Figure 1: From Wendy McMurdo’s Let’s Go to a Place series (2016)
Photo50 Gravitas was the contemporary photography exhibition curated by Christine Monarchi and part of the London Art Fair 2017.
“Gravitas constitutes one of the ancient Roman ‘personal virtues.’ It referred to a depth and seriousness of character, a pre-condition of the youth’s transition to adulthood.” (London Art Fair, 2017). This description was a formal introduction to the exhibition featuring 13 artists producing lens-based work exploring the development from childhood through adolescence and emerging adulthood, tracing the formation and representation of identity and the self, and the influences, pressures and complexities of modern culture.
There was also a great opportunity to listen to four of the participating artists speak about the exhibition and describe their own work during which they also discussed the relationships between the artist and the subject and the processes of interaction, participation and collaboration that form an integral part of their working practices.
I was attracted to the day as it featured my current OCA tutor Wendy McMurdo and as such this presented an interesting opportunity to see a different perspective of her skills, knowledge and experience and how this works and comes together to form an artistic expression and the resultant work.
Wendy McMurdo advised the audience that they should strive to “make work about your life and experience,” and also confirmed that the best work is produced when we consider what motivates us and what draws us to a subject and allows us to find out about ourselves so again it was an interesting dynamic to actually see this in practice.
Wendy’s work has over a number of years explored the influences and impact that the growing ubiquity of computers have had on the development, education and lives of children and within this she discussed an interesting notion of how a child’s life had previously been centred around the family and or school; but since the introduction of the computer, the identity of the child had moved beyond these physical boundaries.
Her current work ‘Let’s Go to a Place’ (2016) is a series of individual portraits of the children that were part of her youngest daughter’s class which was preparing to leave primary school last summer. The project was inspired by the growth of GPS location based Pokemon gaming where a participant reimagines the space around them.
The results are a series of contemporary photographic images in which the faces of the children are sliced into separate pieces and then reformed, replacing the original conventional image of the face.
I remembered a quote from the artist Paul Seawright where he stated that “good art reveals itself slowly,” and this came back to me when I reflected on Wendy’s work; the longer the audience view the images, the more aesthetically pleasing and normal they become whilst communicating an arresting theme of a dual existence that is not obvious but is at the same time beautiful in it’s simplicity.
The images seemed to reference the traditional annual school photo whilst offering a quite beautiful, contemporary and more artistic version; this reference to a traditional cultural convention seems to reflect the change in times and the different influences that impact today’s generation of children.
The discussion which came from the panel about the relationships that develop with their subjects was most interesting and it offered some important and interesting points to consider; in collaborating with subjects, developing and gaining trust and confidence, the importance of genuine interest and empathy in the subject, showing respect and being responsible, being committed and in essence recognising that the camera is not an inanimate tool and as photographers we must be ethical and take responsibility for our actions and consider and recognise the consequences.
Figure 2: Abbie Traylor-Smith Chelsea from The Big O series (2014)
Wandering around the exhibition there were other artists that caught my eye and in particular I also liked Abbie Traylor-Smith’s series The Big O about childhood obesity, a figure that has reached 1 in 3 for children and adolescents in Britain today. The work explores this startling statistic and modern phenomenon through an intimate study and representation of some of the young individuals who live through the complex psychological implications of this condition.
The portraits of the subjects were placed alongside extracts of personal diaries, exercise and diet plans, post it notes; creating a stark and often poignant representation of the difficulties and complexities that exist in their minds, offering them their own personal identity and voice which was done in a very empathetic and supportive manner and well away from the social stigmas and narratives that have been created by mainstream media and conventional cultural norms.
A very enjoyable day where I left with much to think about in terms of what it actually means to take somebody’s photograph and how deeply we must consider this act.
Monarchi, C. (2017) Photo50 Gravitas exhibition. London:Business Design Centre.
More information can be seen online at:
http://www.londonartfair.co.uk/whats-on/photo50/ (accessed 2/2/17)
Figure 1: image taken by Allan O’Neill of a photograph from Wendy McMurdo’s Let’s Go to a Place series (2016)
Figure 2: Abbie Traylor-Smith Chelsea from The Big O series