Terence Donovan retrospective in Soho
This 2016 exhibition is spread over two floors of the Photographers’ Gallery in London. My interest in Donovan’s work comes from his taking fashion out of the studio and into his East End. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of conventional fashion shots in the exhibition.
The exhibition includes studio, outdoor work, portraits and video. Something that really comes out is how Donovan was very much a man of his time whether commissions from Town magazine, photographing a young Julie Christie, musicians’ portraits in the 1990s or directing pop videos.
Seeing his studio day bookss give a reminder that he was earning a living from his work. The more bread and butter commissions recorded for Woman’s Own are a good example of this.
What made Donovan different?
One of a trio of working class photographers in the 1960s Donovan does stand out (David Bailey and Brian Duffy were the other two). I see him as different because he used photojournalism techniques with fashion. Whether on East End streets, power stations or shooting through a car window he took fashion photography out of the studio and safe landscape.
This technique is maybe taken too far though in his Spy series of photographs for Town magazine. Or perhaps time simply has made them lose the innovative look they had when published.
There’s an exhibition catalogue for anyone who missed the show.
Beyond the flowers
Like most people who’ve encountered O’Keeffe’s art its the flowers and sound based abstracts that stick in the mind. So it was great to see such a broad cross section of all her work from the bones to early charcoal work. And a visit to Tate Modern is always enjoyable.
In particular the New York landscapes were new to me and I liked the mix of views and times of day used. Having lived in a tower block in a city the high viewpoint of the city at night really struck a chord.
Stieglitz and photographs
Alfred Stieglitz’s photographs featured throughout the exhibition. This included personal photos, landscapes, the well known images of O’Keeffe. The photos added context to O’Keeffe’s life and works but also her relationship with someone who had a creative life in their own right. Seeing Stieglitz’s photos with O’Keeffe’s painting of the same viewpoint was really interesting. Not least because he used daylight whereas she had painted a night scene.
There was little in the way of ephemera in the exhibition but books and copies of Stieglitz’s journal Camera Club were on view. Also exhibited were some examples of his series of cloudscapes from the Equivalent series.
Better known now is Ansel Adams and his work appeared too. He travelled with O’Keeffe and shared a love of landscapes. I found it interesting seeing his large, very clear and more contemporary looking images compared to some of Stieglitz’s smaller and darker prints.
The 2015 exhibition
Saw the touring exhibition of last year’s competition in Bristol’s M Shed today. As ever much to admire, study and get inspired by. We also liked the fridge magnets.
The exhibition space at M Shed is great for photography. It’s got enough space for plenty of work to get shown without feeling squeezed. This includes space for stop motion and a slideshow of the public’s choice.
Not just wildlife but the natural world
Perhaps the use of the environment is greater in this exhibition or I maybe simply noticed it more. A lot of images have a clear context whether tiny weevils on a plant stem or an aerial shot of small flamingoes.
Some parts of the competition are focussed (had to get that in somewhere) on the environment itself. I liked this and found the mix of small and large scale approaches kept it interesting.
The world is changing
The effects of climate change, politics and economics all feature. This added a depth to the exhibition for me as a reminder of mankind being able to influence nature.
There were some clear themes from previous years and nature photography in general. All were beautifully executed and in no way disappointing.
Some were visual as with the blue sea and shark combination or using sand dunes. More interesting for me were descriptions of how photographers achieved shots. These included using simple patience, bait of various kinds, testing their stamina in adverse conditions or simply taking lots of shots before achieving what they wanted.
Enter for 2016?
Well the familiar scenes of foxes and other found shots are encouraging but the standard is very high. I’m pondering it which is a good excuse. If you’re tempted have a go!
Familiar museum with a new look
I’ve visited the Imperial War Museum (IWM) more times than I can remember. It was a favourite day out with my father in the 1960s and 70s. So a new improved version was a must see. Overall I really liked the new look and interpretation. Not least because some of the old favourites are still there – including the flying bombs of the sort that fell at the end of my mother’s street in the Second World War!
What’s changed at the IWM then?
A general feeling of more space with more coherency combined with a diversity of objects. For example the Cold War display has an artist’s response to the threat of nuclear destruction.
I liked the way there’s a map of each display with interpretation backed up with individual labels. The introduction sets the scene and the map orientates you.Talking of the labels they are stuck on cases which makes their connection with the object clear. From what I saw some are beginning to suffer wear from visitors testing how well stuck they are. I also felt some of them lacked contrast making reading harder.
Having uncles who served in Bomber Command I enjoyed seeing the Lancaster cockpit on display. It seemed huge but had to fit most of the crew in. The current secret service exhibition is fascinating in its own right and the coding and decryption section rang a bell with another uncle’s postwar service.I also visited the Holocaust Gallery. Seeing it for a second time I spent more time absorbing the exhibits than being stunned by the enormity of what it depicted. The inclusion of all groups attacked by the Nazis shows just how many people were affected by these political and ethnic policies. The section with a diagram showing how all branches of the government were part of the annihilation was particularly chilling.
On a personal note I found the items and film from the liberation of Belsen interesting. This was because my father was amongst the troops rushed there to try and resolve the chaos left when the Nazis abandoned the camp.
The First World War Exhibition
Ok, I’ll admit it: I was dreading another recreation of a mid war trench. Much to my relief this exhibition is impressively inclusive. Both in terms of covering all the war chronologically and in looking at all fronts. This included the home front and I found lots of interesting objects and interpretation. I definitely left feeling I learnt something!
The variety of uniforms was impressive as it included all periods and most fronts. Even some Balkan States uniforms are there. The early war German did look a bit like he had Ugg boots instead of natural leather marching boots! What I really liked was the mannequins for the uniforms are fairly abstract black shapes. This gave an anonymity to the uniform displays which made me think of all the unknown soldiers.
A busman’s holiday
Naturally being a museo myself I had to look at things from a work point of view. I found all the staff really friendly and knowledgeable and happy to talk about the redisplay. I also was interested in how the IWM has brought print on demand into their shops. Again the staff were pleasant and helpful when I asked about this.
Was it all brilliant then?
Well, it was pretty much ten out of ten. I think seeing familiar objects alongside recent acquisitions was one of the strengths. That continuity made me feel long time visitors were valued by the redevelopment team.
The thoughtful attention to detail is a nice touch. For example using odd spaces in the upper main hall to display odd objects. This was a bit like museum Easter eggs!
Yes, I did try the cafe which is fine and the staff are friendly.