Review: Fresh Face and Wild Eyed at The Photographer’s Gallery

Daniel Mayrit, Suburban Scenes

As I’ve often noted it’s difficult to say anything useful about group shows, particularly where they have no consistent theme or conceptual thread to connect the work. The sixth annual Fresh Faced and Wild Eyed exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery is just such a tricky exhibition to review, bringing together as it does the diverse work of twenty-two photographers in a showcase of the work of recent UK photography graduates but ‘without a predetermined curatorial theme’.

Hard as it is to generalise, there are two observations I could make about FFWE13. The first is that there seemed to be a notable slant towards documentary photography, and to a lesser extent fine art photography (and of course these categories are increasingly enmeshed anyway). I found it interesting that there is little recognisable as traditional photojournalism although some of the work drifts briefly into this territory, like Italo Morales’s Overnight Generation, and Harry Mitchell’s City of the Living, both of which make use of a rather photojournalistic visual language. Bronia Stewart’s Babe Station, a behind the scenes look at an adult TV channel is perhaps the most reminiscent of a traditional photo essay, but only slightly.

No, instead it seemed that this year documentary photography prevailed, and by documentary I really mean (to again grossly generalise) relatively undynamic, often staged photographs focusing rather more on social issues than abstract concepts. For example Joanne Mullin’s Refuge, a series of still lives of the interiors of domestic violence refuges in Northern Ireland (reminiscent of Ed Clark’s earlier work). Or Basil Al-Rawi’s Façade, which documents the disintegration of the Irish property boom through images of the hoardings of abandoned building sites. Similarly Tina Remiz’s Krievi project on Latvia’s Russian minority.

The second observation is that while all the work on show was technically very well executed there was relatively little which really made me feel different about either the subject matter explored or the medium employed. Of course this is not the reason all people go to exhibitions, but it is the reason I go, to have some familiar idea exposed or challenged. There were again a couple of exceptions to this, for example Julien Bonnin’s video piece Checkpoint, part of a larger body of work that includes stills. Checkpoint explores the daily procession of thousands of Palestinians through Israeli checkpoints, with an odd rhythm, punctuated by shuffling feet and squeaking turnstiles, furtive glances and wasted time.

Similarly I found Nicholas Feldmeyer’s technically diverse work quite provoking if only in terms of the questions it tempts about the limits of photography, like the striking After All showing what appears to be a procedurally generated mountainous landscape intruded upon by a Kubrick-esque monolith of white light. Also worth noting is Daniel Mayrit’s Suburban Scenes, superficially a series of light box mounted photographs which resemble appropriated Google Street View imagery, closer inspection reveals each scene is carefully staged for the camera. It’s a nice melding of an increasingly overused aesthetic with the  perennially interesting (for me at least) device of the staged photograph masquerading as one which is candid or accidental.

It’s a broad show, both in terms of subject matter and quality, with perhaps something for everyone apart from maybe the most diehard fans of old school photojournalism. That said with the lack of anything that comfortably identifies as photojournalism I’m not sure how far the selection reflects the state of university level photography in the UK, as much as it does TPG’s interest in photography which speaks a particular conceptual language and sits comfortably on gallery walls. If you can’t decide whether to go, or can’t make it before the show ends there is a very decent mini-site where you can see more of the participants work than what is hung in the gallery, watch the handful of video pieces that are included in the exhibition and view short interviews with the participants. Fresh Faced and Wild Eyed is on until 21st July 2013.

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