Today was the first day of the new exhibition program at the Photographers Gallery in Ramillies Street, London. I happen to work just just around the corner and it’s a good place to while away a rainy lunch hour, so I dropped in for for a quick look at lunchtime. A couple of points need to be made about this show before getting into my thoughts on the work;
- First up is the issue of the entry fee, this is the first time in my recollection that a show at TPG has had an entry fee. It’s only £4, which isn’t a great deal of money but it does mean that it’s not going to get multiple visits if it’s not a early good exhibition.
- Secondly, given the authors of the work in the show have not gained their fame or notoriety primarily from their photography(though Warhol’s work was often photographically derived), it looks like the aim may be to draw in extra punters and it might also be seen as a step back from what the Photographers Gallery should be doing?
- Thirdly, and this is probably the biggest question. Do these artists have a common practice or common ground other than being American, does this hang together as a series of linked shows or are they a disparate group? As the Photographers Gallery is an unusually vertical establishment over seven floors, with it’s series of small galleries at 2nd, 4th and 5th floors, maybe my third question above doesn’t matter because the space lends itself to having a series of small exhibitions.
I’ll address the Exhibitions in the order I saw them walking up to the Warhol, then Burroughs, and finally Lynch’s factories at the top of the building.
The Warhol Exhibition is a mixed bag of images the style and content varying and neither the hang or the sketchy explanatory text give us any real feel for why the particular works were selected or what the show is trying to tell us about the artist, beyond the idea that he liked to shoot a roll of dil a day. The work on show includes some of the well known stitched multiples along with a number of celebrity snaps, some work which could be considered as street photography and a number of images of products and flea markets. The Themes revealed are consistent with aspects of what we think of as typically Warhol; consumerism, celebrity and reproduction come through along with a bit of sly humour and innuendo in some of the images.
What was missing was a sense of engagement real enquiry. Maybe because all the images dated from 1976 or later, by which time the Warhol aesthetic was well and truly established or maybe the curation has selected images which conform to that aesthetic. If Warhol did indeed shoot at least a roll of film per day you’d hope that there might be more interest in the images.
For me the work that stood out in the end was the stitched multiples. They are both a comment on the reproducibility of photography and clearly related to the famous multiple screen prints. They also reveal opportunities for playing with the medium of the print, for example in one set (a shot of Jerry Hall) the print density changes with each shot, revealing a slightly different details as they go from dark to light. What intrigues is that something which would look like a shallow effect on a PC screen has added depth in the physical artefact. For me this idea of multiples, and working with a the physical embodiment of an image is central to what I took away from this first room of the exhibition.
Moving up to the the 4th floor, with some trepidation I entered the room given over to William Burroughs. I did try in my youth to read Burroughs but never managed it. I’ve never been a great reader and the stylised approach never appealed.
Entering the gallery there was quite a bit of explanatory text on the walls which helped contextualise the work. Burroughs took the same cut up techniques and created tableaux and collage, many of which were very effective.
Also very effective we’re a couple of sequences taken in sort time frames which were grouped and hung together, along with a quote about walking down the street and viewing the world through the camera letting it see the episodes and incidents your eyes catch as you move. It put me in mind of the approach Paul Graham took in ‘A Shimmer of Possibility’ though he cites Checkov as his inspiration. There was also a lovely set which was based around Burroughs harassment of a Cafe in London which made me chuckle.
As with Warhol what hit home was the materiality of the photographic artefact, the idea that you can cut up, recombine and multiply images and change their meaning and content (a thought that would return later at the Michael Wolf talk in the evening). The contrast was that while Warhol’s photographs seemed superficial and consumption driven Burroughs work seemed more engaged with and rooted in the messy side of real life with subjects like a cafe, a car crash or a sequence showing a bed before and after sex. There was also an engagement with current events evident in some of the collages.
I recommend this exhibition as there are many very good images and some really interesting ideas and lines of photographic enquiry to follow up.
In it’s own way this was every bit as much of a surprise as the Burroughs. Entering the gallery I found a series of direct and well made, slightly dark, prints of industrial decay hung in a line at eye level. And that’s it. Where I some sort of narrative and maybe an off kilter take on a well worn subject I just didn’t find it.
For me the exhibitions rank in the opposite order from the ay they read on the photo at the top of this page – i.e. Burroughs was most interesting. In fact, I’d say that the admission was worthwhile for the Burroughs exhibit alone and that’s great because it’s not what I expected. I like being surprised in this way it’s something that can happen when you see a band play live and something just clicks inside your head… you know you’ve found something you want to hear again. I want to see the Burroughs exhibition again and I will probably also buy the catalogue to get that extra layer of information which was so lacking in the Warhol exhibition.