Thursday, July 1, 2010

4. EXPOSED@Tate Modern my second visit 26.6.10

This visit to the Tate Modern's photographic exhibition "Exposed" was at the invitation of Gareth Dent, the CEO of Open College of the Arts, and was also in the company of various other students. It was not however a guided tour and we went around independently, occasionally bumping into each other, but afterwards meeting for a cup of tea and a discussion about the exhibition.

I decided to try and visit every room of the exhibition (there were 14 in all) in the allotted time and pick out at least one image that struck me from every room. This meant that I missed much but did at least get an overall view of what was being presented.

In Room 1, I was struck by a large photograph of a "black man" whose face was partially obscured by another head. What makes such an image so important? I had heard that this particular individual tried to sue the photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia but failed on the grounds that the artist had a right to freedom of expression! Also in Room 1, were some more classic photographs by Walker Evans from his series of subway passengers made in the 1930's and published in his work, "Many Are Called". There was also an interesting comment on the wall by Sandra S. Phillips of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that "as a society we appear to no longer view voyeurism with the caution we once did." Towards the end of the exhibition however, there is a comment by Mitch Goldstein who says that "In the early 70's - when I first photographed NY - the street and the pubic were fair game for a photographer, and people not only tolerated but enjoyed having their picture taken. But in the 1990's, I found myself questioning how a photographer functions in public space: what is acceptable and what is not."

In Room 2, I found myself reflecting on how spy cameras do perform a useful artistic function in that they capture the subject without the subject knowing and hence reacting to the process rather than acting normally and showing a more genuine expression. The photograph I noticed here was by a photographer whose name stirred a distant chord, Paul Martin; the image shows a group "Listening to the Concert Party on Yarmouth Sands, 1892", a remarkable insight into what people looked like over 100 years ago. The kind of camera used here was a "six-pound box-shaped camera ... carried under the arm, and could be wrapped in paper, completing the disguise of a package!"

In Room 3, my eyes were caught not unsuprisingly by a Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph called Hyeros, France. It bears the characteristic concern with geometry within the image that the photographer had as well the decisive moment as the blurred movement of a passing cyclist completes the image.

In Room 4, there is an early example of press intrusion into the private life of celebrity although this has been going on since the beginning of the previous century. Here we see Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor sharing intimate moments on a boat; the photographer is Geppetti.

In Room 5, there is a remarkable photograph by Helmut Newton of a woman looking unashamedly at a man. Usually, photography has an undercurrent of men looking at women and of course, that is also happening here as the photographer is male, but the subject is different.

In Room 6, there is a photograph from a recent Susan Mieselas exhibition in London called Pandora's Box; shot 15 years ago in the mid - 1990's, it is of a close circuit TV screen showing a woman leading a man towards a dungeon for masochism. There is something disturbing about this image in the pliant attitude towards violent punishment; that this subject is taboo is the apparent reason for the length of time (15 years) taken to be able to show such images to the world at large.

Gareth Dent, the CEO of Open College of the Arts, exchanged a few words with me here, saying that he did not like the way that sexual desire and violence were clumped together under the heading of violence.

There is also a print of Brassai's famous image of "Lovers in a Cafe". Knowing a little more than I used to about photography leads me to believe that this photograph was almost certainly arranged.

In Room 7, one passes night photographs made by a Japanese photographer of people having sex in a public park and of other people watching them! It took a long time of visiting the park before the photographer felt able to start making images.

In Room 8, Nan Goldin's images from the photobook, Ballad of Sexual Dependency, regarded by some as one of the best photobooks of the last quarter century, were projected onto a screen with musical accompaniment; this gave the photographer's work a much wider dimension and also allowed many more images from the body of work to be shown.

In Room 9, "witnessing violence", there is a finely crafted image by Lee Miller showing the dead body of a Burgermeister's daughter 1945, who had recently taken her own life following the end of the Second World War. Another image in this room, is Larry Clarke's "Untitled 1943", a graphic image that appears to show a couple of drug addicts on a bed. There are also 3 groups of photographs showing people in the act of suicide; in the first taken by Metinides in 1971, a man is saved from leaping to his death off the Toreo Stadium in Mexico.

In Room 10, there is a small TV screen showing a sepia toned image of the "Lynching of Leo Frank"; it takes a little time to see the body hanging from a tree and as one does so, one will be surprised to see a photograph of oneself appearing on the screen owing to a strategically placed camera.

In Room 11, Bill Eppridge has photographed Karen, a prostitute and drug dealer, standing on a street corner from a window above the street. There is a more mundane photograph by Jonathon Olley of a surveillance camera in Belfast as well as a couple by Magdnaz which I commented on after my first visit to the exhibition; what I did not notice then is that these 2 images form a diptych, one with and the other without a surveillance camera.

In Room 12, there is an untitled photograph from Mitch Epstein of an item of clothing, possibly a body, lying in bushes. 

Another set of striking images are those taken of three hotel rooms. One sees a large print of the doorway to the hotel room and then further smaller photographs of items found inside the rooms. The exhibit takes up a stretch of the gallery wall.

In Room 13, there is a video that takes 51 minutes to play through (Nan Goldin's images take about 45 minutes  to play through but does offer variety and music while here there is no perceptible movement or sound. The scene is the studio of the composer Bruce Nauman and was made in 2001.

In Room 14, there is a video installation by Harun Faroch from 2002 of various machines operating, an army tank and factory equipment for instance, and one sees the way these work and the simulation devices that are used to train people to make them do so.

The photographs mentioned here are just a small part of the overall exhibition but by focusing on them, I was able to see a little more of what the exhibition was about.

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