Saving the desperate ‘bride’ by Li Yang, 3rd prize singles ( spot news) at World Press photo 2012
In the past few months, I have been busy visiting various photography exhibitions all over London. Finally, I feel that photography is being more ‘recognised’ as an art form, and it’s great to see so many major museums and galleries giving photography the prominent position it deserves.
I am a huge fan of photojournalism from decades earlier, I love the nostalgic black and white photography by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Bill Brandt, George Brassaï, Marc Riboud, Paul Strand, Lee Miller, and the list goes on. Unlike photography today which can be easily manipulated (even in photojournalism), photography from the golden era (1930s-60s) documented what was happening, and usually with strong narratives and objectivity, which often stir up the viewers’ emotions.
This season, I saw quite a few outstanding and thought-provoking exhibitions including:
Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s at Barbican – An exhibition full of powerful and historical photos by 12 key figures who recorded important world events during that period like the civil rights movement, Vietnam war, Cultural revolution and Cold war. The amazing range of works included the late Japanese photographer, Shomei Tomatsu, Li Zhensheng and Bruce Davidson, but I was particularly moved by the two South African photographers, David Goldblatt and the rather ill-fated Ernest Cole, a hero who used his skills to fight for what he believed in.
World press photo 2012 at South Bank Centre – A contemporary photojournalism contest, with many stunning and powerful images reminded us of the important and untold events that happened in the previous year including the Japanese tsunami, war in Libya and the mass shooting in Norway etc.
Left: By Shaofeng Xu Right: North Korea by Damir Sagolj, 1st prize singles (daily life)
William Klein and Daido Moriyama at Tate Modern – An exceptional double retrospective of two great photographers of our generation, with over 300 photos capturing urban street life in New York and Tokyo since the 1950s. Almost all the photos were black and white, and many of which are raw, blurry, grainy and experimental. There were also typographic art and film extracts by Klein, showing the diversity of his skills. While Klein‘s work is more energetic and upbeat ( yet his films and documentaries are sarcastic and fun); Moriyama’s work is darker and more sinister, but still fascinating. I am not always a fan of Tate Modern’s exhibitions, but I really enjoyed this.
Tim Walker: Story telling at Somerset House ( until 27th January) – Moving away from photojournalism into fashion, but Walker‘s work is exciting, ambitious, surreal, dazzling, theatrical and full of dark humour. At the exhibition, many of his ‘larger than life’ ( literally!) size props are on display which allows the visitors to see the scale, mechanics and effort behind the photo shoots. Simply mind-blowing.
Shoot! Existential Photography at Photographer’s gallery – This was a surprisingly cool and fascinating exhibition that traced the history of the photographic shooting galleries at fairgrounds and amusement parks after the First World War. I have never heard of this activity before the exhibition, which involves shooting the centre of a target, then a camera would be triggered and the participant would win a snapshot of him or herself in the act of shooting, as in a self-portrait.
Apparently this activity fascinated many famous people like Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Simone de Beauvoir, but the most amazing of all was the documentation of Ria van Dijk, a Dutch lady whose portrait was first taken at the age of 16 and has continued this activity until today, 76 years later! I am just surprised that why she hadn’t applied to be sniper in the army!
Best of all, at the end of the exhibition, visitors had the opportunity to take their own portraits in a photographic shooting gallery themselves!
The mechanics behind the gun and camera…
Juergen Teller: Woo! at ICA ( until 17th March) – this new exhibition that just opened last week is going be a popular one especially with the fasionistas. But besides the images of celebrities and fashion models, there are works like Irene im Wald and Keys to the House that are more personal and subdued. His work is provocative, raw, confrontational, and unglamourous ( his style is almost the opposite from Tim Walker‘s), it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s definitely intriguing and unique.
The exhibitions that could have been excellent but weren’t:
Seduced by art: photography past & present at National Gallery – I thought this exhibition was rather pointless and uninspiring. Yes, there were many interesting work ( including the photography below) but the link/ relationship between art and photography was not explored in depth and it didn’t do photography much justice either. As a viewer, I felt detached from what I saw and I left wondering what was it all about.
Maisie Maud Broadhead’s Keep Them Sweet
Light from the Middle East: New Photography at V & A ( until 7th April) – The subject matter of this exhibition is really interesting, but I felt slightly let down by the content. Again, for its lack of depth, it could have been more thought-provoking but instead it is rather ‘wishy-washy’, interesting enough but not much more.
Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour at Somerset House ( until 27th Jan) – Probably like many others, I was misled by the name of this exhibition, expecting to see work by Cartier-Bresson. Instead I saw only 10 of them ( not his well-known ones), and the rest are works in colour by other photographers who were influenced by him. Some of them look rather ‘staged’ and I question the authenticity of these ‘street photography’. Sadly, there is not much to write home about.
Now I am looking forward to Man Ray Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery which will open next month. I am sure this will be very interesting, so don’t miss it!