London Gallery Weekend : Photography Show Highlights

By Isabel Bryony

London Gallery Weekend brings together over 150 contemporary art galleries in a three day free event designed to encourage visitors to explore the city’s rich art scene. In this second iteration, coinciding with Photo London, we visit five photography exhibitions not to miss – taking in offerings from blue chip galleries as well as emerging spaces and non profit initiatives.

 

Gareth McConnell at Seen Fifteen

A lurid psychedelia of flower forms are splashed across the walls of Peckham’s Seen Fifteen gallery. Blossom is overlaid with Gardenia in an explosion of technicolour that seems at once violent and seductive – like a head-ache inducing perfume. Gareth MConnell’s ‘The Brighter the Flowers, the Fiercer the Town’ is more than a saccharine devotion to flowers; the first floral image was developed a year after The Good Friday agreement, in an Irish loyalist pub in 1999. McConnell, whose work until then had been overtly political, took this subject to represent the strife of The Troubles as well as the escapism- and ecstasy- fuelled rave and acid house movement which became a dominant subculture in 90s Ireland. These works speak of closeness and a universal unity and, in doing so, embody the yearning and resilience of youth. It’s a heady rush: something I only realise after heading next door and calming down in Peckham 24 festival at Copeland Park which, along with Seen Fifteen, is showing work by experimental artists working in the realm of contemporary photography. Peppy and fantastical, this iteration is an exploration of photography’s relation to truth.

 

Jeff Wall at White Cube Mason’s Yard

Dressed in black tuxedos, two young, bearded men are arguing in a hotel doorway. Captured by artist Jeff Wall, this work is one of fourteen large-format, back-lit photographs on view at White Cube’s cavernous Mason’s Yard space. A green glow emanates from the hall behind the arguing men, sparking associations – is this a jealous confrontation? Is it a clash over money? I start imagining the before and after, wondering about their individual characters, and even return to the wall text to look for answers, but there aren’t any, for any of the works. Wall is a master of portraying mundane moments as high drama, creating cinematic scenes that he refers to as ‘prose poems’. By witnessing and carefully restaging glimpses into others’ lives, Wall creates images with an uncanny sense of alienation. At once intimate and disconnected, the work has a dissonance that sparks a voyeuristic interest in the viewer. Relieving us of the need to know is Wall’s magic, creating a space of unrestricted imagination. After repeatedly looking for context and not finding any, it dawns on me that this denial feels refreshing.

 

Hans Hartung at Waddington Custot

Few know that the renowned abstract painter, Hans Hartung, was also an obsessive photographer, making it a habit to take pictures of ‘everything that interested me in the world’. A select few of the resulting 30,000 negatives are finally having their day in the sun – and their first exhibition in London – at Waddington Custot, presented alongside some of the artist’s abstract paintings. Broodingly atmospheric, textural, and littered with chiaroscuro, Hartung’s photographs provide insight into what grounded his instinctive and gestural art practice.

 

Trevor Stuurman at Doyle Wham

An Olympus Trip 35 is centre stage in the series of self-portraits on view at new contemporary African photography gallery Doyle Wham. This is the first solo exhibition outside of South Africa by artist, photographer, editor and stylist Trevor Stuurman and the works on view are rich in narrative details. Each portrait speaks to a milestone achieved in the 29 year old’s glittering career, with the foregrounding of the camera – backdropped by gorgeous printed textiles and directed by hands adorned with gold regalia – suggesting the merging of artist, art form and muse in a proud tribute to self-love. Accompanying the self-portraits are striking achromic new works from the ‘Hair Majesty’ series – conceptual shots of models in silhouette, hair braided into sculptural forms and dripping with glinting jewels, luxury designer logos and costume pearls. Stuurman’s distinctive visual style is inextricable from his storytelling and his work is a testimonial to black excellence.

 

Lee Miller at The Fitzrovia Chapel

The most iconic image from Lee Miller’s war is of the artist herself submerged in a bathtub – Hitler’s bathtub, on the day of his suicide – with her cast-off boots, covered in soil from Dachau concentration camp, muddying the bathroom floor. ‘From model to muse’ is a phrase often ascribed to the surrealist icon but, following the artist’s deployment during WWII, Miller lived through and documented experiences that couldn’t have been further from the glamourous bohemian lifestyle ascribed to her. As one of the very few women photographers sent to document the front lines, Miller was interested in the experiences of women at war and the works on view at The Fitzrovia Chapel examine and honour the lives of nurses. Beautifully composed and with an adept manipulation of the qualities of light, the works portray these women – in classic white uniforms and with pin-curled hair – as both a powerful professional force and as individuals living through idiosyncratic experiences. Miller was 32 when she was deployed, and spent years afterwards struggling with alcoholism and depression. Stepping out of the glittering baroque interior of the chapel and onto the streets of Fitzrovia, warm from the late afternoon sun, dream and reality seem to fuse. I walk away marvelling at Miller and consumed by the image of a nurse surrounded by floating latex gloves…

Isabel Bryony

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