Author Archive

REVIEW: Diana Matar @ Purdy Hicks Gallery


In a quest for historic truth, Diana Matar has been documenting Libya and Egypt’s urban landscape. Her recent solo show at Purdy Hicks Gallery, Evidence, Disappearance, Witness and Still Far Away, follows the invisible figure of a disappeared man, whose mysterious fate is emblematic of Libya’s dark past.

In 1990, the artist’s father-in-law Jaballah, a Libyan political dissident, was kidnapped by the Egyptian secret service while in exile in Cairo. Matar journeyed to Libya and Egypt looking for traces. In the resulting work, his shadow appears throughout; we may never see his face, but his presence is palpable and bears the heavy burden of secrecy.

How can we photograph that which cannot be seen? The one who cannot be found? As the disappeared man’s life is brought to life in these images, so too is the country’s political and social story. Images of ghostly streets, Brassaï-like inscriptions on the city walls, leave us thirsty for clues. Here, the camera is both an instrument of investigation and a therapeutic aid; and the photographic medium’s presupposed veracity and capacity to render the truth, its most challenging quality. If it was instinct that guided the making of this work–so dependent on the artist’s family’s situation at the time–it includes an important reflection on the medium’s very nature: within a factual document, reality can only resonate. 

Tracing the ephemeral footsteps of anonymous victims, Matar records deserted buildings and streets where opponents of the Libyan regime were sequestrated. Sites that are now the silent and singular witnesses of voiceless events. The disturbing beauty of such documentation carries the very anxiety that it sprung from: the fear of seeing our forebodings confirmed. While the images are a constant reminder of what has presumably–or certainly–happened, we are not shown anything morbid; the accompanying texts provide these details. Through her sombre, quiet imagery, the artist collates evidence of the past and tells the moving tale of disappearance and political manipulation–the painful and constant wait, the inconsolable minds that know nothing.

The surreal night shots and quiet tableaux of the city allow for a variation of interpretation, a possible rebirth for the country and its damaged inhabitants. It is simply, perhaps, the embodiment of the impenetrable quality of passing of time and its eternal elements, unaffected by the horrors of history.

In her book Evidence Matar tells us about the fear that she and ‘H’ (Matar’s husband, Libyan writer Hisham Matar) lived in. Placed under surveillance by the regime, they received threats for their open criticism of the dictatorship. Today, they cannot return to Libya. The significance of her photographs has exposed dangerous views.

Jaballa is still missing. We know nothing.

-Céline Bodin


Diana Matar @ Purdy Hicks Gallery. Showing until 6 June 2016.

Image captions:

Diana Matar, Disappearance series, 2008.

Diana Matar, Evidence series, 2012

Diana Matar, Still Far Away series, 2012

Diana Matar, Witness series, 2012

BODIN_CV Céline Bodin is a French photographer. She graduated from a photography BA at Gobelins, L’école de l’image in Paris, and in 2013 she moved to London to complete a Photography MA at the London College of Communication. As well as regularly writing about photography, Céline works closely with London universities and galleries. Her photography practice revolves around the themes of identity and gender in the frame of Western culture, as well as landscape photography and the philosophy of the Sublime.

REVIEW: Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers @ the Barbican Centre

Curated by Magnum photographer Martin Parr and the Barbican’s Alona Pardo, Strange and Familiar is an impressive exhibition comprising 23 acclaimed international photographers, each documenting our nation’s changing social and psychic landscape. The iconography of our isles is omnipresent and familiar: bowler hats and London slums, aristocrats and bleary eyed hippies, rolling green hills and grim northern vistas. However, the majority of photographers manage to impose their own subjectivity onto these sometimes clichéd images, articulating something that goes beyond the stereotype.

The first floor is dedicated to humanistic works and photojournalism by greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Evelyn Hofer, focusing on the ordinary lives of working class people. One of the earliest photographers included, Edith Tudor-Hart saw the camera as “a political weapon” that would draw attention to the marginalised with an aim to instigate change. Her black and white photos of London focus on families in slum housing, socialist demonstrations and the unemployed, with one particularly evocative picture of deprivation showing a dirt besmirched young girl peering desirously through a bakery window. Similarly, Paul Strand documented the hard lives of the working classes, focusing on the communities of the Outer Hebrides in the 1950s. His photos show them worn and rugged like the stone houses they inhabit, hands gnarled by labour but exuding an unshakeable stoicism nonetheless. These early photographers, working between the 1930s and 1960s, all channel the touching dignity, empathy and solidarity of their subjects.

The austerity and hardship of these images give way to ‘flower power’ in Gian Butturini and Frank Habicht’s captivating images of London in the Swinging Sixties, the latter’s work conveying the optimism and relaxing moral attitudes of the time. The sense of liberation is palpable. We see it in a youth’s rapture at a Rolling Stones concert and the casual smiles of friends perched on a roof. The contradictions of the era are nicely exposed too. A shot of flamboyantly dressed youths in Chelsea is juxtaposed with that of a drably attired woman with a cart of old goods. Men and women pose coolly on Carnaby Street beside shots of anti-war protesters as the Vietnam War looms in the background.

