UTA BARTH, In the Light & Shadow of Morandi (17.03) 2017. Face mounted, raised, shaped, Archival Pigment print in artist frame, 48 3/4 x 52 3/4 inches; 123.8 x 134 cm, Edition of 6; 2 APs, Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
The concept of the artist as researcher is at odds with the more popular notion of the artist as creative medium; someone gifted with vision which is unique and unavailable to the average person except through the artist’s revelatory powers of expression. The writer John Berger identified Picasso as the latter type of artist. By denying – the causal connexion between searching and finding* -Berger finds Picasso as much a hostage to his own vision as we are.
Through years of quiet research into visual perception, the photographer Uta Barth has been searching and finding, and since the late 1990s she has been using exclusively as material the fleeting modulations of light and shadow which occur throughout the day in her apartment. Whilst Barth didn’t set out to impose this working limit on herself, by observing effects of light and shadow on the simplest expanse of wall or the fold of a curtain she quickly realised that she had unlimited visual material around her. Consequently, there was – no point in going out to seek that out.
Infused with what Berger describes as a spirit of research, Barth’s latest series pays homage to the work of another patient observer, Giorgio Morandi.
Uta Barth at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
*John Berger – The Success and Failure of Picasso, 1993, New York, Vintage, p.32.
MADE YOU LOOK: dandyism & black masculinity / curated by Ekow Eshun @ The Photographers’ Gallery, London, July 15 – September 25, 2016.
Hassan Hajjaj, Afrikan Boy, 2012 © Hassan Hajjaj, Courtesy of the artist.
Adding to a tidy list of London shows currently featuring African photography, ‘MADE YOU LOOK – dandyism & black masculinity’ sets out a brief which is tight and unambiguous. (See the previous two articles below for more on African photography.)
This compact exhibition, in one of the smaller spaces in The Photographers’ Gallery, highlights the way in which black masculinity can tend towards the performative, the theatrical. From the very earliest photograph in the exhibition, an unattributed print thought to have been taken in Senegal in 1904 of two well-dressed men posing with bottles of champagne, we see a complex public expression of identity torn between appropriation and innovation. The two unknown men from Senegal, whose attire is typical of the colonial classes of the time, contrast with the superbly confident mix of public flamboyance and individuality of Hassan Hajjajs’ models.
What we see in this show is a way in which ‘…(black men) choose to define their self-image…’ as curator Ekow Eshun has said, and the emergent confidence which runs throughout points to an individualised self-image unburdened by historical appropriation. More than the public images however, Samuel Fossos’ self-portraits, taken after-hours in his photo studio in Bangui, remind us that identity is complex and fluid and, ultimately, personal.
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Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou / Borderlands @ Jack Bell Gallery, London, July 8 – 22, 2016.
Image courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery.
To be in a hurry in West Africa is to be immediately conspicuous. And to expect something to happen on time serves only to exhaust the energy required for the inevitable long wait. Backpackers complain enthusiastically to each other in hotel lobbies about delays and uncomfortable transport. Despite this however, the great cities of West Africa which grumbling visitors pass through continue to swell and adapt rapidly and organically, seemingly against the odds.
Adaptation and ingenuity are the immediate responses of the populations of these cities to serial frustrations and obstacles to development. This visceral mix of real necessity and ingenuity creates an aesthetic which is at once troubling and beautiful. In the dust raised by the traffic of Porto Novo, capital city of Benin, photographer Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou continues his series of portraits of people working the black market between Benin and Nigeria. These are spontaneous yet masterful compositions captured in available light on a medium format camera. Agbodjelous’ subjects are those people whose livelihood depends on transporting electronics, palm oil, car parts and petrol across the border.
Stemming from the best tradition of African portrait photography, ‘Borderlands’ captures, without dramatic embellishment, the uneasy energy of a modern West African city.
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