that his style inspires me to any great degree, there are certain aspects of his work that will have a direct influence on mine, in particular his use of light and composition and the use of his camera to simplify the objects around him.  Several images in his ‘Urban Visions’ section particularly caught my attention for their use of colour and their design elements for example  ‘Ireland, 1979‘ shows good use of colour desaturation and I appreciate how the kerb and telegraph pole create a divide in the frame; I see a metaphor here for the Irish north/south divide.  I also like the way the red doors in  ‘Calais, Maine‘ form a point to attract the viewer’s eye, ever-so-carefully placed on the Rule of Thirds line.


[1] Cassidy, V.M. ‘ About Harry Callahan’ [online].  LensCulture,  Available from  [accessed 10 July 2014]

Callahan, H. (1979) ‘Calais, Maine’ [online image].  Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Available from  [accessed 11 July 2014]

Callahan, H. ‘Ireland, 1979’  [online image].  Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Available from [assessed 11 July 2014]

Callahan, H. ‘Providence, ca. 1996 (Shephards) [online image].  Jackson Fine Art.  Available from  [accessed 11 July 2014]


Exhibition: Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now

At the end of April I visited the ‘Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now’ exhibition held at Somerset House in London and presented by the Cultural Institute at King’s.  The exhibition was showing the work of eleven Rwandan professional photographers, together with invited guests, and was the result of a week-long workshop held in Kigali run by Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo and American photojournalist Brendan Bannon in which participants were encouraged to question the way their country is internationally portrayed following the Rwandan genocide in 1994 [1], [2].

To many outsiders, Rwanda is still seen as a country of death, violence and horror and the intent of the exhibition was to show the viewers images of life in Rwanda today as seen by Rwandans themselves.  The exhibition presenters also asked visitors, by way of anonymous questionnaire, to consider what they saw, to look at the images through Rwandan eyes, which I thought was an excellent and sensitive treatment by them to provoke thought and raise awareness.

The exhibition begins by asking two telling questions: ‘When you imagine Rwanda what do you see?’ and ‘Who has shaped these images in your mind?’  It is eager to show the public that Rwanda has changed following the events in 1994 and the first half of the exhibition is full of images that portray, both in content and style, how far the country has developed.  Highly saturated images of training workshops reflecting things such as job creation, barbershops, craftsmen at work, new buildings changing the country’s appearance are almost overwhelming; I felt bombarded by frantic colour.  The second part of the exhibition calms down a bit.  Images in more muted colours show how less-fortunate families are being helped out of poverty; there are images showing the excitement of aid arriving at a refugee camp in Kigeme and also an interesting series of photographs showing genocide survivors with their beloved cows which become part of the family.  We are told that survivors of the genocide are still today disproportionately affected by poverty and that whilst huge progress has been made, Rwandans still live in different categories – poor and rich.  The images become more sombre and we are shown pictures of dereliction, of slum living.  In the same room, another set of images, taken by  Esiebo, portrays the ‘returnees’, those Rwandans who were forced into exile during the violent years and who returned to their country after the genocide in order to assist with its rebuilding. Bright and radiating positivity they provide a stark contrast to life in the slum.

The exhibition had been running since mid-March and I must admit that it hadn’t been of particular interest to me until I saw some images taken in Rwanda by Simon Norfolk in the book ‘For Most Of It I Have No Words; Genocide, Landscape, Memory’ (Norfolk and Ignatieff, 1998) at the time of the genocide.  I then felt a need to visit this exhibition, to see and feel the positive contrast that I thought it would portray.  Did it meet up to my expectation? Yes, it met its intent of showing Rwanda to the outside world, as seen through Rwandan eyes, but rather than feeling upbeat about the positive strides the country has made in the last twenty years, I was left instead with an intense feeling of sadness for those survivors of the genocide who seem to have been left behind in the bright new world of Rwanda, those who are sleeping on the ground as they do not have mattresses.  A cabinet in the first room of the exhibition showed, though displays of magazine covers and newspaper articles, how photographers and journalists repeatedly picture the dead and walking wounded of Rwanda in some ways as an antidote to their realisation that the western world failed to stop the massacres.  So maybe there is a case of publicity over-saturation and people becoming numb and reduced to inaction with regard to continued help, whether monetary or in other forms, for the genocide survivors.