As singular as many of the images are, their black and white profusion begets a sort of photographic ennui and their impact becomes muted. A much needed visceral kick comes however in the cold intensity of Akihiko Okamura’s work during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Focusing on the Battle of the Bogside, the “deathly static, quiet expression” characteristic of the Japanese Kompora group invests these blue hued images with latent violence; solemn faced women distribute cups of tea amid the conflict and milk bottles sit innocently on doorsteps, later to be used as petrol bombs.

Moving downstairs there is a perceptible shift from humanistic, documentary photography to more abstract, fragmented and self-reflexive work: photography as fine art. A gradual atomisation of society can be read into these later images as communal spheres start to disappear. Axel Hütte’s shots of London’s housing estates avoid “signs of civilization or narrative indication, so in [the] best case you are lost in time and space.” Built to house working class communities, he reduces these estates to a combination of shapes, textures and surfaces, abstracting them from their social purpose to intriguing aesthetic ends. Shinro Ohtake’s photographs are a surprise joy, finding tranquillity in the ordinary. Narrowly defined spaces take precedence over people; mood reigns over events. Documenting the textures and sights of everyday life (a row of garages, a parked car in a driveway, the light of the sun through the leaves), they arguably transcend nationhood to unveil the universal beauty of daily life.

We end with Hans Eijkleboom’s slideshow of shoppers at the Birmingham Bull Ring, where surreptitiously snapped individuals have been categorised in grids according to formal similarities in behaviour and dress. People of all races and creeds are shown similarly clothed, suggesting not only the homogenising effect of globalisation but prompting the question of how personal identity reconciles itself with a wider communal identity.

The exhibition is ambitious and the photographers’ work impressive, though a narrower scope and a less pre-defined idea of Britishness might have allowed greater space for contemplation. Like Martin Parr’s own output, social class is a central and structuring principle throughout Strange and Familiar. Even when the works become increasingly contemporary, they still obey the binary of either very rich or desperately poor. Despite this, it is possible to perceive in the temporal sweep of the exhibition the ever-evolving nature of British identity, and at its best our shared humanity.

– Daniel Pateman

Strange and Familiar @ Barbican Art Gallery. Showing until 19 June 2016

Image captions:

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers Curated by Martin Parr

Installation View, Barbican Art Gallery, London 16 February – 19 June 2016 © Tristan Fewings/ Getty Images

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers Curated by Martin Parr

Installation View, Barbican Art Gallery, London 16 February – 19 June 2016 © Tristan Fewings/ Getty Images

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers Curated by Martin Parr

Installation View, Barbican Art Gallery, London 16 February – 19 June 2016 © Tristan Fewings/ Getty Images

65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)Daniel Pateman
studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.

REVIEW: Martin Parr: Unseen City at the Guildhall Art Gallery

There is perhaps something ingenuous in Martin Parr’s words that “all I do is photograph ordinary things”.  While his work is based in ‘the everyday’, he is drawn to the singular and the bizarre, the colourful and the kitsch. Unseen City is no exception. Housed at Guildhall Art Gallery, two large rooms display his output as the City of London’s resident photographer, a post he has held since 2013. In documenting the centuries old traditions of The City of London Corporation he has been granted unprecedented access to a world of private ceremony and public parades. Such is the somewhat alien nature of these practices that a handy Glossary is available to explain the meaning behind practices like “Beating the Bounds”, “Swan Upping” and “The Trial of the Pyx” – phrases that would otherwise leave you scratching your head in confusion.

While his subject-matter tends to be idiosyncratic, his approach elucidates the real and the common. As exhibition curator Katty Pearce states, he is just as interested in “the unguarded […] banal and boring bits” as he is the extraordinary. He is the photographic equivalent of Andy Warhol. Both have a penchant for the trashy and mundane and both are fascinated by people. Showcasing this latter preoccupation, Parr captures his subjects’ unusual behaviour and expressions in incredible detail – employing a ring flash to remove obscuring shadows and a macro lens to highlight every follicle and pore – exposing them for our curious gaze.

In contrast with his earlier work (the rather lurid depiction of British holidaymakers in The Last Resort for example) Unseen City appears positively genteel. You will find no vomit-inducing banquets or Henry the VIII-style debauchery here. And while there is a lot of pomp on display, there is very little pomposity. Instead we have shots of well-presented, smiling school children lunching at Guildhall or an elderly man dozing off during Knollys Rose Ceremony. One endearing image depicts a member of The Company of Watermen focusing hard as he tries to do up the gold buttons on his uniform. There is a vulnerability and humanity in these shots – of real and ruddy faces caught unawares – that shines out above the fancy dress and ornate ephemera.

It is difficult to come to a definitive conclusion as to whether Parr intends to critique or merely document the peculiar rituals of the City. Is he playing the satirist or producing fodder for the historical archive? Unseen City does evidence his signature eye for the absurd; an unoccupied pair of Cavalry Boots in Guildhall Yard or musketeers marching past a Pret a Manger for example. The series also makes it clear that the social makeup of these organisations is, as Parr himself explicitly states, “very white [and] very middle class”. Not only are people of colour under-represented, but women appear somewhat side-lined too. This is directly addressed under the photo of Fiona Wolf when one reads that she is only the second female Lord Mayor of the last 800 years!  The curator of Unseen City understands Parr’s approach to be one without “malicious intent or critique” and his work of a “documentary, even anthropological sensibility.” To what extent such neutrality is feasible it is difficult to say.  It is clear however that the potency of his work comes from its openness to interpretation and the absence of a definitive reading.

