Tuesday, 17 November 2009

I'm trying

I'm studying Fine Art. I use photography to make art. I'm not a photographer, as some people describe me. I'm an artist (or am trying to be when not being a mother; I know it doesn't have to be two different strands to my life, but it is most of the time and I can't help it). I snap images rather than compose and set up shots. I see and snap. Photographs make up my entire sketch book. Editing then makes some kind of sense out of it all. It's a reductive creative process. I shot about 60 frames this morning; the sun was gorgeous, dancing shadows everywhere. But, I'm trying to make a start on writing my dissertation. Instead I decided to write this. I'm hoping it will help. Not sure how. But I wanted to post some writing I did for an assignment last year; a piece of criticism about an art exhibition, the annual Deutsche Borse photography prize. My dissertation is going to be about the winner, Paul Graham. His work suggests a narrative, and I am going to attempt to write that narrative, try to fill in the gaps, the spaces between. Everyone has a different story. I've just got to try and start to make up mine and stop reading Carver, Chekhov and Nabokov. For now.

Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2009

It’s the nature of shortlists and prize giving to cause clashes of opinions and disagreements. This year’s Deutsche Borse Photography Prize is no exception in generating discursive discussion on who should have won the annual £30,000 prize. For me though, the judges got it right. Each of the four artists, for I will call them artists, not photographers, held my attention in some way, but only one had me immersed.

Taryn Simon acts as a modern day collector, her series of disparate images set the scene for what could be some Louis Theroux TV show of American curiosities. Large and colourful, but the lengthy explanatory captions captivate the interest rather than the image alone. Emily Jacir’s documentation of the assassination of Palestinian Wael Zuaiter is a fascinating archival record of re-photographed texts and old photographs. But it doesn’t fit this exhibition. Tod Papageorge’s set of black and white photographs of lazing, resting sunseekers in Central Park were taken between 1969 and 1991. They’re insightful, calm and rather beautiful but for me, not contemporary enough for what the competition is about – to find the photographer who has made the most significant contribution to photography in Europe over the past year.

Then we come to Paul Graham and his work “a shimmer of possibility”. The original work is contained in 12 various coloured cloth bound books. These are displayed coffee table style in a glass case, one volume open at a random page. This is my main gripe of the display. What we are shown instead is a selection of enlarged images on three walls; a delicious amuse bouche. But I want the full 12 courses and want to get in that case and devour each volume.

The layout on the walls reflects that of the books’ pages. Groups of images, variously sized of the same subject are shown together but irregularly placed. The largest images tend to show the bigger picture, smaller ones are more detailed, cropped. Subjects are everyday people and life. Blink and it’s gone. These images have been seen by us all, we just tend to pass them by. Here though, the moment is captured: an overweight man taking a cigarette break in the shadows of a building, lost in thought, stressed about work; a homeless guy selling flowers at night, his hopeful face quietly pleading; an urban street scene at dusk, the red sun setting, draining life out of the place but bringing out the youth to play a game of street hoops.

The spaces between allow a continuous taking in of information, the eye flits, sudden shifts in viewpoint and repetition dislodge narrative flow but still a story forms in the mind. Then there is a gap. Pause. The books have blank pages (apparently) which by turning through to get to the next image, allows the mind to contemplate the previous scene, form a narrative (or not). They bring to mind the stories of Raymond Carver; you’re maybe left wondering what the missing parts add up to and make up your own mind.

I realise that this work has engaged me in such a way, I feel as if I have been there and shot the film myself. I know of these people, these places. Somehow. There are no labels to distract, no explanations, as none are needed. I feel free to gaze and I have a sense of real presence. I’m not studying these images, I’m feeling them, the gestures, the essence.

Paul Graham sums up this work for me perfectly. “I’m asking you to trust me and enjoy this quiet journey. Just slow down and look at this ordinary moment of life. See how beautiful it is, see how life flows around us, how everything shimmers with possibility.”

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