Sunday, 11 September 2011

Tate Modern Trip

After looking at Struth a few of us then adjourned to the Tate Modern to take in Taryn Simon, Diane Arbus and the New Documentary Forms.

Taryn Simon

Tate Modern premieres an important new body of work by the American artist Taryn Simon. A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters was produced over a four-year period (2008-11), during which Simon travelled around the world researching and recording bloodlines and their related stories. In each of the eighteen ‘chapters’ that make up the work, the external forces of territory, power, circumstance or religion collide with the internal forces of psychological and physical inheritance. The subjects documented by Simon include feuding families in Brazil, victims of genocide in Bosnia, the body double of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, and the living dead in India. Her collection is at once cohesive and arbitrary, mapping the relationships among chance, blood, and other components of fate.

Tate Channel: TateShots: Taryn Simon

I found it hard to write up on this one.... I absolutely loved the concept of what she was trying to show but then felt that the idea is so much more than the photographs themselves? This is definitely a set of images that you need to understand the motives and intentions of the artist to appreciate the completed work.

a quote from the Guardian interview summed it up so well

for the casual or curious viewer, it may prove a demanding, even frustrating, experience, not least because the ambition and complexity of the idea almost overwhelms the actual work on the walls – a dilemma that is at the heart of much high-end conceptual art. In one way, too, Simon's work also refutes the long held notion that a great photograph should speak for itself, much of its impact resting on the interrelation of image and text, the latter giving the former much of its power and resonance.

Which in someways ties in with the research I have been carrying out on conceptual book covers, some ideas maybe too complicated and give no indication of teh true nature of the novel.

The rabbit experiments were an interesting addition and the explanation of the chocolate bilby...the Australians not wanting Easter Bunnies whilst trying to eradicate the entire species!

I walked in had a cursory glance round and walked out. Whilst I understood that she was capturing the portraits with no background clutter for a reason this then made the family shots appear typological, an impression of seen it all before. Rather like her emphasising that it's all a metaphor of us heading towards death...yes that old chestnut again. Although it is pertinent to this series as one of her 'families' had a living man declared dead to claim his land, hence the title of this body of work.

Simon has carried out an investigation into the nature of genealogy and its consequences, she painstakingly researched 18 family bloodlines, each with a fascinating story to tell: an Iraqi man who was apparently employed as Saddam Hussein's son's body double; a member of the Druze religious sect in Lebanon who believes in reincarnation and re-enacts remembered scenes from previous lives. Sadly none of these really interesting elements shine through the over all impression of 'beige' and all the connotations that colour brings.

Apparently the series took four years to complete and the majority of that time was spent on research, the photogaphic element took two months. Simon has been reported as saying 'I think I have just gotten tired of photography in a way.'

For me that shows.

Diane Arbus

This is a free entry exhibition at the Tate Modern Level 3

Diane Arbus (1923–71) is acknowledged as one of the great figures of American photography who fixed remarkable images of contemporary life. Her sympathy for her subjects exposed the variety and complexity of the human condition.

Originally a fashion-photographer, in the late 1950s Arbus began taking pictures of ‘things which nobody would see unless I photographed them’. She became known for her portraits of people whose appearance or lifestyle placed them at the fringe of conventional society.Some of the works were originally commissioned for Esquire magazine others were made for an article on ‘American Families’ published in the UK by The Sunday Times Magazine.

This becomes obvious as you walk into the rooms displaying her images. The black and white photographs are of transvestites, giants and dwarves etc yet they are presented sympathetically and with dignity. I didn't feel like a voyeur which is something I was concerned with. The warmth of the captures are even more evident when you see the actual images rather than online thumbnails, You find yourself smiling and laughing with the girls in their Easter bonnets, you see the person and their personality rather than their disability or 'difference'.

Arbus had an uncanny knack of  making supposedly ‘normal’ American citizens often appear eccentric and this contrasts with our ideas of what is normal and what isn't. What should or shouldn't be photographed. I researched her images when looking at portraits as part of my Art Photography course and came to the conclusion then that she had successfully captured her subjects, that anyone assuming she had taken advantage of people or situations possibly had their own issues which they projected onto the images.

Arbus often used a flash, even in daylight, and when looking at some of her shots I tried to work out if that was obvious? With some it was hard to distinguish if she had or if the sun had been strong that day. I couldn't detect many tell tale signs of the flash giving very hard shadows, or being reflected in the subjects eye, which shows to me she controlled her light/flash and exposures really well. The images on display her distinctive frontal, square-format portraiture, a style which developed after she began using a 2 ¼ inch, twin-lens Rolleiflex camera.

I really enjoyed looking at her work and regret not writing notes or spending more time there, but I think this is one of the problems when fitting in several exhibitions in one day.

New Documentary Forms

This new five-room display explores the ways in which five contemporary artists have used the camera to explore, extend and question the power of photography as a documentary medium. Consisting entirely of new acquisitions to Tate’s collection, it includes recent work by Luc Delahaye, Mitch Epstein, Guy Tillim and Akram Zaatari, as well as two important earlier works by Boris Mikhailov. Between them they cover subjects as diverse as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, studio photography in Beirut, elections in the Congo, everyday life in pre- and post-Soviet Ukraine, and power production in the United States. Each room concerns one discrete project, in which the artist calls into question the relationship between the documentary value of photography and the museum as its proper context.

Mitch Epstein
Akram Zaatari
Guy Tillim
Boris Mikhailov

Luc Delahaye

to be completed.....

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