One unifying thread throughout Parr’s work is his examination of a particularly British mentality. Unseen City depicts crowds of modern Britons lining the streets, looking on in amusement through their iPhones as elaborately adorned men execute some historical imperative. In gay apparel they march past grey-faced observers waiting with weary patience in the rain. There is something absurd, very British and incredibly Martin Parr about all of that.

– Daniel Pateman

Martin Parr: Unseen City @ Guildhall Art Gallery. Showing until 31 July 2016

Image captions:

St Matthew’s Day Parade, Mayoral Car, City of London, 2014. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
The Drapers’ Livery 650th Anniversary, TheQueen visiting the Drapers’ LiveryHall 2014. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
Lord Mayor’s Show, City of London, 2013. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)Daniel Pateman
studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.



Great sculptures are engaging from any perspective. Whether viewed from the back, side or front, they offer their audience something to consider. Similarly, great exhibitions hold up under the myriad angles from which they might be approached. An awareness of one’s own personal perspective is important to bear in mind when viewing the Brooklyn Art Museum’s current photography show exploring Israel and the West Bank, This Place, on view through June 5th, 2016. Organized by Frédéric Brenner (his work is also featured) and curated by Charlotte Cotton, the exhibition features 600 works by twelve artists, who are not Palestinian or Israeli, but who came to Israel and the West Bank between 2009 and 2012 to create work for this project. Likely this conceptual decision was made with the intention of making the exhibition as unbiased as possible—and to work around the cultural boycott which inhibits Palestinians and Israelis from working together; however, this choice also limits the windows we are given into “this place.”

I, for one, came to the show with the personal experience of having spent three weeks in the West Bank in 2013 teaching photography to Palestinian youth, and I came away from the exhibition feeling like their story—and the story of the larger Palestinian population in general—was not properly shared in the exhibition. There are only hints of the daily drudgery and harassment experienced by Palestinians. Missing from the overall exhibition is any discussion of the issues surrounding ID checks for Palestinians and the limitations on their movement throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Gaza itself was completely missing. Most problematic, several large scale portraits of Israeli settlers by Nick Waplington and Frédéric Brenner, which show whole Jewish families at dinner or assembled in front of or inside their homes, are not matched in any way by similar representations of Palestinians. This absence gives the message that only one group has ownership of this place.

As outsiders, the photographers in this exhibition had to decide whether or not to engage in political commentary or develop relationships with the communities they worked within. For the most part, it seems, the artists avoided taking positions. While Gilles Peress’ street photography, for instance, focused on Silwan, a village just outside the walls of old Jerusalem, the ongoing demolition of Palestinian homes there was not in any way present in his images. This comes across as a considerable misprision when one considers the unblinking eye with which Peress has looked upon such conflict zones as Bosnia, Rwanda and Northern Ireland.

Instead of the struggles between Palestine and Israel, the land itself is an important theme in this exhibition. The first major room features several bodies of work that illustrate landscapes, empty of humans. While this works to focus our attention on the environment, it also reinforces the impression that this is an an unoccupied, promised land, waiting for colonization. I kept looking for the scenes I had witnessed first hand of old Palestinian men tending to olive trees, farmers standing in wheat fields, children shepherding or harvesting potatoes. They are not present.

The empty landscapes and cityscapes of Stephen Shore’s work reminded me of the trope “a land without people, a people without a land,” used to justify the Zionist colonization of Palestine after World War II. Meanwhile, the drone-perspective of the Sinai Desert captured in Fazal Sheikh’s aerial photographs is texturally and conceptually interesting, as is the visual range given between the high elevation landscape photography and his portraiture (the latter are not present in this exhibition but can be found in the museum’s gift shop in Sheikh’s photo book set). Sheikh’s title for this series, Desert Bloom, is an ironic commentary on Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s historic promise to “make the desert bloom” through Jewish settlement.

Daybreak, a large scale photograph by Jeff Wall greets you at the entrance. It depicts a small group of Bedouins sleeping in an open field on tarps under cheap Chinese-made blankets, an Israeli prison rising in the background. Wall recreated the scene after witnessing it on a previous visit. While this is the artist’s standard working process, here it also simulates a core concept in the creation of Israel: the act of recreating a remembered reality. And while provocative and poignant, this shot also reinforces the image of the Palestinian as a vagrant and temporary nomad of this land.

Although many of the works that Rosalind Fox Solomon produced for this project address the “othering” that is done so well in this region, they are not included in the exhibition. They can be seen in her book, judiciously titled THEM. The works presented in the exhibition extend her interest in the odd among us but come across more universal in theme and less specific to the subject of Israel and Palestine. In some ways the most disengaged was Jung Jin Lee, whose large scale black and white photographs of stark landscapes and man-made objects could have been from any place in the world. Yet, the photo of the tightly bound bale of barbwire, sitting alone in a barren landscape do speak volumes about the forces of war and national borders.

