I’d been to the gallery a couple of weeks previously to attend the Redeye Hothouse event, and had looked around some of the exhibition, however there were some images that I just couldn’t get to and the usual benefits of having fellow students to discuss work with meant I was more than happy to make the trip back up.
Starting in the gallery with tutor Keith Roberts (One of my previous tutors so always good to catch up) we had a quick introduction to what was expected of us and were pointed in the direction of Roland Barthes ‘Studum and Punctum’ theories. Barthes can be quite dry to read so having Keith explain the difference and what it would look like to us really helped. The studum is what makes an image stand out to us, we might not have this with every image and might not be aware at first of why its stood out. The punctum is the component of the image that had an effect on us the viewer such as causing pleasure or discomfort. Not every image has these and they are different to everyone.
We were asked to keep this in mind as we went around the gallery and later on a few of us identified an image and why. Mine was actually one I’d bought the postcard of a couple of weeks before. As much as a loved some of the images, especially the ‘Can I help’ series with its recurring colour of red throughout most of the images, the one I chose was a new image from the 2012 series ‘From a distance’ the way the subject face was lit reminded me very much of classical painting, complete with the long hair and hands raised which evoked thoughts of religious subjects and iconography.
After a brief look around the images, we were lucky enough to have a guided tour of the exhibition from Sophie Powell, the learning manager at the Impressions Gallery. This was really interesting and allowed us to get an insight into the organisation of an exhibition as she explained how each series was placed so that they bounced off each other, and started with images of Bradford next to the huge plate glass window so that the viewer could make the link between the content of the image and the street outside.
Series within the exhibition
I can help 1985-88
Working Men 1982
Desmonds Mine 1983
The Valleys Project
From a distance 2012
For one series he set up a free studio and handed out flyers advertising this to people- ended up with people queuing up. He pinned a white sheet up so there was no background, the people don’t have a context for a reason, and you focus more on the people. He was taught to photograph what he knew and felt comfortable with.
With Desmonds mine, the heart of the community had changed and shifted so he wanted to capture that. His ‘Valleys Project’ was undertaken just after he had left university; there had been an upsurge in the economy at the time so he was photographing the people making white goods. He wanted to preserve the anonymity of the women as he felt that their identity/community was being stripped away. Sophie pointed out that this was where he started to get his own voice. A point that stood out for me as throughout my OCA studies we are encouraged to find out own voice and there is a concern that you won’t find it or you won’t be aware of when your work is coherent and shows evidence of a voice throughout it.
With ‘I can help’ Reas was starting to use leading lines pointing you to what he wants you to look at within the image and at that time he was starting to get influenced by US photographers Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. When discussing the work, Sophie was discussing his use of colour as he had originally started with black and white and when Reas was giving a talk at the gallery to accompany this exhibition, said that ‘you can quieter with colour’, you can be more subtle with colour than black and white, can add subtle messages in colour as that’s what people see in everyday
At this point in time, I’ve been considering topics for my critical review and before attending this event one of the ideas was that documentary does not always have to be black and white. Obviously this has given me more to think about and all I need to do is fully write down my proposal/question.
I can help was focusing on the consumer culture at the time, and provides much amusement at the shops, fashion, products of the time, especially references to the ‘page the oracle’ teletext service which we had to make do with before the internet. It does make me wonder how images of now are going to be looked at in 20 or 30 years’ time.
We also had examples of his advertising work, he was asked to bring a more documentary style to advertising, this was fresh and new at the time although soon imitated. One of the newspaper images was in the exhibition so that we could see the difference between the original and the highly saturated version that was run in the magazine.
We finished the exhibition looking at ‘From a distance’, he was commissioned to photograph the Elephant and Castle district rescuing him from more advertising work, although he found it quite intimidating. This was also the first time that he worked with an assistant who was responsible for the direction of the lighting. I feel that out of all the work over the different years he’s been working, that for the me the colour images are more interesting, they jump out at you, have different levels of detail and information within them that you do look at and does feel like something that I can relate to more than black and white images of people stood in front of a white background.