Just one of those days I suppose. Catch the train to London, visit the Photographers’ gallery, shoot a rifle, buy the Americans and have a meeting with four lawyers for three and a half hours, none of whom are in the same country as I was and home before dinner.
The trip to meet the lawyers was what dragged me into the smoke for a day – I would’ve gone most places but Mayfair on the last Friday before Christmas and so it wasn’t therefore something I was looking forward to. In order to ameliorate the gloom of the meeting I was intent on seeing some photography and in particular the Tom Wood exhibition – “Men And Women” – at the Photographers’ Gallery, more later.
I like this new Photographers’ Gallery, the viewing galleries are fit for purpose, the café is good and the bookshop is a burden only to the wallet. So I was hopeful of viewing some thoughtful and inspiring work and, in particular, Tom Woods’ work. The two top floor galleries were devoted to “Shoot! Existential Photography”and I was reminded of the comments about the allusion to firing guns made by Aliki Braine during her talk at the “Seduced” show at the National a couple of weeks ago, as the “Shoot..” exhibition explores the “…numerous analogies between taking photographs and shooting,..”. These ‘shootings’ were varied but one series caught my attention especially, they were of Ria van Dijk who went to a fairground almost every year from the early 1930’s until, I think, the present day and goes to the same booth. This booth has a rifle and a target, if the target is struck correctly – a bull’s eye – then a camera is triggered and a photograph is made of the shooter. Ria van Rijk was quite a sharpshooter, because other than the war years there is a collection of similar images through the decades, which depict her holding the rifle having clearly hit the target. As I viewed these images from the first to the last, I stopped noticing Ms. van Dijk’s portrait – see Creative Review’s review – and started to notice other things, whether she was wearing the same watch or bracelet, how her stance had remained fairly constant and then who was standing near her all these times – it was these ancillary details that held my attention. Like some animate variant of the Brecher’s typology she stands to the camera, where we are invited to peruse the ageing and the accompaniment to her skill as a markswoman triggering the shutter release. Other photographers shot bullets into cameras, or pictures of themselves and I suspect that the name of the exhibition was nominated such because of a picture of Simone de Beavoir holding a rifle and standing next to her was J.P. Satre. Here are the student notes provided by the gallery – how thoughtful.
Visitors to this part of the gallery had the opportunity to test their skill as a marksperson by shooting at a target – a bull’s eye would trigger a camera and a print would be provided….. see above, I’m not one or boasting.
The show I ostensibly went to see was Tom Wood’s “Men And Women”. Some things to say right away: very few of the prints were similar to any other, different formats, different print methods, different mediums – a spectrum of images that were curated on the themes of Men and Women – (I wonder why it was termed that way round and not Women and Men?). The start of the show, from the artist statement, was women first and then men, and what struck me was Wood’s use of titling. I soon stopped looking at the titles and remained with the images, I wanted to see the images without being directed – even by the artist! I appreciate this direction may have been to complete the experience of the image from the artists perspective, but I felt concerned by the titling. I purposely looked again at each image – a second circuit, taking in the titles, as it were – to see if Wood’s words made any difference, and they did. They seemed to reduce the reaction I had, my own reading of the images seem to make more sense to me. “Not Miss New Brighton, 1978/79” seems to me to be a derisory note; we are invited to sneer at these two young women, and for what purpose? Is Wood trying to allow us to subvert his subverting? Parr, at least, allows us to make our own mind up – even Dench isn’t so directing with his lens. Wood would appear to want us to patronize some of his subjects and I saw no pleasure in attempting to do so, and that spoilt the show for me, it detracted from what appeared otherwise to be a strong collection of characters.
Then downstairs to the book shop – a pile of Frank’s Americans, another sale, another review to do later. A quick look at the book impressed me; all mono, completely consistent (either landscape or portrait, notwithstanding), of it’s time, and in complete contrast to Wood – allowing the frame to speak for itself by allowing an entrance to the image without putting up titular (and unnecessary) barriers.