Wendy Ewald, despite her initial disinterest in working in Israel, takes many brave forays into both the Israeli and Palestinian worlds. The American photographer and educator chooses not to present her own photographs, instead she teaches photography skills within communities and then collects and curates the photographs they produce. In this series, she collaborated with diverse student populations (Muslim, Druze, and Christian) of The Sisters of Nazareth, the Melach Haretz Military School, and the Stateless Al Nawar (or Gypies), to name a few. The images are printed postcard size and presented in groups within a wooden large frame. The display format for this work is beautiful, if somewhat overwhelming—the impact lessened somewhat by the sheer number of images–but Ewalds appears to stand alone in bringing together the opposing sides of a conflict through her work and opening a window to their voices and lives.

Recognizing the strength of my own perspective, I made a point of asking a wide range of visitors for their impressions. Two dual citizens of Israel and the United States, a husband and wife, gave me valuable insights: the husband pointed out the although the Israeli settler portraits by Waplington and Brenner are powerful in their large scale presence, they represented the fringe of Israeli life. “They are not the average Israeli. We had not ever even seen the sect which wears the covering over their eyes. They exoticize us in these portraits.” The wife felt the photography was balanced but had real problems with the artists’ statements, feeling they all slanted “to the left – just like all exhibitions on Israel in New York City.” Frédéric Brenner’s statement, for example: “Repairing the world begins by repairing the world in us. There is no other promised land. It belongs to no one and to everyone. It is everywhere awaiting our return.”

In almost every instance of the feedback I received, Josef Koudelka’s installation elicited the strongest praise or criticism. Installed in a waist high viewing case, a concertina book with images of the separation wall traverses the first large room of the exhibition—acting as a wall itself. For many, this book brought out the strongest emotions and responses. The stark black and white photographs, the relevance of this wall to our own border issues, and a text that clearly explains the Palestinian community’s struggles with its existence, contributed to this reaction. The Israeli couple felt that Koudelka’s presentation of the subject did not share the Israeli perspective over the wall.

While This Place gives us many views of Israel and the West Bank, it reinforces some concepts about the region that need to be looked at more frankly and bravely. Though, regardless of one’s perspective—in this case, my own—this is still an important show worth your time and consideration, from all angles.

On view now through June 5, 2016


Todd Drake is a photographer, educator, and human rights activist. His exhibitions tours nationally and he has worked most recently overseas in Palestine and the Turkish-Syrian border. A teaching artist for BRIC Arts Media, Drake lives in Brooklyn, NY.


REVIEW: Secret Agent: Between Invisibility and Hypervisibility at Guest Projects Space

Secret Agent: Between Invisibility and Hypervisibility

The ‘Secret Agent’ referred to in the title of Hemera’s show relates to the agency and activism in enabling feminist and post-feminist representational visibility under the patriarchal order. If “invisible” is the under or mis-represented subject in cultural production and “hyper-visible” is the sharp positioning of victimhood in relation to notions of ‘othering’ then Hemera’s show, to my mind, operates somewhere in between, where visibility is created through challenging the status quo self-reflexively, through its own visual paradigms and institutional frameworks.

The exhibition, held at Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Projects in January 2016, was shown last year in Helsinki at the Finnish Museum of Photography. It seems apt that Maud Sulter be included in this group show at Guest. Sulter, who recently passed away, offers an important departure point for thinking in art historical terms about where certain visual codes originate from, not unlike aspects of Shonibare’s own enquiry. Her photo-collages from the series Jeanne: A Melodrama (1994) draw together disparate visual forms from an image economy spanning an anonymous field of subjects, personalising them into imaginary incarnations of Jeanne Duval – Charles Baudelaire’s muse and Nadar’s anonymous sitter the Unknown Woman.

The continuation of anonymity and invisibility is played through Mathilde ter Heijne’s Women to Go (2005 – ongoing), an installation of a large retail-like display of postcards inviting viewers to browse, choose and keep. The face of each postcard depicts an anonymous woman photographed between the invention of the daguerreotype and the 1920s and inscribed on the reverse is a short biography of a woman of significant achievement, yet still not widely recognised. This disrupted photo-text concept incorporates both the negation and non-identification of the women as legitimate subjects and plays on the concealment of positive roles by those who canonise history.

A number of works in the exhibition re-address and re-configure history through the lens of the present. Aura Satz’s lightbox installation employs stills from Cecil B DeMille’s silent film Joan the Woman (1916), and through the embedded sound, creates an act of un-silencing Joan of Arc at the point of her execution. Satz’s layers of abstraction are further implicated through the predominant female labour involved in the hand-colouring of film in the movie industry of the early 20th century. Niina Vatanen’s re-working of Helvi Ahonen’s amateur photographic archive in Archival Studies/ A Portrait of an Invisible Woman, projects the potential of new narratives in photographic production with transposing and overlaying strategies onto print composition and form. Sarah Beddington’s plastic tube binoculars offer a distinct and intimate view of Palestinian processions from the early part of the 20th Century. These pieces also form an important entry point in which to consider her film, The Logic of Birds. It depicts a performative procession staged in Palestine based on an ancient Sufi poem where birds follow a migratory journey in order to seek a leader. The film acts as a strong metaphor for the exhibition, through its agency and through the possibility of the collective being empowered by looking within.