As an exhibition, it certainly made the viewer think and it was an inspirational idea of the presenters to ask the visitor to try to look at the work on display through Rwandan eyes rather than their own.  However I consider that it could have been curated in a slightly better manner; I felt that in the first half the viewer was overwhelmed with a large number of highly saturated images heading all over the place; in my opinion fewer, well-chosen, images would have provided a stronger focus.

Contextually, this exhibition has helped influence the direction of my final TAOP assignment, not through the subject matter, but through the emotion, the feeling of sadness and desolation that I took away from my visit.  The exhibition ratified my decision, gave me permission in my  mind to go with my gut feelings of what I wanted to convey in my assignment images; a sense of loss, of what has been left behind.

[1] Source: Arts and Humanities Research Council (online).  ‘Rwanda in Photographs – Death Then, Life Now’.  Available from—Death-Then,-Life-Now.aspx    [accessed 09 May 2014]

[2] Source: exhibition leaflet ‘Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now’  King’s College London. (2014) Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now.  Somerset House East Wing, London.  Date viewed: 28 April 2014



Exhibition: Neda Dana-Haeri and Melissa Pender – ‘Passages’

On a visit to the Barbican library in April I came across an exhibition of work by Neda Dana-Haeri and Melissa Pender.  Comprising twenty five prints, the theme of the exhibition was the exploration of the interplay of the narratives of community versus structure, time versus memory [1].  The two artists based their work on the Barbican in London, looking at the idea of community movement in two very different ways.

Pender is mainly a printmaker and for this exhibition she used the technique of photopolymer etching whereby original photographic images are transferred to light-sensitive plates which are then inked and printed using intaglio techniques [1].  Her work in this exhibition was based on architecture in and around the Barbican, making use of lines and form with often one print being repeated in different colours which led to an effective series.  Some of her exhibition images can be seen here. According to the leaflet accompanying the exhibition, Pender ‘investigates the passages of continuous movement between the past and the future.’ [1].  As a photographer who loves architecture, I appreciated the strong form and design elements in Pender’s work although I found some of the pieces a little sombre for my taste.

Dana-Haeri used painterly print-making techniques for her exhibition pieces.  Her work was a contrast to Pender’s, being very abstract and visually  appearing much lighter and softer due to her use of curves and blends of soft colours.  The exhibition leaflet stated the Dana-Haeri’s work ‘addresses the narrative of time and cultural memory with the Barbican as representing the passage of time and its role in what is remembered and what is passed on’ [1].

I must admit that I didn’t really know what to make of this exhibition.  Although I found things to like aesthetically in the work of both Pender and Dana-Haeri, I struggled to make any connection between the conceptual ambition of the exhibition and the artists’ work.  I am sure that this is down to being a Level One student and a relative novice at reading contemporary art, however I found this lack of understanding on my part quite disheartening.  I now try and consider the intent and meaning of the exhibitions that I visit and I felt that my reflection process had been improving recently, however this exhibition brought it home that I still have a lot to learn.

Although I did not find any inspiration from the pieces on display with regard to my own work, one take-way from from the exhibition was that the title of ‘Passages’ gave me an idea (‘Hidden alleyways in the City of London’) for my final TAOP assignment as it reminded me of the number of alleyways and passages in the City, many not obvious at first glance to the passer-by.  I later discarded this line of thought for the assignment for a number of reasons, however I like the idea of this as a project so will keep it up my sleeve for another time.

[1] Source: ‘Passages’ exhibition leaflet.


Exhibition: Alex MacLean – ‘Aerial Perspectives’

After visiting the ‘Bailey’s Stardust’ exhibition I had enough time at the end of the day to go over to the Beetles + Huxley gallery in Swallow Street, London to have a look at the Alex MacLean exhibition ‘Aerial Perspectives’.

