Thursday, 10 March 2011

Exhibition London Futures

The exhibition of London Futures was interesting to take in. It was held at the Museum of London between October 2010-March 2011. I can't find out if they are going to exhibit anywhere else but they do have their images online london futures | and on a flickr page that was opened up to competition entrants (now closed) to have the winning image also on display.

I initially went to view them more for observing the way the images had been manipulated than the climate change issue or any other messages that may have been being put across, either intentionally or otherwise. As part of this course had been looking at the ethics of manipulation I thought it would be of benefit to look at images that were deliberately manipulated to sell an idea/theory that wasn't pure advertising.

The photographers Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones created their original Postcards From The Future images in response to the G8 summit in Japan in 2008. Its theme was addressing ‘climate change’.

Due to the discussion and debate in the media, they used their skills to visualise a very different world and by
researching theories and witnessing new ideas and technologies coming into play saw new landscapes appear for example, deserts and mountains covered with row upon row of wind turbines and solar panels etc.

Graves and Madoc-Jones researched different possible scientific projections and combined these with London’s postcard views telling a different climate change story with each picture.A further 6 images were added for the Museum of London exhibition with familiar London views digitally transformed to bring home the impact of global warming.The display and related events form part of the Mayor’s Story of London festival.

They said-

“We want to create a space in which people can consider how climate change may impact on their lives. We are committed to making beautiful and arresting images which tell their own story. We have deliberately chosen ‘postcard’ shots of London, places that all of us are familiar with. By focusing our creative energy on these well- known panoramas, the images have taken on a life of their own.Even we were surprised by the way the story unfolded as the scene was created. Each picture has become a mini soap-opera, alive with colour, drama, triumph and adversity as our city is transformed and Londoners adapt to meet this change.”

I would have loved to have purchased the postcard booklet but as it was towards the end of the exhibition they had run out :o/.

Wandering around examining the images I was struck by how well they were done and they brought home the message of climate change rather well. No matter what side of the fence you sit on with regards to believing in global warming, as "art" you could appreciate the skill involved in producing them. What I didn't look at on first examination, was other messages that may have been being portrayed, and to be honest I don't think even the illustrators considered them, which goes to show how as photographers creating images, manipulated or otherwise, you have to be very careful with ethics and how others may read your imagery.

An article in the Guardian looked beyond the artistry, which in balance I then did, because although my initial interest had been in looking at them analytically, the skill and their approach to tackling a theme you then have to take a step back and think were they sucessful in what they were trying to achieve. Journalist George Marshall was far from impressed ;o) Despite acknowleding that they were 'artfully composed photomontages that juxtapose iconic London landmarks with eye-catching climate impacts' he accused them of using 'sensationalist images and laguage that would have been unacceptable in any other public exhibition'.

At first thinking "ok here goes the PC brigade" I can really see where he and the people he interviewed are coming from, and from really liking the images at first now they make me feel slightly uncomfortable which is a shame. His greatest concern was not that it parted with reality, but that it spoke "all too well to real prejudices against immigrants "swamping" British culture. This is a recurring theme. One postcard ( shows Asian peasants working in paddy fields in the shadow of Big Ben. Two postcards in the series show shantytowns around Nelson's Column ( and Buckingham Palace ("

Many others involved with refugees echoed his opinion,Jonathan Ellis, policy director at the Refugee Council, called them "lazy and unhelpful" at a time when "we need fresh and creative messages, and a fair and rational debate based on the facts". "Producing sensationalist pictures which fall back on cheap stereotypes of refugees do not help anyone's cause," said Vaughan Jones, the chief executive of Praxis.

Hannah Smith from the Climate Outreach Information Network argued that the images gave an entirely erroneous impression and that "the actual patterns of migration are far more likely to be the movement of people inside existing national borders, or, in the case of the UK, from within the European Union. To suggest that there will be mass migration from the [global] south is misleading and feeds xenophobia."

At first I didn't see any of these 'problems'. Maybe thats because of my background and personal experiences? Which then ties in rather well to questions and thoughts I have been having about how to read images and will audiences see what I am trying to put across, how what images we take and how they are seen by others is so reliant on who and what we are. Like George Marshall when I look at the postcards from a different perspective the criticisms aimed at them don't appear to be attacks from the 'pc brigade' at all and seem entirely valid. I'm sure that the artists were more naive than malicious but interesting other side to climate change images I didn't expect to find.

An interesting debate and other links can be found here. Anthony Robbins Head of Communications did respond....

"The role of Museums is changing fast. No longer are we about shoving dusty old artefacts into glass cases. No longer do we feel that we alone can curate London’s history – and London’s story more broadly. We feel we have a major role to play contributing to the ongoing conversation about the city’s past, present and future – and providing historical context to those weighty issues.

The new-look Museum of London (we re-launched in May) provides a forum for ideas and we’re happy if what we do provokes commentary and debate. Inevitably this means that not everyone will like what we do, all the time.

I was happy to read George Marshall’s blog, which critiques the London Futures exhibition. I hope, if nothing else, it inspires people to come along to the Museum of London and decide for themselves, whether they feel that it adds to the climate change debate or simply clouds the issues. I’ll let others make up their minds on that but I’m delighted that thousands of people have seen an exhibition of images which range from the apocalyptic to the fanciful.

Having spent much of my career in international development, I think that many of us still think climate change is something that happens to other people, living thousands of miles from our shores. So I was also really pleased to see the potential this exhibition has for connecting with wider audiences. It even proved popular with the tabloid newspapers, which don’t often cover museum stories.

The exhibition has attracted the attention of professionals from think tanks, aid agencies and the government departments tasked with responding to the challenges of climate change – all these are new and exciting connections for the Museum of London. We hope that the Museum continues to attract a diverse audience and provide a home for diverse and thought provoking issues."

So if the images have been viewed and provoked debate I guess it could be argued they have been a hit...even if not how initially envisaged. Another point made by a commentator I also paradoxically agree with asked -

"Is George Marshall suggesting that artists should be censored if they do not project a specific image of climate change?

Is he suggesting that science fiction is not a serious artform in its own right?

Is he suggesting that people should not be trusted to draw their own conclusions about the media/ art they see?

He seems to imply that if a certain issue is 'serious' it should only be commented on in a particular way.

It's a very condescending article, really quite ridiculous."

Another exhibition that I got a lot out of and in a different way from how I had thought before going.

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