A crop out of the centre of a photo I shot on the South Bank the other day when I went to see the Rodchenko at the Hayward.
I went to the Hayward today to see an exhibition of the photography of Alexander Rodchenko; the price of the ticket included entry to a show called ‘Laughing in a Foreign Language’, a exhibition which “investigates the whole spectrum of humour, from jokes, gags and slapstick to irony, wit and satire.”
It was a pleasure to go to an exhibition of contemporary art and find that the gallery was filled with the sound of joyful laughter.
No, not really. The humour on display was not generally of the kind that would win the artist a long engagement at the Glasgow Empire. Which is fine; work can be gently humorous or ironic or whatever without being laugh-out-loud funny. But for an exhibition themed around humour, it was a curiously deadening event.
Perhaps something like the Glasgow Empire would be a salutary experience for a lot of contemporary artists: having to cope with failing miserably and visibly in front of a sceptical audience. Perhaps then they would tighten up some of their work so it was a bit more punchy. Can there really be many 30 minute video works that couldn’t be cut down to 20 minutes?
I preferred the Rodchenko exhibition. Rodchenko was a photographer/graphic designer in the USSR in the 20s and 30s; I didn’t know a great deal about him beyond what was featured in the recent BBC history of photography. As far as I can see his most remarkable work was in publications like [I may have the title slightly wrong] The USSR in Construction which combine his photography with typography, photomontage and graphic design to produce something really incredible.
But that aesthetic rapidly fell out of favour with the government, who liked to micromanage all aspects of culture; Rodchenko was accused of ‘Formalism’ and had to find less radical outlets for his creativity. So he switched to a more straightforward kind of reportage. Perhaps most intriguing now are the most Soviet subjects, like the May Day parades and athletic demonstrations.
One aspect of the Rodchenko exhibition which I found interesting was the prints, which had quite a limited tonal range; I know I’ve seen more vibrant versions of the same pictures before. I guess the difference is down to the technological limitations of the older printing process—generally silver gelatine prints—rather than anything else, but it’s an intriguing curatorial question: do you present someone’s work as they produced it, or how you think they would have produced it given the chance? I suppose in a gallery authenticity trumps other considerations so you just post the originals.
There’s a berry-covered tree over the road from the house—some kind of cotoneaster?—and at the moment there’s an almost constant stream of redwings going back and forth from it.
The redwing is a smallish thrush with a marked white eyebrow stripe and a brick-red underwing. I’m always pleased to see them, not least because they’re one of the few true winter visitors we get here. I mainly see the same species in this bit of South London all year round. The only two species that regularly turn up in winter are redwings and siskins, and even the siskins are breeders in other parts of southern England. The redwings, though, have come from Iceland or Finland or somewhere.
In fact, quite a lot of the birds in the garden in winter have probably come from the Arctic, it’s just that they’re the same species that breed here, so it’s not obvious. Millions of blackbird, blue tits, starlings and other common species come here for the winter while our summer visitors are soaking up the sun in Africa. It feels pretty cold here to me at the moment, but I guess it’s all relative.
» the photos can be found in my Flickr stream where you can see them bigger if you want. I’m not sure I recommend it, though: my digiscoping set-up was struggling with the miserable winter light and they don’t bear close inspection.
I went to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum yesterday, which is always worth a look.
Apart from the fact that there are loads of great photos, there’s the fun of deciding whether the judges have made the right decisions. I’m always a bit disappointed when they choose a portrait of a large charismatic mammal as the overall winner—a yawning hippo or a leopard or something—because much as I like those animals, I think it would be cool to see it won by a photograph of a shrimp or a toadstool or something. This year it’s an elephant (boo!) but it’s an abstracty kind of picture which I guess makes it a less obvious choice. And it is a good photo.
I paid slightly closer attention to what kit everyone was using this year; I was interested to see that the victory of digital is almost total. The only bastion of film was the ‘In Praise of Plants’ category; I guess if your subjects are stationary, it’s less important to be able to take thousands of shots and discard most of them without having to get them developed.
You can see all the pictures on the NHM website, so if you’re not going to pass through London before April, you might as well check them out. If you are considering going to the show, I’d suggest you don’t look at the website first, because the pictures look so much better seen large on lightboxes than as piddly little jpegs.
» the picture is of a Corn Bunting singing, with its breath forming rings in the dawn air. Which is cool. As you can see, it’s © Gastone Pivatelli.
The sixth picture is up at my new photoblog Clouded Drab.
I’m just sayin’.
The release of WordPress 2.3 is my cue to release my photoblog onto the world.
Since this blog, which is comparatively simple in terms of layout, still isn’t working properly in Internet Explorer, I shudder to think what Clouded Drab will look like. But hey-ho, let’s press on regardless. There’s only one photo at the moment, but I’ve got more queued up, so I hope you’ll check in regularly. Or of course subscribe to the RSS feed.