Open Now / Reviewed by Dorothy Hunter / 29.05.12
There is always an element of uncertainty in the themeless open call exhibition, and Belfast Photo Factory’s Open Now doesn’t attempt to lessen the challenge such a show presents. In this annual showcase of internationally submitted photography, each body of work is represented by several images alone, forming a concentration of seventeen photographer’s practices.
Abstracting the international and the individual at first seems risky: within this broad format, the overall effect of such exhibitions can easily be more surveying than cohesive. And yet it is in this pared-down approach that Open Now finds its dynamic: with fewer images to be intrinsically supportive, a relativity of practice between photographers is subtly established. Open Now places faith in the underlying common threads of photography as a medium, and allows the universal questions of image making to subtly present themselves.
The exhibition opens with Ian Bamford’s Hubris, a series focusing on the earth upon which events unfolded for the former head of the Anglo Irish Bank, Sean FitzPatrick. The ground is marked with tracks, vague impressions and debris, but there is no real focal point in these highly detailed images. Instead we see the tiny aspects of this chosen conceptual detail, the graphic yet indiscernible minutiae of the earth.
The photography of the earth’s literal erosion at first seems to be simply a token gesture, poetic but unenlightening. This debatable relevance is, however, an integral part of this series. Exploring the media’s role in the construction of aspirational living, and its questionable depiction of FitzPatrick as a villain of the economic downfall, Hubris references the media’s deflection of focus, looking for answers in the simplest and most literal place. Appropriating journalism’s leading nature, the photographs have plenty of visual information, yet no real answers.
Questions of ethics and constructed reality are similarly raised in Andy Rochelli’s Russian Interiors. These images were originally taken for catalogues of mail order brides, with each woman marketing herself for a better life in the west. Redefined through their inclusion in this exhibition, each woman’s supposition of their intended viewer is clear, lending poignancy to the work. It also creates an uneasy, almost ironic voyeurism, having been subjected to a different kind of gaze in the context of this show. It is a carefully orchestrated mixture of revelation and concealment – faces hide behind hair or cancelled expressions, whilst legs stretch out, starkly exposed in tan satin tights. With several conflicting and assumed relationships within the image, the women sit in stiff elegance, as if fastened to the chairs and corners of their heavily patterned rooms – waiting to escape one oppressive situation for what is likely another.
It is the reality behind Rochelli’s work that jars, a quasi-innocence behind its unconvincing falsehood. Just Wait Here by Patricia Eichart takes a converse approach: inauthenticity is placed deliberately at the forefront of her highly staged, almost hyper-real interiors.
Eichart’s Just Wait Here presents portraits of domesticity with a 1960s staging, showing assumed everyday activities of a man, woman and child. Each space, costume and image is immaculately arranged; comprised of both authentic vintage items and modern recreations that, as a whole, create a scene that feels not quite “right”. Exploring the sentimentality implicit in vintage style, Eichart’s crisp digital photography and careful pictorial compositions make for uncanny images. The contemporary elements cut through the nostalgia of time, combining and cross-referencing life viewed as a “then” and a “now”. In being so openly arranged for the camera, the images examine the social values intrinsically linked to vintage design, and reveals the imaginary constructs behind its modern-day romanticism.
As Open Now flows through these social, spatial and pictorial explorations, what comes to the forefront of this show is the catalytic role of the image itself. Whilst the visual content ranges from the heavily styled to the personal and documental, what forms and gives this show strength is photography’s prominence as a conceptual device. The images act as processes and objects in life, as well as a record of time and space. Through wide and variably defined locations, concepts and origins, each image’s creative context pulls Open Now to a common level, to quietly and collectively pick photography apart.
Open Now was viewed at Gallery Nine, River House, 48 High Street, Belfast and continues to Gallery of Photography, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 19/06/12 – 01/07/12
River House 48 High Street Belfast BT1 2DR