Around the peripheries of the exhibition’s more prominent themes sits the work of Ye Funa and Beth Collar. Funa’s satirical take on formal ethnic identities and projected ideologies of perfection, forms a vibrant entrance to the exhibition. A large grid of portraits in national costume encloses a centrally embedded plasma screen, statically showing an idealised landscape into which figures gently appear and disappear against the sound of a cascading waterfall. Beth Collar’s conceptual illustrations/sculptures on the other hand offer a mythical and symbolic play in perceiving an alternative visibility. Her drawings could be seen as an allegory of the ‘other side’ where mysterious cloaked figures are seen hidden from us. Collar’s presentation is framed by root vegetables signifying a past time, perhaps in pointing towards a pre-modern ritual or in emphasising the ambiguity of her ungendered representation.

Possibly throughout history, what fluctuates between invisibility and hyper-visibility is the way in which gendered discourse moves to and fro, into and out of cultural and political consciousness. This is perhaps most evident in the work of Aleksandra Domanovic. In The Future Was At Her Fingertips, she sets a chronology of technological and political change where women act as central agents or figures of influence, most notably in the development of computer technologies and media. Placed alongside this timeframe, her sculptures signify the importance of the symbolic order through cultural hand gestures, as monuments resisting male-dominated artifice in technology and embodying the power to transform.

– Sunil Shah

Secret Agent Group Show curated by Hemera Collective @ Guest Projects Space London 9 – 30 Jan, 2016

All installation shots by Ben Westoby

photo-8 Sunil Shah is an artist and curator based in Oxford, UK. He is interested in the politics of photographic representation and conceptual post-documentary practices with relation to history, memory and identity. He has undertaken several curatorial projects including Making Home at the Royal Geographic Society, London for the HLF funded Exiles Project and acted as co-curator for Brighton Photo Fringe Open ’13. He holds degrees from Coventry University and the University of Westminster.





It’s been more than 50 years since Silent Spring indicted the human race for systematic destruction of the planet, and over 150 years since Thoreau allegorized Walden Pond as an analogy for the innate freedom of man. At a time when the earth’s natural environment at last takes center stage as a global political platform of its own, Doug Fogelson’s new works — prismatic, saturated views of forests, treses, fields, and mountains — presciently honor nature while implying the artist’s anxiety about its destruction. By layering multiple exposures and manipulating color film before printing his large-scale works, Fogelson creates hyper-energized, collage-like pictures that suggest the ever-changing quality of nature as well as threats to its longevity. In works such as Ceaseless No. 1, 2015, the torn and wrinkled layers of film pigment fan out in translucent magenta and cyan sheathes, giving way to an image of dense forest that bleeds into full resolution where the film remained undestroyed.

A lover of color and the mechanics of film development, Fogelson has long explored ways in which the act of making photographs can innately reference environmental fragility. A recent series featured a grouping of full-color Photograms made with plants, insects, bones, and other natural elements. Graphic and vibrant, the works showed once-living objects in silhouette, having exposed the photosensitive paper in stages to create the effect of shadows. Beneath broken-glass picture frames, Fogelson’s photograms allude to the impermanence of nature: What lives today may just as well be a fossilized relic tomorrow.

Fogelson’s newer works expand on the color sensibilities of his photograms with an added depth of field. In psychedelic hues that at times translate as a sepia tone (such as the fade-out quality of Creative Destruction No. 2, 2016, which slides from full-color, sun-dappled foliage into pastel pinks and greens) or the colors one might see in a dream (Creative Destruction No. 4, 2016, an abstracted pond that appears as an acid-bath topography: lime green plants in the foreground; neon blue water in the back), Fogelson’s photographs evoke a sense of nostalgia and wistfulness – a melancholy that premeditates an urgency to preserve the environment. Though the artist’s hand contorts and bruises his images of nature, in doing so he also creates capsulated jewel box depictions of an endangered world.


On view at Sasha Wolf Gallery till April 16, 2016

Anne Prentnieks is New York City-based art writer and critic for publications including and WSJ Magazine.

REVIEW: Masahisa Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens at Michael Hoppen Gallery

Masahisa Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens

Nestled in the warm, study-like space upstairs at the Michael Hoppen gallery, Masahisa Fukase’s forlorn, melancholic images of ravens encircle the room. Like Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock before him, the photographer did little to improve the reputation of these tar-black birds. In folklore and popular culture they are a sign of ill omen; the flag bearers of loss and death. In Japanese mythology particularly they are supernatural beings, disruptive and dangerous. Fukase’s own tragic narrative does little to dissuade these associations.

Born in 1934 in Hokkaido, Japan, he grew up part of a nation recovering from the psychological scars of defeat after World War II. His second marriage to his wife Yōko Wanibe was intense. While she became the subject of one of his first major successes, Yōko (1978), she was unable to cope with his controlling personality and eventually divorced him in 1976. Alone and broken-hearted, he suffered heavily from depression and found solace in drink. In 1992 he fell down the stairs of his favourite bar and into a coma, a state he remained in for 20 years until he passed away.

While Kill the Pigs (1961) reflected the photographer’s grim sensibilities, his separation from Yoko resulted in the bleak, icy output that became The Solitude of Ravens (1975-82). While the exhibition title is something of a misnomer – ravens being thought to mate for life and live in groups – it shows just how much Fukase came to identify himself with these gloomy-looking birds. The raven itself is not the subject of the series but a symbol; a site of myriad references and allusions. Most telling then are not the images of monochrome flocks of birds perched in trees, but those mysterious anomalies in which the bird is absent but its imagery is evident.

