Art photography

The Royal College of Art Photography crosses the 2014 exhibition line

RCA’s venerable photography program is often an appropriate gauge for judging current trends in the medium. Even though the degree doesn’t set trends to the extent of some of its American cousins, it still produces work that is well produced, very neat and often thoughtful. Judging by this year’s graduates, photography is at a crossroads, struggling to define itself in the fine art world or in its context so long courted for acceptance. There is great work this year, but you can feel a pressure on the students to make the photographs part of an overall installation, as if in doing so the images would either become more relevant or ‘photographic art’. Photography has become insufficient on its own, or uncertain of itself, and by having to jump through mundane “conceptual” hoops it is doing itself no favor.

I enjoyed the images from ‘Waiting For What The Stars Will Bring’ by Clare Abraham. A nice mix of scale and subject, the interaction between the different subjects is pleasant and well judged. Lucky to have her own bedroom, Abraham produced here a subtle meditation, imbued with a poetic sensibility.

I’m not sure what Yullia Markman’s “My Stranger Face” slideshow is all about, but it was really heartwarming to be sitting in a room with two analog slide projectors clicking alternately. On a diaristic and cryptic voice-over, images of mainly urban scenes and details are interspersed with intimate portraits of men, actors of this story. It is a work that engages the viewer and presents a sensitive understanding of the world and the people with whom it is engaged.

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Dominic Hawgood’s “Under the Influence” is an interesting exploration of the intersections between advertising and certain strands of evangelical Christianity. Highly saturated backlit images of microphones and other grail-held objects, referencing many religious iconographies, are juxtaposed with black-and-white photographs of a woman in the throes of a sort of physical catharsis. Hawgood is alluding to the commodification of desire, of need, which the commercialized church seems to feed off.

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The Unforgetting by Peter Watkins is the strongest work exhibited. The images shown are from a larger project on, according to Watkins, “memory seen through smoked glass”. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it’s a testament to the strength of this work that Watkins does, I’m sure. This is the truly singular vision exhibited here, informed by a very sophisticated engagement with the formal qualities of the photographic medium. The ties that unite these images are both clear and opaque, and it’s a tricky trick to pull off. The image ‘Of the earth’ is a small wonder.

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The work of the image makers mentioned here is proof that photography can have meaning in itself. He must be paralyzed by the fact that he is first a medium and then an object.

Words / Photos: Kerim Aytac © Artlyst 2014

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