 I’ve found that I’m becoming fascinated with aerial photography (looking at it, not doing it!).  It all started with seeing Edward Burtynsky’s and David Maisel’s aerial images at the Landmark: Fields of Photography exhibition in May last year.  The work of both photographers was beautiful and striking to view yet horrifying in what it portrayed, how man is destroying the natural environment.  Later on I came across the work of Daniel Beltrá whose ’Spill” visually showed the world the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, images again that were beautiful in appearance yet obscene in what they documented.

MacLean gained a degree in architecture and his pilot’s licence before setting up his own company which specialises in aerial photography for planners, architects and designers as well as environmentalists [1].  The exhibition consisted of forty-one large wall-mounted photographs and the first thing I noticed when walking into the gallery was the sheer colour, brightness and vibrance of the images, aided by clever use of lighting.  Many of the images tell a story of modern life, documenting the everyday evidence of humans – housing developments, huge car parks, crowded beaches, the agricultural industry however MacLean does not ignore the negative environmental impact caused by man; his images of pit mines and tailings resembling abstract paintings and two photographs of rows and rows of disused and rusting B-52 bombers remind us of man’s seeming desire to destroy his natural environment.

As the subjects are photographed from above and the view is invariably flat, three-dimensional objects become two-dimensional and, seen from high above, form patterns, lines and curves. Simply awe-inspiring for those of us who love elements of design.  In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition MacLean explains his use of composition:

One thing you see clearly from the air is the arrangement of man-made objects and distinct markings that tell us so much about culture and the people living on the land.  With the distance of the aerial perspective, it’s as if you are looking at a perfect model of basic organisational principles. (p3)

 He goes on to say

Perhaps what is most fun is highlighting these patterns through composition and light angles. (p3)

Whilst MacLean’s images showed his concern for what man is doing to the environment, I didn’t get the impression that he was trying to make too much of a socio-political statement through his work.  Whilst I can see a similarity in his work with that of Burtynksky, Maisel and Beltrá, for me MacLean’s images are more of a gentle, thought-provoking and intriguing investigation into man’s relationship, both commercial and personal, with the environment rather than trying to make a strong point about the negative effect that man is having on the natural world.

Although MacLean did not provide an artist’s statement to accompany this exhibition, a look afterwards at his website tells us that:

His powerful and descriptive images provide clues to understanding the relationship between the natural and constructed environments [2]. 

Although this exhibition was only a small part of his work I felt that the images reflected this intent, albeit sometimes in a humorous manner, for example ‘Marked Territory, Viareggio, Italy, 2010’  and ‘Umbrella Territory, Camaiore, Tuscany, Italy, 2010’  both reflect upon the quirkiness of human behaviour en-masse at play, and sometimes bizarrely, as shown in ‘Golf Oasis in Desert Hills, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, 2009’  and ‘Community Pool without Community, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, 2009’.

This was an exhibition that I really enjoyed.  I was sucked into the colour and the graphic design and I could have easily compiled a shortlist of ten or so images to take home.  My favourite without question was the striking ‘Bay Channel, Fremont, California, USA, 1984’  due to its simplicity, both in style and colour as well as the curve of the channel which sweeps the eye through the picture and which is complemented by the diagonal line of pylons in the foreground.  Close runners-up were ‘Directionless Lobster Boats, Tremont, Maine, USA, 2008’ for the sheer randomness of the pattern (it looks a lot more impressive in real life that on screen), ‘Hadley Tobacco Barns, Hadley, Massachusetts, USA, 1978’ for the colour and lighting and ‘Logging Rafts, Olympia, Washington, USA, 2005’  for its simple yet effective abstraction. Would I have paid money to see this exhibition?  Absolutely.  Would I go and see MacLean’s work again?  Definitely.

[1] Source: MacLean, A. (2014) Aerial Perspectives. London: Beetles + Huxley

[2] Source: Alex S. MacLean: Aerial Photographer (online).  Available from   [accessed 12 May 2014]