One such picture, suffusing both nostalgia and foreboding, consists of three young girls on a boat overlooking the ocean. Backs to the camera, their slick black hair is whipped into fluttering tufts by the wind, conjuring the raven’s figurative presence. Darkness dominates the foreground. The picture underexposed and their faces obscured, feelings of loss and remembrance predominate. Like Poe’s infamous poem The Raven, in which the narrator is visited by the titular bird while lamenting the death of his cherished Lenore, the photo is an ode to lost love, evoking the same mournful, somewhat animistic associations. Arguably, the raven of the series is a symbolic stand-in for Yōko; conjuring the memory of her and being the focus of Fukase’s photography until he remarried in 1982.

It has been suggested that Fukase’s work is social as well as personal, embodying the turbulences of post-war Japan. The final shot of the exhibition – a flock of the birds with their wings outstretched against a dark sky like a squadron of warplanes – certainly fits this reading of invasion and the final defeat of the nation. That Fukase might also be interested in drawing attention to environmental issues is evident in a shot of a bare branch lying across a backdrop of smoke-belching chimneys. But, as Michael Hoppen argues, the series is first and foremost “a personal lament reflecting the darkened vision of the photographer.” His worldview had become increasingly pessimistic and doom-laden and the stark imagery of Ravens is testament to that. As you view his images you can perceive his sense of self disintegrating. On finishing the series, he even stated that he had now “become a raven.”
– Daniel Pateman

Masahisa Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens @ Michael Hoppen Gallery until 23 April

Image captions:

Seikan Ferryboat, 1976 © Masahisa Fukase Archives
Nayoro, 1976 © Masahisa Fukase Archives
Dream Island, Tokyo, 1980 © Masahisa Fukase Archives
Erimo Cape, 1976 © Masahisa Fukase Archives

65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)
Daniel Pateman
studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.

REVIEW: Lee Miller: A Woman’s War at the Imperial War Museum

The photographer who had her images of Buchenwald published in Vogue is the subject of a new retrospective.

A woman sits in the bath and washes her back with a flannel, looking up and over the camera at an unseen observer. On the edge of the bath sits a black and white photo of the man who owns the flat: a middle-aged German man in military uniform, with a now unmistakable toothbrush moustache.

Lee Miller began her artistic career as a surrealist, and her abiding interest in surrealism is a strong theme running through this exhibition staged at the Imperial War Museum, London.

From the painting she posed for at the start of her career, to the dark eyes of rafters in snow that are pictured in her post-war photos of the Balkans, her images marry the bizarre and the banal.

Miller was one of four photographers to be accredited as an official photographer for the US Army and had unrivaled access to record the lives of troops and civilians in the Second World War.

A Woman’s War opens with a traumatic event from Miller’s early childhood that will, for some visitors, frame the rest of the exhibition. It also opens with Miller’s career as a model and subject which had a huge influence on her work. For example, the exhibition opens with a shot Miller took of a model wearing a sabre guard over her shoulder like a couture sleeve. According to notes, it was a re-imagining of a Man Ray image that pictured Miller wearing the guard as a mask, posing nude.

During the war, Miller photographed fashion models, posing them in front of blitzed buildings and on the threshold of bomb shelters. Even in these images, there are still touches of surrealism: photos of blast marks shaped like the British Gas mascot Mr Therm, and models’ pretty faces hidden behind gas masks.

Miller’s post-war women dominate this exhibition. One photograph shows a Parisian woman, also a resistance fighter, who wears an impressive pompadour hairdo. The caption informs us that British Vogue readers reacted strongly upon seeing it – mistaking the style statement against occupying Nazis as a slur on the way fashion had been rationed in Britain.

In Paris Miller also shot Salon Gervais. It was the first salon in the city to regain power. (Its hairdryers ran on electricity generated by men riding a static tandem in the basement). But defiance was not limited to the Allies. One image Miller took after the war shows a German woman on a compulsory visit to the camps wearing national dress.

Miller’s images like this feel like faint echoes of the story about lipsticks handed out after Bergen-Belsen was liberated: of the surreal, uncomfortable nature of survival.

At the end of the exhibition hangs a lightbox with a picture of Miller in later life. After the war, she suffered from depression and alcoholism, and appearances in Vogue featured her as a chef and homemaker. (Miller was apparently the first woman in Britain to own a microwave). In the image, the only lightbox in the exhibition, the kitchen glows with the terracotta tiles and butter-yellow curtains. But the warmth of the setting stands in stark contrast to the cold emptiness of the picture, and of Miller’s own styling and pose

After last year’s brilliant Conflict, Time, Photography at the Tate, it feels imperative that London’s museums and galleries continue to exhibit the work of artists like Miller who whose work speaks across decades. The Imperial War Museum has very much achieved this with ‘A Woman’s War’.

Lee Miller: A Woman’s War at IWM London until 24 April 2016

ellie broughtonEllie Broughton is an arts writer from London. She has previously been published by 3AM, Litro, and Elsewhere Journal as well as The Debrief, Metro and Independent Voices.


