Last Thursday was a class trip to the Photographers’ Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The first exhibition was by Simon Fujiwara called Joanne and was about a former teacher. The pictures were taken on a fine fabric and backlit. From a sheer presentation perspective, they were amazing….. bright and and enticing. They reminded me of an advertising campaign for gym clothing. However,  once I put that aside, my immediate reaction was that they were highly sexual, subtle in the sexuality, but still sexual – which may not be the reaction that either the photographer or the model, Joanne wanted. More information can be found here –

© Simon Fujiwara

The next exhibition at the PG was much more provocative – Feminist Avant-Garde from the 1970s. This had a range of work, which was predominately in black and white and also included  video as well as pictures. It was quite thought-provoking on many levels – from the pictures of the wedding cake (which I didn’t take) to the video of a restrained woman bursting balloons. The pictures were certainly of their time.

© Cindy Sherman (first picture only)

We then moved onto the William Eggleston exhibition which I liked… but I was expecting more of his work that what was exhibited. It’s not to say it wasn’t good… it definitely was, but I wanted to see more. His portrait work was just so contemporary, even though it was taken in the 1970s. The colours were so vibrant when he was taking portraits outside, but his nightclub work was just wow….. even the one in black and white.

© William Eggleston

But my favourite exhibition of the night had to be the Black Chronicles – “Black Chronicles showcases over forty photographs that present a unique snapshot of black lives and experiences in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain….. These portraits of individuals of African and Asian heritage bear witness to Britain’s imperial history of empire and expansion. They highlight an important and complex black presence in Britain before 1948, a watershed moment when the Empire Windrush brought the first large group of Caribbean immigrants to Britain.”

The quality evoked by the portraiture really make me think about how powerful these portraits must have been when they were first exhibited and the fact that all these years later they still retain that power…. a small selection below.

The first portrait for me is just beautiful, the light, the texture of her skin and her slightly dreamy look evokes a softness that contemporary portraiture, for me does not match – although I’m sure someone will point out a contemporary photographer who does this sort of thing… anyway, I’m going back to see the full exhibition soon.

The question is how to incorporate what I’ve seen and relate that back to the project – and the take that I am thinking about…. initial thoughts are that the William Eggleston and the Black Chronicles each in their own way provide social commentary. One is clearly about race, status and Empire and the other is much more local, at times very personal but still a commentary on society. They are however both portrait based and I am not yet sure whether faces will feature in my project – they may well be portraits sans visage.

Assignment criteria – 1 & 3