MacDonaldStrand / MacDonaldStrand for Antifoto
MacDonaldStrand is the collaboration of Clare Strand and Gordon MacDonald. We both work a bit on other stuff (Clare as an exhibiting artist and Gordon as an editor/publisher), but we work together regularly on joint projects as MacDonaldStrand.
Recently we were asked to put a show together for Antifoto as part of the Düsseldorf Photo Weekend. For those of you who don’t know either, Düsseldorf Photo Weekend is a nod to the canon of photography, big names and well-made shows; whereas Antifoto is both integrated into the weekend and an alternative to it. Founded and led by the magnificent Oliver Sieber and Katja Stuke, it is more a place for questions and experiments, as well as being a platform equally suited to dissent or celebration of the cultures of photography. Düsseldorf, as anyone with an interest in photography will know, has a great tradition of producing world-renowned artists – the Bechers, Struth, Ruff, Hütte, Gursky, Höfer, etc – so the Photo Weekend should be a success. Sieber and Stuke’s Antifoto will add a great deal to this as it goes along.
The work that we made for the show is intended as both celebration and counterpoint. Between us we have spent many decades working with photography and have never stopped flipping between wanting to be immersed in and wanting to reject its place in our lives, with its various sub-cultures and cliques. All of the work here is a reflection of this. As part of the exhibition MacDonaldStrand for Antifoto we showed six works, including three new works and one dug out from our archive. This collection of projects was brought together both to represent what we thought that MacDonaldStrand had to do with the idea of Antifoto and to get a few ideas, which we had been considering and discussing for a long time, out of our heads and on to a wall.
The first new work is Shredded (Part II). Shredded (Part I) was shown in Brighton in 2012, but for Antifoto we remade the piece of work to fit the venue and to reconsider the ideas around the work. The origins of the Shredded series lay in our individual student works, which we decided to pass through a paper shredder in 2004. The works, which had become both irrelevant to our thinking and difficult to store, were put in a black bin bag after shredding, and were destined for council recycling. This never happened, as we found that the new version of our student work was now both relevant to our practice and pretty easy to store. We carried the shreds from house to house as we moved and placed the bag in the attic of each property until, in 2012, we decided to exhibit them. With Shredded (Part II), we are again considering the hold these pieces of paper have over us. Even now, we can recognise each picture from a single shred, and the memories they provoke are much more powerful than the photographs ever were. We have arranged them in over 50 acrylic photo cubes in the grand cabinets of Jacobi Malkasten, in Düsseldorf – each one containing a handful of shreds and, potentially, limitless prompts for memories.
We also made Throwing Analogue Cameras at the Studio Wall and Recording the Impact Digitally. During 2013 MacDonaldStrand placed recycling points in a number of locations in order to collect redundant cameras. These cameras were not necessarily made redundant by wear or by damage, but by the technological advancement surrounding them. They had become old fashioned and uninspiring to their owners, who were more than happy to discard them in full working order, often with exposed films still inside. Cameras, and devices containing them, are now at the forefront of technology, but this advancement often appears as more of a drive towards redundancy than towards advancement. We are all invested through consumption in a Capitalist system with its vast resource to market new ‘must-have’ products to us, the grateful consumer. Whether the outgoing product, in this case a camera, works or not has become secondary to how it makes us feel, or how we are made to feel about ourselves. The MacDonaldStrand project, Throwing Analogue Cameras at the Studio Wall and Recording the Impact Digitally, is a response to this absurd situation. It is not a lament of the loss of analogue photography or a backlash against digital technology, but a question about the wisdom, motive and culture of continuously smashing up the old in favour of the ‘next thing’. The works are made up of large-scale digitally produced prints on the wall with the pieces of the destroyed cameras arranged in size order in the cabinets below.
Our third new work is titled A Work in Progress. This work started fairly recently, when we were lucky enough to be able to experiment with the emerging technology of 3D scanning and printing. We likened ourselves at the time to Victorians sitting still and silent for Daguerreotype photographs to be made, as the giant scanner rotating around us replaced the plate camera and head clamp. We decided then to make A Work in Progress, which is intended as part of our consideration of the changing nature of digital imaging in the public realm. The representations of us, which are modern now, will soon be considered out of date and old-fashioned, as their technologies and manufacture become superseded by new processes. The models are shown here in various states of completion or decay and set inside an acrylic box, representing us as fleetingly modern figures in a world that will soon make us outdated. Technology makes us feel modern, but it will soon date us in the same way as cave paintings, oil painted portraits or Daguerreotypes dated our predecessors.
Whilst putting together the show, we rediscovered a work, which fitted with the direction Antifoto show. The Rat Archive was made in collaboration with the Design Council Archive’s Curatorial Director Catherine Moriarty and is a series of photographs of materials and ephemera, which were found in a rat’s nest under the stairs of a 1920s-built San Francisco house. The history of the house, cultural changes in America and interior design are charted through generations of rats collecting images of 1930s starlets to pieces of 1970s linoleum. The Rat Archive places the rat in the position of curatorial decision-maker and, as a result, throws up questions about who decides what is of historical importance and archival value. The Rat Archive, for us, is a reminder that history is partial – preserved by a few and defined in our absence.
We also showed the project Most Popular of All Time, a series made up of the highest ranking photographs on web-based popularity lists, which we have converted to dot-to-dot drawings. We felt, with these images, that context and experience had given way to the iconic. The process of redrawing the image with your eyes (or with a pencil in the book) encouraged people to re-engage with the images as documents of events and human experiences.
George and Pat Beacher: The Abbotsbury Album was also hung in this exhibition. These are photographs of a young couple in the 1950s, whose courtship ritual involved travelling around UK coastal resorts and photographing themselves in balance positions on the beach. These images were rediscovered by an American academic, and announced as a precursor to the conceptual art movement in Britain.
The exhibition MacDonaldStrand for Antifoto at Künstlerverein Malkasten – Jacobistr. 6a, 40211 Düsseldorf, runs until 16th March, when we will pack away MacDonaldStrand again and return to our day jobs.
MacDonaldStrand is the collaborative partnership of Gordon MacDonald and Clare Strand. They are based in Brighton, England. MacDonald founded and, until recently, edited Photoworks magazine. He is a co-founder of the Brighton Photo Fringe and chaired their Board of Trustees for ten years. He is also co-Director of GOST Books, alongside Stuart Smith; a new photography and visual arts publishers based in London. Strand is an internationally recognised artist whose work is held in many private and public collections including the Arts Council of England collection, the National Collection at the V&A and Collection Centre Pompidou. She is represented by Camilla Grimaldi Gallery, London.