Review: Here and Now/There and Then: I am a Lie and I am Gold at Yossi Milo Gallery

I love photographs. I love them because of how they allow you to travel through their surface to another time and place. Authors have filled countless pages to celebrate, theorize, and challenge the notion of photographic transparency, or the way the medium directly links the ‘here and now’ of the viewer to the ‘there and then’ of the subject. In other words, the indexical medium makes use of the interactions of light with chemicals – or, more recently, digital sensors – to re-present a subject for viewers to see or to experience.

So what would an exhibition about photography be like without the inclusion of a single photograph? This is the question that I am a Lie and I am Gold, curated by Marco Breuer at the Yossi Milo Gallery, sets out to examine. Taking its title from Amanda Lear’s song “I Am a Photograph,” the exhibition engages with photography as a “principle” and includes drawings, paintings, prints, sculptures, and mixed media works by twenty-five artists, but no photographs.

Some of the artworks offer photography-like experiences through the vitality of the surface of their images. Mark Khaisman’s light-box Tape Noir Glimpse 47 (2012) radiates light through layered yellow, green, and blue tape to create what looks like a glass-box office building at night. Nathalie Boutté’s Kalulu (2015) is a collage of typed letters on small pieces of fringed paper. The text provokes the sensation of a grainy photograph; the image disperses into text when viewed up close, but from further away the disparate words form the nineteenth-century boy Kalulu’s figure. (Unfortunately, Kalulu hangs in the middle of the wall, and a concrete pole prevents you from viewing the work straight-on from across the room.) Frank Selby’s overlaid graphite drawings, which repeat naturalistic compositions within a single frame, activate the image and connect the viewer to the here and now of the drawing as well as the there and then of the seemingly past moment represented.

The other works in the exhibition relate obviously to photography, as well. Mel Bochner’s Misunderstandings (A Theory of Photography) (1967-70) displays hand-written quotations about the medium in a glass case. Looking inside of Julianne Swartz’s In-fill-trate (2004), a series of curved tubes with mirrors, allows you to see the side of your own head or whoever else stands in front of the wall piece. The meandering and mirror-led reflections of Swartz’s piece mimic the way mirrors and lenses of the camera disorients you until you become acclimated to the vantage point of looking through the device. The remaining artworks on display make similar references to seeing, the photographic, and the history of the medium.

As Amanda Lear sings, “I am a photograph/ I’m better than the real thing.” But can this exhibition claim to create the same “gold” as a photograph? While viewing this exhibition, I frequently oscillated between frustration and disappointment. The exhibit posed many, many questions about the unwieldy medium of photography, so it is almost inevitable that a show with this theme would be both too theoretically broad and too thin on the ground. I found myself most interested in works like Khaisman’s, Boutté’s, and Selby’s because they give rise to the sensation of viewing photographically. But this same photographic magic does not translate through many of the other works on display; what they offer is not better than “the real thing” of photographic experience. That said, even though many of the works do not allow for the travel through time and space, they still confirm what it is that makes me love photographs. And I still love photographs.

– Corey Dzenko



Corey Dzenko earned her Ph.D. in the History of Photography from the University of New Mexico. Her research interests include the intersections of photography, performance, and new media; art as an agent of social change; and the ideologies of identity. She has presented in numerous national and international conferences and has published in sources including Men and Masculinities and Afterimage: The Journal of Media and Cultural Criticism. In 2014 she was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Nottingham. Currently, she serves as an Assistant Professor of Art History at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

Some shows to see.. and some to avoid.

January Photography Roundup

It’s nearing the end of January when 2016 really begins.  All those half-hearted resolutions left on simmer through the gloomiest month of the year (apparently it still counts as chocolate if it’s been melted!) start to come to a bubbling crescendo.  The seasonal sugar coma has passed and I emerge from my frost-covered cocoon certain that this time next year I’ll be lighter, brighter, and better than ever.  Well, at least until BBQ season comes and spoils everything.  Embarking on one of my lesser delusions, I spring out into London’s lively streets to educate myself with some of the many cultural offerings available (becoming a GQ cover model will just have to wait).

IMG_4889The first of my photographic forays is Alec Soth’s Gathered Leaves at the Science Museum.  The exhibition, consisting of four large rooms, leads me in chronological order through 10 years of his work, from 2004-14.  Each image is striking, given room to speak and breathe against the plain white walls.  We start with images from Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004) series.  His shots, suffused with a subtle yearning, suggest the potency of dreams and an admiration for visionaries.  The homes and birthplaces of American men who would come to leave their mark on the world, like Johnny Cash and Charles Lindbergh, are photographed along with less renowned men and women.  The presentation of such humble beginnings, especially when considering the accomplishments of some of these men, is a testament to the transformative power of dreams.

Niagara (2006) retains the same sense of longing, suggesting the beauty and compassion nestled among sometimes torn and tawdry lives.  One of Soth’s talents is his effortless ability to sidestep our modern penchant for fatalism.  He subtly depicts the intertwining of our desires and hopes with less than perfect realities, discovering love and tenderness in spite of sometimes tumultuous circumstances.  Shots of motels recur frequently in his work, in this context suggesting cheap, discreet, anonymous places where passion or love might bloom.  Continuing into the next, dimly-lit room is Broken Manual (2010), a series documenting survivalists and hermits who decide to escape into barren wilderness.  The title, a play on words, suggests a discontented masculinity in modern society; a desire to live away from enforced roles and expectations, as well as presenting an opportunity for self-discovery.  A glass cabin in the centre of the room displays the profusion of survivalist literature available and reiterates what appears a singularly male need to escape societal bonds.


