3: SUSTAINABLE PROSPECTS. WEEK 5.

Feast For The Eyes at The Photographers Gallery, London.

I’m getting clearer on a couple of directions I want my work-in-progress folio to go for the rest of this module. The decision is based on working in an almost diametrically opposite manner to the previous module, Surfaces & Strategies. Although I will always retain an element of the experimental, I want to be more focused on specific types of output rather than the looser approach I took before, and to choose ‘streams’ of work/thought to make images from. I think there will be less of the multi-media and collage work this module.

I’ve already started to explore the notion of personal myths (biomythography) as you can see in this post here. That is one stream to explore for sure and I have been meeting subjects from organisations and individuals who are prepared to deepen the relationships and collaborations already begun in the first two modules, which is exciting.

However, the next area of work has been more difficult to choose. I thought I would go down a very experimental route of colour play looking at genetics in light of my own recent DNA test (see above). I’m not sure about that for now so the other option is to explore food as a symbol of personal mythology, biography, and belonging. This comes out of my own background, but also out of recent discussions with some of the project collaborators.

So, with these streams in mind I visited two exhibitions yesterday: Pre-Raphaelite Sisters at the National Portrait Gallery and Feast For the Eyes at The Photographers Gallery.

PRE-RAPHAELITE SISTERS

It’s hard not to miss the Pre-Raphaelite movement as its so popular, though I haven’t brought it into my project thinking as I’ve always found the style to be overly saccharine. However, once I started down my current path of exploring the notion of personal myth in the context of belonging, it seemed pertinent to take a look at some of the work as myths often form the subject matter of many of their paintings. As the Pre-Raphealite Sisters exhibition opened recently it offered a chance to see overlooked or ‘hidden’ work by many of the female members of that movement.

I’m not going to review the exhibition, though it was just as much about the male members of the movement than the female, so it’s title is a bit misleading.

I want to look at what I connected with in some of the work which either reinforced my own thinking or gave me food for thought as I move forward:

detail from NIGHT AND SLEEP.
Evelyn De Morgan 1878.

Gestures, direct gazes, and light were the fundamentals in the work I connected with, but then I’m often looking for that in my own work. The painting Night & Sleep by Evelyn de Morgan struck me particularly in terms of the colour palette and the gestural tension of the figures, though I find their faces to be somewhat lifeless (but then given the subject, perhaps that’s the point?).

Sophie Gray 1857.
Sir J.E. Millais.

The portrait of Sophie Gray struck me has elements that I’d like to explore further: the modern strength of the gaze, the framing of the hair and clothes, and the deep red backdrop imply something timeless so maybe worth pursuing with the right subject?

STUDY FOR A SYBIL. 1860.
Joanne Boyce Wells.

Because of the juxtaposition of images and the framing itself, Study For A Sybil reinforced the process to date of my own work and gave me something to think about in terms of presentation.

Portrait of Georgiana Burne-Jones.
Edward Coley Burne-Jones 1883

Finally, this image above inspired me because of the tension between the two scenes presented. It’s very photographic. This is a fruitful avenue. I’ve already been thinking about doorways and thresholds in my work and this could be a way to explore that and to portray dual realities in portraiture.

FEAST FOR THE EYES

BLACK TABLE CLOTH.
Jo Ann Callis 1979.

I shoot food in my commercial work, and I had recently begun playing with the idea of food and it’s place in heritage in terms of my project work, as well as discussing it at length with some of the subjects in the project including people from Somalia, Iran, Ghana etc. However, I didn’t expect this exhibition to have such a profound impact on me.

It reinforced where I’m going with my project thinking and also my own heritage which is almost totally mapped by food – my Father was a chef and restaurateur and Italian – so food has had an enormous historical and emotional place for me. Many of my familial memories (good and bad) have food at the core of them somewhere.

This exhibition allowed me to encounter possibilities and ways of seeing food as symbol and I walked away moved, excited, and inspired.

Again I’m just going to touch on some of the work presented that sparked my interest:

It’s obvious to me that work that appears to capture the sensation of reality and yet hints at the unreal or fictional aroused my interest. I mean there were classic ‘food’ images in the exhibition such as one of the famous Edward Weston monochrome capsicum studies but, lovely as they are, it was the images that blurred boundaries that really touched me and aroused my curiosity.

One such is Black Table Cloth by Jo Ann Callis (above) which transcends its seeming banality and wonderfully realised geometry to become a real moment of story or ‘happening’ as I like to think of it.

Untitled #54.
Laura Letinsky 2002.

Then there was this image by Laura Letinsky. I’ve admired Letinsky’s work for a while, though I’ve only ever come across her work in books and not actual prints. So this image was great to see ‘in the flesh’. Letinsky often subverts reality in her work, composing her images from cut-outs of other images, creating still-life imagery with them that plays with perspective, space, and time. There’s a sense within her work (passed on to the viewer) that she has just discovered these scenes (often domestic), even though they are meticulously constructed. And this I like. There’s a dream-like quality here, even though her work has strong substance to it, which I find fascinating.

Lastly, I want to reflect on the point where food in photography reinforces the performative (and hence where this joins with my project thinking). There’s an essay in the current edition of the Photographer’s Gallery zine Loose Associations by Zara Worth looking at food imagery on Instagram in which she quotes Professor of Performance Studies Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: “All three senses of performance – to do, to behave, to show -operate throughout the food system, but vary accordingly to which sense of performance is focal, elaborated, or suppressed.’

Food for thought indeed.

REFERENCES:

https://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/pre-raphaelite-sisters/exhibition/

https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/feast-eyes-story-food-photography

Loose Associations Volume 5. The Photographers Gallery, London. Autumn 2019.