After slipping away myself to scoff an overpriced croissant I head across the road to the V&A’s current presentation of work by the 19th Century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.  Like Soth, Cameron’s purpose and method was a poetic one, aiming to combine “the real and the ideal [while] sacrificing nothing of truth.”  Though her work may lack the jarring imagery and drama our modern eye is accustomed to, comprising of straight-forward portrait shots or recreations of works from antiquity, its strength lies in an intangible, subtle beauty that arrests the eye.  It reminds you with its plain vitality why some civilisations view photography suspiciously, capable of stealing the subject’s soul.  Photography makes a person appear more alive than they would in either the classical paintings or sculptures Cameron references.  It captures not just an incredible likeness but expresses a subjective inner world as well, something beyond the material.

Passing through the exhibition the works are grouped by Cameron’s favourite topics of photography (‘Portraiture’, ‘Madonna Groups’, ‘Fancy Subjects for Pictorial Effects’) but laid out in a somewhat awkward way which makes it hard to navigate without jumping between themes.  One particular section that stood out however, entitled “Defected Unmounted Impressions” and highlighting Cameron’s status as an innovator, was a selection of ‘imperfect’ shots displaying signs of aging, interference or manipulation.  Photography, which in its infancy was prized for its ability to provide a factual report on reality, was popularly expected to consist of “clear, hard outlines”, detailing people as a whole and in context (rather than reduced into pieces in close up), with all visual details sharply defined.  Cameron subverted these standards with her fondness for soft focus and a penchant for manipulating certain frames; building additional layers of meaning (scratching out an image to suggest a halo, for example) to provide a viewing experience more ‘divine’ – something closer to art than photography was thought capable of.


I get my own portrait taken ‘Cameron style’ with the aid of the iPhone, and promptly catapult myself out of the 19th Century up towards Angel, landing firmly back in the modern day.  Before I put my eyes on ice I venture to the London Art Fair, with the intention of procuring booze (free drinks served Thursday Lates!) and more seriously of looking at the contemporaneous work of Photo50.  This years’ offering is the exhibition Feminine Masculine, guest-curated by Federica Chiocchetti, whose intention is to “explore the challenge of representing the mysterious, at times ineffable and immaterial, dynamics that occur or do not occur between a woman and a man.”  By the sound of this diffuse logic it’s a win-win; the show a success even by attempting to articulate the purportedly inexpressible.

As some of the photography indicates, the relations between the sexes can be captured by the camera in tangible, tender ways.  For example, the large prints from the series Closer by Elinor Carucci express a deep, almost mundane intimacy, in which a couple’s bodies can lie exposed side by side without the need to be sexualised, indicating a closeness of being.  Across from these shots and taking a less subtle approach are six separate photos from the series At First Sight (2014-15).  On the left are three individuals, flailing backwards wide-eyed and illuminated by a flash of light, literally ‘falling in love’, while on the right are three pictures of couples embracing.  While a clichéd depiction already, a picture of a bolt of lightning is included in the centre to spell out the meaning.

Although the title of the project is inspired by Godard’s 1966 film Masculin Féminin, very little else seems to be.  While this is acknowledged, it almost seems detrimental to the whole to make the tenuous comparison between the exhibition and the intentions of the aforementioned film.  The reference serves only to highlight what is lacking – any sort of engagement with socio-political themes.  While the collection proudly illustrates its diverse and contemporary methods – utilising a mix of media such as film, including postcards with responses from strangers, mocked up magazines ironically commenting on bourgeois relationships, as well as moving away from traditional modes of photographic display into the realm of art installation – it seems an oversight not to have responded to now out-dated gender stereotypes, especially those in Godard’s movie, of the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” variety.

The individual intentions of the artists can be compelling in their own right.  Jo Broughton’s series Empty Porn Sets (2010) captures the aftermath of a number of adult film shoots, the now unpopulated sexual arenas appearing weirdly child-like and fantastical in the absence of performers.  Remnants of underwear and the odd vibrator sit still and incongruous on stages arranged like a classroom or an icy wonderland.  Sans actors, the sets now look cold and empty, their artifice obvious, serving to bring home the oddly dispassionate nature of the enterprise.

As a whole, however, the exhibition doesn’t appear to communicate any overall message.  It says little new about human relationships and declines to articulate anything progressive about gender, which is odd given the shows title.  In the end it’s rather too conceptual (but without a strong unifying concept) and rather superficial, suggesting a lack of deep intellectual thought on behalf of the curator.  Unless of course it was intended as a modern elegy to the state of human relationships today –somewhat hollow, glib, and desperate for attention.

– Daniel Pateman

65913_926032882744_691854252_n (1)Daniel Pateman  studied Humanities and Media at Birkbeck University and continues to indulge his abiding interest in the arts. He has enjoyed writing since a young age and currently produces articles for a number of online publications.  He keeps a blog called The End of Fiction, consisting of his poetry, prose and other creative work, and is currently looking to forge a new career in the creative industries.